The Queen turns 90 this week and although there will be no big-scale official celebrations, as there were for the diamond jubilee and the royal wedding, it is a significant milestone. She is, as of September 9 2015, the longest-reigning monarch in this country’s history, having served an extraordinary 64 years and counting as Queen. Even more astounding, she seems to be in as good health as ever. Although the Duke of Edinburgh (aged 94) has begun to show signs of wear and tear, with the occasional visit to hospital and a few UTIs, poor thing, Her Majesty sails imperviously on. She remains strong, steady and sound of mind at an age when most people have succumbed to at least one mental or physical ailment.
So how does she do it? Chippy republicans might say that it’s easy to live forever if you’ve never had to do a day’s work, but ardent royalists like myself would argue that the Queen works extremely hard. All those boring meetings, polite garden parties and interminable foreign tours would drive me to Alzheimer’s, just to get away from the dullness. Happily, the Queen’s sense of duty runs rather deeper than mine and she is indefatigable in the face of endless official appointments.
One thing to be said in favour of them is their variety. It is thought that keeping alert and engaged, and meeting new challenges, can help to stave off degenerative mental disease. While for HRH this may entail remembering the names of heads of state or thrashing out current affairs with the Prime Minister, the rest of us can stay agile with crossword puzzles and sudoku. In fact, the Queen isn’t above these amusements either: she does the Daily Telegraph crossword every day, with a dictionary to hand.
She also has a long-standing marriage. Queen Elizabeth — or ‘Lilibet’ to her husband — met Prince Philip when she was just a child, and started corresponding with him aged 13. They married in 1947, when she was 21, and have been a solid unit ever since — the odd carriage-ride aside. This kind of long-term relationship has been linked to longevity: the thinking goes that you tend to stay healthier in general if there’s someone else around, and that avoiding social isolation is key to wellbeing. Having a pet fulfils much the same purpose, and the Queen is famous for her devotion to her corgis.
Not that that’s all there is to it: the Queen makes a concerted effort to take care of herself, too. She spends large amounts of her leisure time out of doors; although she no longer rides, she enjoys a brisk walk, preferably in the fresh Scottish air of her beloved Balmoral. Her routine outside of her work is fixed. Mealtimes are at formal hours: lunch at 1pm sharp, high tea at 4.30pm. Bed is never later than 11.30pm unless there’s a formal banquet.
She eats healthily, too. Breakfast is typically smoked kippers, while her preferred lunch is salad with some cold meat. She allows herself the mid-afternoon snack of one finger sandwich, but very seldom indulges in sugary cakes or sweets. If she’s at a formal event she will stick to protein and vegetables; on evenings off she prefers Eggs Drumkilbo in front of the TV. This diet is high in unprocessed, natural food, fibre and protein. She is in no danger of becoming a sugar addict, or even over-indulging in harmful alcohol. Although she might have a sherry or gin and tonic before supper she never, ever has more than three glasses of wine.
As the Queen gets older, though, she won’t have only herself to thank for her longevity. ‘Genetic factors are more dominating [than lifestyle factors] at exceptional older ages,’ explains Dr Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research. ‘People with exceptional longevity were not different than others in lifestyle choices,’ he says. ‘In our [study of] centenarians, almost 50 per cent were obese or overweight, smokers, and not exercising even moderately. That is why we study them — because their interaction with environment is not exemplary and still they make it.’ Most people who live beyond the century mark have their DNA to thank.
The Queen hasn’t been totally blessed in her genetics. Her father, George VI, was 56 when he died and Princess Margaret, at 71, only just scraped her threescore years and ten. (They were both heavy smokers and had cardiovascular problems.) But the Queen Mother managed to reach 101; quite a feat considering that she was born in 1900, when people still died regularly of now almost extinct diseases like TB. Further back, the Queen’s great-great-grandmother Victoria achieved the impressive age of 81. Her grandfather George III reached the same age a hundred years earlier. This remarkable genetic inheritance, combined with the Queen’s near-perfect lifestyle and a clear enthusiasm for life, have served to make her spring-chicken-like even in her old age. Happy birthday, Your Majesty.