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4 Cognitive Health Strategies from 100-Year-Old Sisters

Centenarian sisters Shirley Hodes and Ruth Sweedler recently gave a wonderful interview with CNBC. In the piece, they pointed out that they don’t credit crossword puzzles for their sharp minds and longevity. Instead, it’s simpler life lessons like doing what you love and pursuing your curiosity and talents that have made them reach their 100th birthday and beyond with ease and sophistication.

Life Advice 100-Year-Old Sisters Shirley Hodes and Ruth Sweedler
Shirley Hodes reading poetry in 2018 Image source: YouTube

“I’m not that old!” said 106-year-old Hodes. “I don’t feel old, that’s the truth.” Her 103-year-old sister Ruth shares the same conviction. “I don’t feel that I’m old,” Sweedler said. 

For those of you who are curious about Ruth and Shirley’s 4 cognitive health strategies, read on.

Social connectedness

Life Advice 100-Year-Old Sisters Shirley Hodes and Ruth Sweedler grandparents and granddaughters

Perhaps unsurprisingly, both sisters stress the significance of family and meaningful social relationships. Hodes and Sweedler grew up in a family of eight, and they point out that familial ties are one of the most meaningful experiences in one’s lifetime. “The people you’re surrounded with, friends, relatives, family,” Hodes stated in the interview. “That’s what you’ll remember the most.” 

They also found that having a happy marriage was important. They look back at their husbands, both of who have passed away, with warmth and affection. Hodes even shares some advice on how to connect with people, stating that curiosity is the key: “I was always so interested in hearing people’s stories, backgrounds. They’re full of surprises.”

Learn something every day

The theme of curiosity continues in the sisters' lifelong quest for learning. Sweedler adores the theater and used to attend plays with her friends all the time, whereas Hodes’ lifelong passion is reading, and listening to audiobooks too.
Life Advice 100-Year-Old Sisters Shirley Hodes and Ruth Sweedler Handmade heart

“Older people can get absorbed in themselves when you have ailments and such. That can make it hard to have an open mind,” Hodes pointed out. But she recommends pursuing your knowledge thirst with all your strength. And she doesn't just talk the talk... For example, right after retiring, Hodes took an audit class at her local college and aced it, even though she had to sit in the first row to hear and see the teacher.

Do your work in the world

Many people these days dread going to work. Sweedler and Hodes couldn’t disagree more, as work was one of their favorite activities. At around age fifty, when both of her kids were older, Hodes got hired full-time as a paraprofessional and teacher’s aide – a job she kept until age 70. Working at the high school was a great fit, as it made her use her talents of communication and love for reading. “If you’re lucky enough to have work you enjoy, embrace it,” Hodes advises.
Life Advice 100-Year-Old Sisters Shirley Hodes and Ruth Sweedler woman presentation

Sweedler is also very proud of her work in the world. She was a self-taught actress at a local theater and was very involved in the local synagogue and Jewish organizations. “Not that I’m so religious,” Sweedler stated. “But I’m aware that I’m Jewish, and I like being involved.” Ruth’s example shows that any work – be it paid labor or volunteering – can help you find meaning and connection in life.

Appreciate your opportunities and achievements

Reflecting on life’s missed chances, Hodes said the only thing she regrets is not having the opportunity to go to college as a young woman. Since Hodes and Sweedler were the two youngest siblings of eight in a family of immigrant parents, resources were sometimes limited. “We had to be careful because there were so many of us,” Hodes explains, wisely adding that “you can’t have everything.” Sweedler, meanwhile, misses long walks and travel, wishing her body was as strong as her brain.

Despite the few regrets and missed chances, however, the sisters point out that they’re very grateful, lucky, and blessed for their achievements and daily pleasures – both past and present. Hodes: “My secret? I’m a lucky person. Although I’ve had illnesses and problems, I’ve overcome them. I’m in decent health, enjoying health, thankful for a wonderful life. That sustains me and keeps me going.”

Sources: CNBC Interview, YouTube Cover Image

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