How long a life?

Jay and Mary Ann Gorrick, both 70, are the owners of the Inn at the Park Bed and Breakfast in Cape May. As far as living to 120, Mary Ann Gorrick says, ‘If I were healthy, why not.’

The late Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997, currently holds the title of the oldest verifiable person. The French woman lived to be 122.

Mary Ann Gorrick, 71, of Cape May, wouldn't mind living to that age. Gorrick has longevity on her father's side of the family. Her paternal grandmother lived into her 90s and was vibrant. On her mother's side, her grandfather died in his 80s.

"If I were healthy, why not," said Gorrick about living to see age 120. "If I'm not healthy, no way. I guess Alzheimer's is a concern. My mother had dementia. That's really not living."

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Proponents of "radical life extension" - the science, technology and theory of living to the extreme limits of human life - boldly predict by the year 2050, the average American will live 120 years.

That might sound like good news. But the majority of Americans, if given the chance, would rather not live so long, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project. Asked how long they would like to live, more than two-thirds (69 percent) cite an age between 79 and 100. The median ideal life span is 90 years - about 11 years longer than the current average U.S. life expectancy, which is 78.7 years.

Gorrick believes both main jobs she has had as an adult have added years to her life.

After being a school teacher for 24 years, Gorrick has been running the Inn At The Park bed and breakfast for the past 13 years with her husband of the past 48 years, Jay Gorrick, 70. Gorrick said her guests have been so spectacular that they added to the quantity and quality of her life.

"Many of them have become friends. They bring kolbasi. They bring wine. The returning guests are really a pleasure," said Gorrick, who thought there was no life after teaching. "The bed and breakfast, we always wanted to do it. We had the shore house. It was not unusual to have 12 people for breakfast, and now, we get paid to have 12 people for breakfast."

Dr. Ross Berlin, a physician at the Bacharach Institute of Rehabilitation in Pomona, said achieving increased longevity with a high quality of life requires following all the basic guidelines and recommendations of health care. These include not smoking; avoiding excessive alcohol; regular cancer screening; avoiding high-risk factors for stroke and heart attack such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol; getting enough exercise; and using weight-bearing exercises to try to prevent osteoporosis, or weakened bones.

Betty Dennis, of Egg Harbor City, has taken a big step towards extending her life by losing weight. Dennis walks six days per week 10 times around inside the Hamilton Mall in Mays Landing, which along with Weight Watchers help her lose more than 50 pounds.

"I would like to live to at least 90 as long as I have my wits about me and can walk around," said Dennis, 58.

Bill Hyland, 73, of Mays Landing, would like to live to age 95 as long as he is able to use his brain. After working as an internal auditor for 30 years and in the casinos for 10 years, Hyland would like to see his 10 grandchildren grow up.

"My grandfather lived until age 85. My father lived until age 85. I want to out do that," Hyland said.

Julie Gravel, 51, of Millville, said she would consider living to age 120 if she were healthy. Gravel, who has a 20-year-old son who also lives in Millville, is a jeweler. Gravel said she finds her job physically taxing because she is on her feet all day.

"Ideally, I would live to 85 years old because I feel like older than that your quality of life might not be as good," Gravel said.

Maryjane Scheibal, 63, of Mays Landing, believes 85 is nice age to live until. Scheibal would not even like to live to 100 because she believes all her friends and family would be gone. As an instructional assistant in special education, Scheibal's job can be physically taxing as she might have to lift a 30- or 40-year-old.

"I don't believe God meant for us to live that long," said Scheibal about staying alive until age 120. "Artifically extending your life is not natural."

For Pat Miletta, of Bridgeton, living to age 80 sounds about right to her. Miletta has been working for the past 14 years as a secretary at a grammar school. Even though Miletta has five grandchildren she would like to see grow up, she doesn't want to be incapacitated or in a nursing home.

"After 80 years old, most people can't do for themselves. I don't want anyone to do for me," said Miletta, 62.

For Maureen Maloney, 58, of Atlantic City, living to age 120 only works if she is healthy. Maloney is not interested if it meant staying in bed, not being able to move and on life support. Maloney believes she would have a better chance to reach her ideal age of 95 if she moved out her place at the Ocean Club in Atlantic City and relocated to where her son lives in New York City.

"I would see a lot of my son. It would still give me time to do what I want to do in life, like travel," Maloney said. "You have to think you're young in your head. If you think old, you will be old."

Rochelle Penza, 54, of Hammonton, would like to live to 100 if she remains healthy. Penza has two children, ages 21 and 23 and no grandchildren. Penza doesn't want to live to 120 because she is afraid everyone she knows would not be around.

Not everyone wants to live decades beyond where they have already reached in life.

Carlton Hawkins, 74, of Atlantic City, only wants to live to be 80. A retired police officer, Hawkins said he didn't want to suffer.

Anne Paul, 72, of Toms River, would be happy to live another three years. Paul said she is not that healthy now and on a fixed income with no job. Paul said she is not as active as she used to be and is not married and has no children.

"I know I don't want to live to 80," Paul said. "As you get older, your quality of life lessens."

For people who want to have quality of life into old age, Berlin said exercise may need to be viewed as a necessity, not as option.

Berlin said prehistoric man had the same DNA we have, but lived in an environment with no abundant calories, no soda. Modern man has medicines and technology that can help extend our lives, but we also have an excess of calories that bring on obesity, diabetes and other problems that interfere with longevity.

"We need to reduce calories and increase physical activity," Berlin said. "Those two equations alone would extend our life span tremendously."

Some of the information for this story came from an article published in the Orlando Sentinel newspaper.

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