Jewish sisters, 103 and 106, share secret of staying happy, healthy and sharp in old age

Shirley Hodes (106) and Ruth Sweedler (102) read, walk regularly, stay curious and connect with others.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Jewish sisters Shirley Hodes and Ruth Sweedler both have already passed the 100-year mark in their lives, and yet still remain vibrant and active, as an interview this month by CNBC revealed.

Hodes (106) and Sweedler (102) say that their financially insecure upbringing in a large family was ultimately a help to them rather than a hindrance. The two were the youngest of eight children in an immigrant family where “every part of our lives was making do,” said Hodes.

On the other hand, “We had maybe the bare necessities, but we had the necessities.” That included a library card, which allowed them to cultivate a life-long love for reading that she said “is the best thing for your mind” as it enables one to constantly learn new things, which both sisters love to do.

They also gained an appreciation for what they did have. As Hodes put it, “When you have the important things in life, you have to realize it.” She is “thankful for a wonderful life,” she added, and that sense of gratitude plus her “decent health,” she says, “sustains me and keeps me going.”

Other things they learned growing up in a large family were how to speak up for themselves, get along with others and surmount conflict. All of these helped them become “better people,” according to the elder sister.

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Although work is generally considered today as a begrudged necessity so life can be enjoyed outside the job, it was something the two enjoyed very much. “It’s satisfying to “make full use of your talents,” Hodes said. “It makes life so much pleasanter.”

For her part, Sweedler was an amateur actress in local theater. Although not religious, she was also “very active” in her synagogue, she said, and in several Jewish organizations.

Connecting with others is of prime importance as well. Both loved their (now-deceased) husbands and families, with Sweedler saying “Nothing is better than a good marriage.”  She talks regularly with other residents in her Connecticut nursing home, as she “loves people” and likes to “have an up-to-date conversation about what’s going on in the world.”

Hodes, who is 800 miles away in a similar facility in North Carolina, is “always” interested in other people’s stories and backgrounds, being of a curious cast of mind – which also keeps her mentally active, she pointed out.

Acknowledging that physical fitness was an important factor in aging well, they both pointed out that going simple worked fine for them. Even after she married, Hodes had to save money when she could, and walking “was the cheapest thing you could have that I enjoyed.” While striding for several miles a day is beyond them now, both sisters make sure to take a walk regularly, whether indoors or out.

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“Keep your body in good shape and your mind in good shape,” Sweedler summed it up. “Then you’ve got it made.”