World’s oldest person dies at 114. You probably won’t live that long.

Eunice Sanborn, widely believed to be the world’s oldest person, died in her Texas home on Monday. She was 114.

As medical technology and health habits have improved, more and more people are living longer and more active lives. So it hardly seems a stretch to wonder: with the right diet and attitude -- and a bit of good luck thrown in for good measure -- could pretty much anyone make it to 114 these days?

“No way,” says longevity authority Dr. Thomas Perls.

Oh well.


Perls heads up the New England Centenarian Study, conducted out of the Boston Medical Center in Massachusetts. He studies how genes, lifestyle and health habits combine to allow some people to live 100 years or more.

Reaching triple digits isn’t that unusual anymore, Perls said -- about one in 5,000 people today does. But turning 115 is “incredibly rare,” he said. People claim to be that old now and then, but nearly all such claims turn out to be false.

Perls’ research suggests that about 15% of the population have genes that predispose them to reaching 100 years of age. A more realistic longevity goal for most of us is about 90 years.

If you want to maximize your potential longevity, he said, it helps to live “like a Seventh-Day Adventist.” Members of that religious group live an average of 88 years, probably thanks to their clean-living ways. (On average, the rest of us live about 10 years less.)

Seventh-Day Adventists eat moderately, are vegetarians, eschew drinking and smoking and manage stress more effectively than many of us -- perhaps, Perls said, because their emphasis on family and religion creates strong social networks and safety nets.

Beyond that, much of longevity boils down to luck. The older you get, the more your genes matter -- and by the time you’re 105, Perls said, they become crucial. Research is ongoing, but it’s believed that people who live extremely long lives have protective genes that shield them from disease. “Our hope is that we can discover [what those are],” he said.

In the meantime, set your sights on living 90 years -- which is “pretty remarkable as it is,” Perls said.

Unless you’re Georgia’s Besse Cooper, who at 114, is the world’s newest oldest person. The woman believed to have been the oldest person ever, Jeanne Calment of France, died at 122 in 1997. Her record is now Cooper’s to break.


RELATED: The Times reports on Perls’ research.