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The Villages
Sunday, April 14, 2024

How did Henry Kissinger live to 100 despite health challenges?

Dr. Gabe Mirkin

In 1938, when he was 15, Henry Kissinger’s family escaped from Nazi Germany and came to the United States. They were so poor that he attended a New York high school at night and worked in a shaving brush factory during the day. At age 20, he was drafted into the U.S. army. He spoke German fluently and even though he was a private, the lowest rank in the army, he was put in charge of the administration of the conquered city of Krefeld. He performed so brilliantly that he was promoted to sergeant, was assigned to the Counter Intelligence Corps and was placed in charge of tracking down Gestapo officers and saboteurs. For this he won a Bronze Star. In June 1945, at age 22, he was placed in charge of denazification of part of the city of Hesse. He went to Harvard where he was graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1950. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard at age 31, and then served on the Harvard faculty in the Department of Government until 1971. Although I was at Harvard from 1953 to 1957, I never met him because I didn’t take any courses in government. From 1969 to 1977, he served as United States Secretary of State and national security advisor under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, and played a major role in directing United States foreign policy:
• détente with the Soviet Union that allowed for peaceful nuclear negotiations
• opened relations with China
• helped end the Yom Kippur War
• shared the Nobel Peace Prize with North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho in 1973 for his efforts during the Paris peace accords to end the U.S.-Vietnam War.
After his government service, he headed an international geopolitical consulting firm and wrote more than a dozen books on diplomatic history and international relations.

Death at Age 100
On November 29, 2023, at age 100, he died of heart failure. It is incredible that he lived to be 100 because:
• in 1982, at age 59, he had a 4½ hour triple coronary bypass at Mass General Hospital.
• In June 2000, at age 77, he suffered a stroke in which a clot passed to his brain to make him blind in his right eye. On October 27, 2000, he had a heart attack and was treated at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center.
• He had severe loss of hearing and wore two hearing aids. Loss of hearing is a significant heart-attack risk factor.
• In 2005, at age 82, he had angioplasty heart surgery, in which doctors use a balloon to stretch open a narrowed heart artery and usually place a short-wire mesh tube, called a stent, into the artery to help keep the artery open. The stent is left in place permanently and it markedly increases a person’s chance of forming clots that can cause a heart attack. All patients with stents are usually kept on anti-clotting medications for the rest of their lives.
• in 2014, at age 91, he had heart surgery to replace an aortic valve at a New York hospital.

Healthful and Unhealthful Lifestyle Habits
Kissinger’s son, David Kissinger, wrote about his father’s lifestyle and longevity for The Washington Post (May 25, 2023). The article told about his Unhealthful Habits –
• Terrible diet: his father had “a diet heavy on bratwurst and Wiener schnitzel”,
• Constant stress: a career of relentlessly-stressful decision-making,
• No exercise program: he loved sports as a spectator but he did not exercise.
However, his Healthful Habits helped him live to 100:
• He used his mind day and night: He had “unquenchable curiosity” and a “sense of mission.” He participated in world events until almost the end — he made public appearances in China and Washington DC even after his 100th birthday. Kissinger never stopped working, which could help account for his longevity. “He gets up in the morning and he works all day. He has dinner with his wife and his family and he works at night.”
• He was a workaholic and he never stopped moving: Even though he did not exercise, he was constantly on the move. He did not sit for long periods (prolonged sitting is major risk factor for heart attacks). Always doing something is associated with reduced risk for a heart attack. At age 99, he still worked 15 hours a day and flew around the world on business trips.
• He had lots of friends and activities: social connections and diverse interests are associated with reduced risk for a heart attack.

Lessons from Kissinger’s Long Life
Genetics are very important for living a long, healthy life. Henry Kissinger’s parents lived to the ages of 95 and 97. Still, everyone should follow all the rules for healthy living which can reduce your chances of suffering from heart attacks, strokes, dementia, cancers and premature death. These rules are especially important for those of you who may not have chosen your parents wisely.

Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com

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