• Morrie Markoff was the oldest man in America when he died in early June.
  • His daughter said habits like walking daily and pursuing artistic hobbies kept him healthy. 
  • Markoff donated his brain to research to help scientists better understand aging and cognitive health. 

Before becoming the oldest man in America, Morrie Markoff technically died — but not for long.

Just before he turned 99, Markoff, an avid traveler, photographer, and sculptor with a keen interest in discussing world events, suffered a heart attack. While in the hospital, a machine malfunctioned, and Markoff’s heart stopped beating for several minutes, his daughter Judith Hansen told Business Insider.

But not only was he revived, Markoff went on to live more than a decade more, authoring a book and passionately pursuing his lifelong love of learning. Last year, at 109, he went viral for celebrating his birthday with a performance from a belly dancer.

At 110 years old, he was the oldest living American man prior to his death in early June.


Now, he’s set another record, this time as the oldest healthy brain donation on record.

Despite his advanced age, Markoff remained lucid and free of neurological diseases, and studying his healthy brain could help researchers understand cognitive decline and aging through the Brain Donor Project.

Simple diet and exercise habits, along with his constant curiosity and community engagement, kept him physically and mentally healthy over the years, according to Hansen, now 83 and following his example.

“I’m living the same way,” she said. “Because it worked.”


Walking was his main form of exercise

For many years, Markoff and his wife Betty, who lived to be 103, walked three miles a day around the reservoir near their home, and maintained the habit well into their 90s, Hansen said.

Near the end of his life, Markoff stayed active even when it meant doing laps indoors.

“My dad would walk around the dining room table with the caregiver,” Hansen said. “The joke was that we should put another leaf on the table to make it bigger because it was his race track. He always said, ‘I gotta get my exercise.'”

Research suggests walking is a science-based strategy to boost longevity and reduce the risk of illnesses like heart disease, even if you add just a few hundred steps per day.


He didn’t eat processed food but enjoyed dessert

Markoff didn’t live to 110 by eating organic superfoods, but he wasn’t a fan of junk food either.

The family ate simple, home-cooked meals, which regularly included small portions of dessert, according to Hansen.

“Everything they did in moderation,” she said. “We didn’t have store-bought cookies or soda, but there was nothing fancy.”

The Markoffs were also prescient about avoiding plastic bottles, which research is just now proving to be connected to health risks like diabetes.


He stayed curious and engaged

Although Markoff grew up poor and dropped out of school by 8th grade, he had a persistent passion for learning new things and connecting with his community.

an elderly man posing for a picture with a young man, his grandson.

America’s oldest living man Morrie Markoff, pictured with his grandson, was 110 when he died in early June.

Courtesy of the Markoff Family

“He and my mom were very connected to the world. They got up every morning and read the LA Times,” Hansen said.

The couple also went all over the world, including to Mexico just after the Pan-American Highway was built in the early 1950s, and visiting Eastern Europe, Japan, and China.

“They weren’t the cruise type. That was much too tame. They took buses and trains all over,” Hansen said.


Markoff loved sharing his knowledge with others. From the mid-2000s onward, he began a daily writing habit that later became a blog and eventually a book. At age 103, he was attending book events and signing copies for fans.

He also pursued artistic forms of expression such as photography and creating sculptures from scrap metal, and wasn’t shy about taking pride in his art, trying to donate his works to a museum, Hansen said.

His creativity and curiosity likely helped keep him mentally sharp. Evidence suggests learning new things as you age can keep your brain active.

Hansen said he was constantly sharing his knowledge in life and would have been thrilled that his brain will be a lasting contribution to the science he loved so much.


“He would have been so happy,” she said. “It’s the most wonderful legacy.”