Prince Philip retires at 96 — what lies behind his remarkable longevity?

There have been many words written about Prince Philip in recent days following his announcement of retirement from public duties later this year at the age of 96 — a remarkable achievement for anyone. So what is the secret of his longevity? Some years ago, I wrote a book called 100 Ways To Live To 100 and, although I can sleep easily knowing he will never have heard of it, he does seem to have ticked all the boxes required to help someone achieve that goal.

First, there is the crucial point about his weight. I suspect very few men are able to fit into their wedding suit six decades after first wearing it but this is his claim and I see no reason to doubt him. He has always been determined to remain slim through a combination of diet and exercise, preferring to walk whenever possible as well as taking the stairs rather than a lift. He only retired from playing competitive polo at the age of 50 and still rides horses for fun, having been a keen carriage driving competitor into his 80s.

He has the mindset of never allowing himself to slide into inactivity, using a daily exercise regimen he first encountered as a young man in the Royal Navy known as the 5BX plan. This simple 11-minute plan of stretches, running on the spot, press-ups, sit-ups and back extensions was designed to allow for a body workout in a small space without the need for equipment or having to go outside, and seems to have suited him very well over the decades. By remaining slim he has dramatically reduced his risk of developing multiple health conditions including certain cancers.

Next, he is said to drink a small amount of alcohol but never to excess — moderate drinkers appear to have a reduced risk of heart disease than heavy drinkers or teetotallers — and gave up smoking in 1947, which was perhaps the single biggest thing he ever did in his life to improve his longevity as, on average, every cigarette a smoker inhales takes 11 minutes off their life. His diet is relatively frugal and he is careful about what he eats, preferring a low-carbohydrate-based diet whenever possible.

One area that is harder to quantify is the degree of stress he has been under over the years. He has never had to worry about mundane things that the rest of us deal with such as mortgages, paying the gas bill and finding somewhere to park, with chronic significant stress probably being bad where health is concerned (although medical opinion is split on this).

He has, however, had different stresses in terms of public responsibilities and all the travails that the Royal Family has experienced over recent decades. These may have been partly assuaged by his habit of speaking his mind and getting things off his chest rather than brooding on them.

No man is an island when it comes to the effects of nature, however, and the Prince is no different — in 2011 he was fitted with a heart stent to help unblock a coronary artery and he has been prone to bladder and urinary problems in recent years.

For a man of 96, though, his track record is very impressive and most doctors would be pleased to have patients as well as he is, albeit with his well-known dislike of consulting doctors because of the conflicting opinions they can sometimes give.

There is one final piece to the jigsaw of his longevity, and this is one which no one can quantify — an enormous slice of luck. I have seen many patients who do everything by the book for their health and die an early death, and others who doggedly abuse their body day in and out and who continue to sail on seemingly untouched.

This does not mean we should not do everything we can to improve our health at any age — such a fatalistic view flies in the face of all the evidence about the benefits of exercise, weight reduction, a moderate diet, not smoking and having a positive attitude — but rather that the health gods smiled kindly on the Prince when putting him together. I wish him continuing good luck in the future.


  • gnostic

    Having easy access to doctors and check-ups is a major factor . I would imagine he has his functions checked regularly. Most folk might get their blood pressure checked if they see their GP for something but little else unless they have symptoms. I know men in their 60s who have never had their prostate checked never mind other markers.