HIGHLAND — The average person in Utah lives to be just shy of 80-years-old. That's chronological age, which measures how many years someone has lived on earth.
But biological age, or physiological age, is different. Intermountain Healthcare’s John Lassere, a geriatrician at Intermountain Healthcare’s Southridge Clinic, said it represents how quickly your body is aging.
He said he has 65-year-old patients who are very frail and patients in their 90s who play golf three times a week.
We met up with one of the oldest ladies in the state to find out her secret to longevity.
Mary Kawakami always starts her morning the same way. She has a warm breakfast with fresh fruit and veggies and waits until her 75-year-old son, Paul Kawakami, comes over to help her exercise.
"No mercy! Relentless!” she said as she tossed an exercise ball back and forth with Paul.
She knows how to give him a hard time. "It isn’t easy to exercise. He's a taskmaster!” she said.
But at her age, she can do whatever she wants.
"How old am I?” she asked. “1-0-6. I'll be 1-0-7 in two weeks!”
Her birthday is Dec. 12, 1912.
Without fail, Paul comes over every morning to help his mom exercise. He's done it for more than 20 years.
“That's why I've lived so long,” Mary Kawakami said.
“No, the reason mother has lived so long is because she is mean,” Paul responded through laughs.
Paul Kawakami knows how to dish it back. But deep down inside, Mary said she is grateful to her son.
"He is an angel. God sent him to help me," she said.
Paul Kawakami explained, "It’s a matter of something that I've done for a long time, so it's just become second nature.” His father lived to be 100 years old before he died several years ago. He used to go on a walk with him every morning too.
Paul Kawakami teaches tai chi at Utah Valley University and knows the importance of staying physically active. In his eyes, age is only a number.
"I've checked her lungs. I've checked her, her heart rate. We've done all these things, and she's fine physically,” he said.
“I have nothing wrong with me,” Mary Kawakami said. Her son agrees. "He says you can be 120 and still be 100. That's his philosophy,” Mary said.
She’s had her fair share of challenges, though. Mary said she’s overcome cancer twice.
Dr. Lassere said the rate at which people age varies. "Chronological age is just the clock, but physiological age is ... how healthy they are," he explained.
Lassere said lifestyle plays a role. “We tend to lose 10% of our muscle mass and strength every decade after 60,” he said.
Mary Kawakami is determined to not lose it. “Anything I can conjure up, she gives it a try,” Paul Kawakami said. So he puts her up to the challenge, including exercising with an 8-pound ball and resistance bands.
“He means what he does,” Mary Kawakami remarked. "After he finishes and goes home, I collapse!"
“She's getting lazy,” Paul Kawakami responded.
Mary Kawakami said she didn't think she'd live this long.
"I ask myself every day: ‘Is today the day?’ and God says, 'No!'” she said. "So I have another day walking or doing anything I can to help myself."
She believes her positive mental attitude has helped her live this long. “You have to think that you are going to be OK.”
She also loves to eat fresh fruits and vegetables and credits good genes. But she said she knows she is lucky to live this long. "Realistically, I am old!” she said laughing.