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How to live longer: 103-year-old 's longevity secrets include exercise, champagne

“I feel better afterwards and I think it’s keeping me vertical,” she said about her exercise sessions with a personal trainer.
Ruth Kundsin, 103, works out with her personal trainer Dick Raymond at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts.
Ruth Kundsin, 103, works out with her personal trainer Dick Raymond at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts.Courtesy South Shore YMCA
/ Source: TODAY

People lifting weights at a gym in suburban Boston can be forgiven if they have no clue the energetic woman working out next to them is 103 years old.

Ruth Kundsin’s exercise routine includes cardio and strength training, a lifestyle that’s more active now than the decades she spent working as microbiologist — only reluctantly retiring in her 80s.

She still lives on her own, loves parties and works out with a personal trainer every Friday at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts.

“I feel better afterwards and I think it’s keeping me vertical,” Kundsin told TODAY, expressing surprise at all the excitement about her centenarian status.

“It’s really funny to me. I think I’ve gotten more accolades for my age than I have for my science and that’s sort of strange because you have nothing to do with your age. I mean, you just age, but the science I really worked hard on.”

Kundsin started working out with Raymond 10 years ago when she was 93.Courtesy South Shore YMCA

Dick Raymond, who has been her personal trainer for 10 years, said weights are the most important part of her routine.

“We work every part of her body trying to keep her strong,” Raymond, 69, noted. “The older you get, the more you need exercise because you lose strength as you age. You can prevent that — you can get better at any age.”

Here’s what Kundsin attributes to her longevity:

Positive attitude:

Kundsin described herself as having a very upbeat, optimistic, happy outlook on life. If something disturbs her, she gets over it, she said.

“It’s very important to have something to look forward to. If you don’t have anything to look forward to, life is bleak and dull. But it seems like I always have something to look forward to and if there isn’t anything, I make it, like I throw a party,” Kundsin said.

“I know that no matter how bad I feel, in a little while, I’ll be feeling pretty good. I don’t really worry about anything any great length of time.”

Having a satisfying career

The daughter of Latvian immigrants, Kundsin received a doctorate of science from Harvard School of Public Health in 1958.

Kundsin felt passionate about her work as a scientist and insisted on working even though it upset her family at a time when women were expected to stay home with their children.

She was the first mother to work in her community, facing intense scrutiny from her neighbors. Even Kundsin’s husband didn’t want her to work, but she got her own way.

“Thank goodness. Now I know it was the right thing to do,” she said. “It’s a satisfaction to have a job… I loved my work.”

Kundsin had 150 papers published in scientific journals and wrote five books. She worked as an associate professor at Harvard Medical School until she was 81.

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Keeping the body moving

Scientific work is sedentary, so after spending much of her life bent over a microscope, Kundsin decided she had to make up for it when she retired.

When an acquaintance invited her to come to a gym, she thought it would be fun and has been exercising regularly ever since. She particularly liked swimming, taking part in Senior Games and competing at the national level three times.

She started working out with Raymond at age 93. The personal trainer focuses on having her do exercises that are challenging for her “because challenging things are what improve you. Easy things don’t improve you,” he said.

“I feel better afterwards and I think it’s keeping me vertical,” Kundsin said of her exercise sessions.Courtesy South Shore YMCA

Besides her weekly workouts, Kundsin cooks for herself and takes care of her house, doing chores and climbing up and down stairs, “which Dick approves of,” she said.

Kundsin isn’t the first centenarian Raymond has worked with. He at one point also trained his father, who recently passed away at 101.

Making healthy choices and improving at any age

Unlike many centenarians TODAY has profiled, Kundsin smoked cigarettes for many years and didn’t quit until her 70s. Still, she hasn’t had any major health problems like cancer or heart disease, she said. It’s only within the past year that she’s started using a cane because of balance issues.

Kundsin doesn’t eat beef, but otherwise does “nothing special” when it comes to her diet.

Influenced by Raymond’s advice, she now eats oatmeal topped with lots of fruit for breakfast and has started avoiding sugar after a lifetime of eating desserts.

She drinks a glass of wine every night — not because she loves it but because she believes it’s good for health. Indeed, research of people who lived to 90 and beyond found those who drank moderate amounts of alcohol lived longer than those who abstained.

“I should be drinking red wine, but I think it’s a little strong for me so I drink white wine. I prefer champagne,” Kundsin said.