World's Oldest Practicing Doctor Offers Advice on Staying Mentally Sharp

by Staff Writer
May 16, 2023 at 10:05 AM UTC

Howard Tucker, MD is the world's oldest practicing doctor.

Clinical Relevance: There are steps you can take to keep your brain active into old age

  • Howard Tucker, MD, a neurologist of Cleveland, Ohio, is the oldest practicing doctor in the world.
  • At more than 100-years-old, he has been in medicine for more than 75 years. He also became a lawyer at the age of 67.
  • He offers five thoughts on lifestyle habits that can help hold off cognitive decline.

Of course the oldest practicing doctor is a neurologist. With a mix of fortunate genetics and a vast knowledge of how to keep the brain healthy, it makes perfect sense.

At 100-years-old, Howard Tucker, MD just recently stopped seeing patients. But he’s still training medical residents and doing medical review work from his home in Cleveland, Ohio. Tucker has been practicing medicine since 1947. In addition, he became a lawyer in 1989 at the age of 67.

His 75 years of practice is memorialized in the Guinness Book of World Records. Oh, and his wife of 65 years, Sara? She is a psychiatrist who still practices psychoanalysis at age 89.

Tucker recently shared some tips with the news outlet CNBC on the best way to mentally sharp into old age. Here’s a rundown of his advice along with a little bit of research to back it up.

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Delay Retirement

“If you’re blessed to have a career you enjoy and are still able to work, consider delaying retirement. Many people who retire and become inactive in their day-to-day routine are at an increased risk of cognitive decline,” he told CNBC

This idea has some weight. For example, a recent study out of China found that people who retired early slipped into cognitive decline faster than people who kept working. This was true even after accounting for factors like diet, income, and genetics. The researchers blamed the accelerated mental slowdown on loneliness and isolation. Social engagement and connectedness may simply be the single most powerful factors for cognitive performance in old age, they wrote. 

Stay in Shape

There are scores of studies relating physical fitness to better brain aging. The reasons for this are just coming into focus. For example, a Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease study speculated that cardiovascular exercise stimulates the production of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and reduces insulin sensitivity, stress, and inflammation.

The world’s oldest practicing doctor said that he is not as active as he used to be, but he still gets in at least three miles on his treadmill at a brisk pace most days of the week. Not bad. 

Don’t Smoke

Tucker recalled attending medical meetings where doctors would, with a cigarette dangling from their mouths, tell patients to take up smoking because it would “curb your appetite and quiet your nerves.” His father talked him out of smoking in the 1930s.

Obviously, the science agrees with Tucker’s dad. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the life expectancy for smokers is at least 10 years shorter than for nonsmokers. Quitting smoking before the age of 40 reduces the risk of dying from smoking-related disease by about 90 percent.

Live in Moderation

Tucker admits to occasionally indulging in a martini and New York strip steak, but not every day.

“The real secret to longevity is that there are no secrets,” he said. “But we live daily and die once, so we must make the most of the time we have.”

The jury is actually out on this one, especially when it comes to alcohol. A new review in JAMA Open Network found that low-volume alcohol consumption was not associated with protection against early death from any cause. Previous studies suggesting wine and other alcohol might have a cardioprotective were flawed, the authors of the review said. Additionally, studies consistently show that drinking alcohol in any amount does the brain no favors. 

Share Your Knowledge

Here again, loneliness is a factor. A Perspectives on Psychological Science study found that loneliness is more than just about being alone. The Duke University researchers put forth a theory known as the “Social Relationship Expectations Framework.” They proposed that older people are looking for two things out of their social connections: they want to be listened to and they want to make a contribution.

Tucker personifies this message. 

“I thoroughly enjoy teaching my medical residents and students, and I learn a great deal from them as well,” he said. It’s been a joy to share stories from my long career with the next generation.”

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