LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky ranks 46th in life expectancy, with the average Kentuckian living 75.1 years, according to the World Health Organization.
Louisville-native, Elmer Lucille Allen, is an example of “optimal aging” at 90-years-old. The term is used to describe people who live life fully, despite all that aging can entail.
A sit-down with Allen reveals how much life she has lived, with no plans to slow down.
“I don’t drink. I don’t overeat, and I drink very few soft drinks,” Allen told Spectrum News 1. “But the main thing is, you know, I think you just have to take care of yourself, you know, and just be yourself, and that’s what I try to do all the time.”
Born in 1931, Allen has held many titles and hit many milestones in her life, thus far, from winning a Girl Scouts cookie contest when she was 9-years-old to becoming the first African American chemist at Brown-Forman in 1966.
Between her career and life as a wife and mother of three, she also found time to do what brings her joy, such as art.
At 50-years-old, Allen started taking art classes at University of Louisville.
”I’m still taking classes, and when you have students in your class that are 20, 21, and 23, yes, you’re an example for them. ‘If I can do it; you can do it, also,’ " Allen said. “But, also, it gets me interacting with younger people so I think that helps to keep you young also.”
In 1997, a then-65-year-old Allen retired from Brown-Forman as a senior analytical chemist, but she never retired from chemistry.
“Art is chemistry because you think about everything that you use. It’s based on chemistry — your dyes, mathematics, and chemicals,” Allen explained.
At 70-years-old, Allen went back to school for a Master in Creative Arts and graduated in 2002. She focused on ceramics, but she also picked up Nui shibori, an ancient Japanese technique where stitches are removed after dying the fabric to reveal art.
“And I just love it because it’s meditative. You can sit-down and do it,” Allen explained.
She is also a two-time breast cancer survivor. She battled the disease and overcame it when she was 68 and 85 years old.
Plus, Allen is a lover of people and her community who enjoys giving back to it. Her community also loves her back. So much so, that a mural was commissioned in her honor in Louisville’s Smoketown neighborhood in fall 2019.
So what keeps the pep in this 90-year-old’s step?
Anna Faul, who has a doctorate in social sciences, is the executive director of the Optimal Aging Clinic at UofL Trager Institute. The clinic is focused on lifestyle and preventive medicine for adults of all ages so they age optimally.
“That despite disease, despite illness, despite aging, despite the fact that our body cannot do as much as we could before, we can still live this life or we can still optimize our goals, and we can do wonderful things,” Faul explained.
The 59-year-old said no matter how old you are, it’s never to early to follow these pillars of optimal aging:
- Healthy nutrition
- Reduce stress
- Find meaning and joy in life
- Maintain strong and positive relationships
- Get the recommended hours of sleep per day https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need
In regards to which pillar to focus on first, Faul said that’s a hard question to answer because each of them are so interconnected.
“But I think if you can first figure out how to get rid of stress, maybe that’s where we need to start,” Faul explained.
“Get rid of stress and build relationships, those are the things that I think, and they eventually lead to support to change lifestyles you know,” she added.
For Allen, relationships have been a main focus in her life, even during the pandemic.
“So when I couldn’t see people, I just would drive around and look at people. So I just love people. I love being involved,” Allen laughed.
Each year, the Optimal Aging Clinic at UofL Trager Institute awards stand out Kentuckians aged 85 and up with the Gold Standard of Optimal Aging Award. Allen won that award in 2018, in the category of Outstanding Individual.
To watch this year’s Optimal Aging awards, click here.