Alelia Murphy, the oldest living American, turned 114 on Saturday, celebrating in a vibrant yellow gown, a tiara and lace gloves. She bopped her head to the beat as friends and family sang an up-tempo version of “Happy Birthday.”
The supercentenarian — a title reserved for people who are 110 years old or older — was feted at the Harlem State Office Building in New York, WNBC-TV reported.
Murphy’s age has been validated by the Gerontology Research Group, which keeps track of the oldest humans on the planet.
Murphy never drank alcohol, eats well, communicates well and still has an excellent blood pressure and heart rate, Natalie Mhlambiso, her visiting nurse, told the New York Post. But she does have her vices.
“She likes things that are sweet. She tells you she wants something like soda, ice cream, chocolate,” Mhlambiso told the outlet. “She is still feisty. She will let you know when she wants to be left alone.”
When Murphy was born in North Carolina on July 6, 1905, Theodore Roosevelt was the U.S. president, Albert Einstein introduced his theory of special relativity and the Wright brothers made their historic first flight just a couple of years earlier.
Murphy moved to Harlem in the 1920s where she worked as a seamstress, a baker and a saleswoman, and liked dancing at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom, the paper reported. She now lives in a two-bedroom public-housing apartment with a granddaughter and a home-health attendant, according to the New York Post.
She’s about two years younger than the current oldest person in the world, 116-year-old Kane Tanaka of Japan.
The number of centenarians in the U.S. jumped by 65% between 1980 and 2010, according to the 2010 Census. The vast majority — 82% — of the more than 53,000 Americans who were 100 and older in 2010 were women.
Supercentenarians, those 110 years or over, were much rarer, with 330 reported living in the U.S. in 2010.
The vast majority of people are built to live to around 89 if you’re a woman, and 86 if you’re a man, said Dr. Thomas Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study and professor at the Boston University School of Medicine.
Getting to your late 80s is probably about 80% behavioral, he added. That means keeping fit, eating a vegetarian diet, avoiding cigarettes and alcohol, and managing your stress can help you reach your full longevity potential.
But living to 100 and beyond is mostly about having the right combination of “aging well” genes.
Supercentenarians like Murphy aren't born with just one “aging well” gene, but many of them — “it’s like winning the lottery,” he told TODAY — which allows them to delay or escape major diseases.
Women are much more likely to enjoy extreme longevity: About 85% of centenarians are women. At the most extreme ages, 110 and older, that number grows to 90%, Perls said. There currently are no men on the supercentenarian list maintained by the Gerontology Research Group.
Richard Overton, the oldest living U.S. World War II veteran who credited smoking cigars and drinking whiskey for his longevity, died at 112 last year.