The Secret to a Longer Life is Not to Worry, Two Baltimore County Centennials Say

Charlotte Schenk and Edith Freedman may not know of each other personally, but they are both from the same forgotten era of quiet living and horses with dune buggies. Although they may not have ever spoken face to face, the two have nonetheless learned the secret to a long and successful life: stop worrying so much.


While residing in the Catonsville Brightview Senior Living center, Charlotte Schenk celebrated her 100th birthday on June 11th of this year. When asked how she feels, the elder humorously replied, “it doesn’t feel a darn bit different than when it did when I was 99.” This poignant statement reflects on her longstanding views of “taking life one day at a time”. Recalling her grandfather’s influence, Schenk remembers how he would tell her that everything wrong in life will eventually “heal up and you’ll forget you even had it”. This life lesson has stuck with her ever since.


Her mother echoed this easygoing mentality in a sonnet that has likewise stayed with Schenk for her entire long life. The old saying went, “Never worry about anything, through life just freely roam. The world belongs to all of us, so make yourself at home.” This saying has kept Schenk’s mind at ease through a lengthy marriage, a career as assistant manager at the Baltimore City Department of Social Services food stamp division, and the many trials in between.


When asked how she maintained a successful marriage, Schenk replied with simple and sage advice. “We loved one another and we were always happy together.” When her husband would ask when she would ever start worrying, she would playfully say that she didn’t know exactly when, but that she would know how to worry just from watching him do it for all those years.


On the other side of Baltimore County, Edith Freedman shares a similarly lackadaisical attitude as to how she managed to make it this far. Her 106th birthday was this May. She lives in the Atrium Village assisted-living facility of Owens Mills and laughs as she insists she did “everything wrong”, including eating bacon and eggs for breakfast each and every morning. She also never exercised, loved chocolate and beer in her heyday, and did not make any attempts to stay properly hydrated.


As for marriage tips, she recommends not stressing over the little things. Her husband frequently made her breakfast in bed, and despite hating to eat while laying down, she never told him as much. It was simply easier to not worry. To this day, she enjoys regular social interactions and even playfully teasing her retirement home comrades as they go about their activities.


Perhaps it was their laid-back era, which did not require any paperwork to get a marriage license, or perhaps it was the Great Depression that taught elders like Schenk and Freedman to value only what they had in front of them, and to long for nothing more. Either way, a healthy attitude towards stress could be the reason for their living such long, healthy lives.


As centennials, Schenk and Freedman are not alone. Almost 1,800 Maryland residents are at least 100-years-old, and the number is only growing larger. In fact, four other people near Freedman are over 100 years of age.


These numbers reflect an even larger nationwide trend when it comes to aging: people are living longer. There are over 72 thousand centennials in the United States, an astonishing 43% increase from the year 2000 to 2014. While brushing off stress may be a factor, medical experts attribute the decline of fatal heart diseases as the leading cause of longer living. Heart disease treatments have improved so rapidly that cancer is expected to soon eclipse it as the leading killer of elderly citizens.


The University of Maryland Medical Center recognizes that most Americans report moderate-to-high levels of stress, but don’t tell that to Charlotte Schenk or Edith Freedman. Their advice would most likely be to stop worrying so much, have some beer and bacon and just sit down. Who knows, if you do as they say, perhaps you may just live to be over 100 years like them.



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