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8 Longevity Secrets From a 109-Year-Old Pianist

A recipe for a long and happy life.

Key points

  • Research on longevity shows, among other factors, the importance of optimism and having a life purpose.
  • An interview with a 109-year-old pianist, Colette Maze, reveals her 8 secrets for a happy and long life.
  • Colette explains how she keeps her joints free of arthritis and her brain vibrating with life.
Christophe Denizot/ used with permission
109-year-old Colette Maze
Source: Christophe Denizot/ used with permission

Studies on longevity show that this is the recipe for most people for a healthy and happy life:

  1. Eating a healthy diet with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  2. Avoiding overeating
  3. Doing at least 30 minutes per day of moderate-intensity exercise
  4. Finding healthy ways to manage stress
  5. Getting enough regular sleep
  6. Staying socially connected
  7. Staying positive
  8. Having a sense of purpose
  9. Learning new things

But is this true for every centenarian?

When I heard Colette Maze, a 109-year-old French pianist performing Debussy flawlessly and passionately on French radio, I decided to interview her and her son Fabrice. I was curious to know Colette’s secrets of longevity but also, as a physician, I was curious to know her recipe for keeping her brain functioning and her fingers free of arthritis. Here are her answers, which, I think could be a great lesson for everybody.

Colette’s 8 Secrets of Longevity

1. Being myself without any compromise: “My parents were upper middle-class and wanted me to marry an upper-middle-class man. I refused. I left my parent’s house at the age of 18 and fell in love with a writer who gave me a son. Another example of being myself without any compromise is that I chose a musical career, which my parents didn’t approve of. The two loves of my life were my son’s father and the piano.”

2. Accepting difficulties as they come: “The father of my son left me soon after my son was born. I became a single mother after the war, and I was criticized and socially ostracized. I had to make a living doing piano accompaniments and giving piano classes. Nothing was easy, but I always accepted the hardships and dealt with them.”

3. Always keeping an optimistic outlook on life: “I always looked at the glass half-full rather than half-empty. People say I have a great sense of humor and, to tell you the truth, I consider myself young. The future is every day we live, and I live each day fully.”

Claudia Corbi/ used with permission
Colette Maze plays the piano flawlessly at age 109.
Source: Claudia Corbi/ used with permission

4. Having a passion: “My passion is the piano and music in general. I especially love Debussy because he corresponds to my sensibility. I like to work with images and Debussy always comes up with images: The wind in the rain, reflections in the water, the fog, dead leaves, footsteps in the snow, etc. So, I immerse myself in those images and I vibrate with them. The word 'trance' would be too strong, but it is a state that resembles it.

"I will say, by extension, that I love all artistic expressions and especially painting because colors are important to me. I love to dress well, and I harmonize the colors of my clothes. I especially love orange and turquoise colors. I also love dancing. I dance when I feel like it. Alone, I carry out my little choreographies according to my moods. But piano is my main passion. Playing the piano allowed me to weather all the storms in my life. As soon as I get up, I go to my piano, my friend, my universe."

5. Always being amazed at the wonders of nature: “Every day is new, and I am always amazed by nature’s beauty, which deeply moves me. I live in an apartment on the 14th floor on the banks of the Seine and I have a beautiful view of the rooftops of Paris, the river Seine, the clouds, dawns, and sunsets. I know how lucky I am to be healthy and I enjoy every moment.”

6. A busy social life: "I love meetings, visits, exchanges with friends, and being with my son.”

7. Keeping a flexible body: “It is important to me that my body remains flexible, especially my shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers. A small rubber ball helps me maintain my fingers' flexibility. I also stretch my fingers and bend them over the edge of a table for example... These are daily exercises that I have been practicing for decades.

"If I play the piano without osteoarthritis or tensing of the fingers, it is thanks to my very special piano teacher, Alfred Cortot, at the Normale School of Music (The École Normale de Musique de Paris), which was right next to my home, rue Cardinet, in Paris. Cortot was greatly inspired by the practice of yoga. He created a method based on relaxation.”

Fabrice Maze, Colette’s son, says: “At 109, my mother does her yoga postures on the floor every day and spends her time massaging her fingers, constantly. She doesn't have an ounce of osteoarthritis.”

8. A regular lifestyle: “I wake up around 8 a.m. every morning. Generally, my nights are quiet. I don't eat breakfast, just a cup of coffee. And then, after the shower, I rush to the piano. At 1 in the afternoon, I have lunch. I have two Filipino housekeepers who take care of my meals. I love red wine, cheeses, and dark chocolate but cooking has never fascinated me. I eat very little because I don’t have a big appetite, but what I eat is balanced. I take a little nap after lunch and then I play the piano again. Of course, some mornings or afternoons are devoted to visits from friends. In the evening, I go to bed quite early, around 9 or 10 in the evening. I used to watch television often, but less recently. Oddly enough, I love watching football (soccer).”

I was curious to know if there were any other examples of longevity in Colette’s immediate family, but both Colette’s parents died before the age of 85 from cancer and so did her brother, who passed away from a heart attack.

Source: Fabrice Maze/ used with permission
Colette Maze's passion is the piano.
Source: Fabrice Maze/ used with permission

Indeed, when I compare Colette’s eight secrets to what research on longevity shows, Colette seems to do all the things that research recommends.

Colette’s eyesight and hearing aren’t what they used to be, but she doesn’t have diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol—and doesn’t take any prescription medication. She drove until the age of 89, took the Parisian metro until the age of 90, and started being a recording pianist at 104.

In the end, I asked Colette what advice she could give my readers to live as long as her and be as happy.

Here is her answer:

“Everyone has their destiny. You come to our planet to fulfill yourself and your gifts through a short life. Days on earth are not easy, and everyone encounters their share of trials and sufferings. We must always keep hope, and above all, keep our childlike wonder of the world.”

Colette has become a star on social networks. People come to interview her from Japan, Spain, and Italy. A San Francisco TV station recently asked for her to cross the Atlantic, which she declined.

At the age of 109, Colette just released her seventh album, which, of course, has some Debussy in it.


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