Feature

Work ethic of these 2 friends with a combined age of 204 will put you to shame

The number of centenarians in Canada has increased 41.3 per cent increase in the last 5 years making them the fastest growing age group in the country.

With a 41.3 per cent increase over the last 5 years, centenarians are the fastest growing age group in Canada

Claire Adelberg, 103, and Billie Williamson, 101, celebrate their birthdays together. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Claire Adelberg is 103, Billie Williamson is 101.

They're described by the other residents at the retirement home as, "great gals," who you will often find in the fitness room.

Claire Adelberg turned 103 on Feb. 26 and Billie Williamson 101 on Jan.8 — the pair, who met at their retirement home in Vancouver, celebrated their milestone birthdays together on Tuesday.

"I can't believe it myself," said Adelberg​, laughing. 

"Nobody on both sides of the family have lived this long, 90 is the highest number so I passed them by quite a few months!" she said.

Residents at the retirement home wish the two women well on their birthday. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

8,230 centenarians living in Canada

Living past a century is becoming increasingly more common.

There were 8,230 centenarians living in Canada according to the 2016 census tallied by Statistics Canada.

And of all age groups, centenarians, with a 41.3 per cent increase, had the fastest growth rate in Canada between 2011 and 2016.

By 2051, the number could reach nearly 40,000.

Both women attend fitness class regularly. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

100 is the new 80

Quite frankly, neither one of them look the part. 

"I keep wondering how old is 101 supposed to look like. Nobody knows that answer," said Williamson.

They both rely on hearing aids and walkers to get around, and some days they ache more than others.

"Sometimes I feel quite young. Many years younger than I am, because I do almost everything for myself. It's hard to say. There are times I feel like I'm 120, not only 103," said Adelberg.

Use the slider below to see the woman now and in their youth.

Keeping active

But when they're not blowing out candles for their combined ages of 204, the two are often spotted at fitness class. 

"It was good, but it was interrupted," said Williamson of Monday's fitness class, disappointed it didn't go as long as usual because of a town hall meeting put on for the residents.

Adelberg outlived two husbands and has two children of retirement age, 71 and 74. She credits her longevity to keeping active. 

Up until a few years ago, she used to even sub in for fitness instructor. 

But the elegant woman with pearls draped around her neck said she wasn't always so healthy.

Adelberg attends fitness classes, and, up to a few years ago, she used to sub in for the instructor. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Born to Jewish Russian immigrants, she moved to Winnipeg and struggled with obesity. 

At her heaviest she weighed 200 pounds.

"I started walking right before breakfast. No matter where I worked or whatever I was doing. Five times a week at least, I would walk half an hour to an hour, depending on how much time I had," said Adelberg. 

One day at a time

For Williamson, nutrition was always top of mind. The Manitoba-native graduated as a nurse in the 1940s.

"I had a lot of nutrition instruction from nutritionists during my nursing career, because we had to be concerned with not only our own nutrition but the patients' nutrition. So I think I have a pretty good idea about what I should eat and I think I do," she said. 

Prior to Williamson's retirement, she was the director of public health nursing for the City of Vancouver and spent several years with the World Health Organization in Sri Lanka and a recipient of the Dr. Allison Cumming gold medal for highest standing in medical nursing.

These days, the highly accomplished woman sticks to a very simple life motto.

"My own philosophy about getting older is, that you can't do anything about it, so do the best you can as you go along that journey. Make every day count.

Williamson's philosophy is that you can't do anything about it getting old, so do the best you can. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

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