Seniors: 94-Year-Old Bill Burlin Shares Tips For A Long Life

By: Jen Sexton

Topics: Aging , Chatham , People


Charles William “Bill” Burlin, Jr. of North Chatham, born in 1921, looks and acts decades younger than his 94 years. To what does he attribute his sharp mind, quick humor and steady step?

“I have been very fortunate throughout my life on many different occasions,” he explains. “And I've also come up with a few habits and daily practices which I think have helped me to reach this age in such a good state of health. Much credit goes to my 29-year membership in and daily use of Chatham Health Club's excellent, extensive, clean and well-managed facilities.”
Burlin is a big fan of Chatham Health and Swim Club and owner Carol Penfield, and the positive evidence of his daily water walk and cycling-style leg exercise at the club is everywhere to be seen in his continued independence and spirit. How many other people even 10 or 20 years his junior would have written a song to share on the occasion of his own 94th birthday celebration at the club?
Burlin attributes his long, healthy life in large part to plain old good fortune.
“I've been lucky,” he says. “I survived World War II in a submarine, when one in five subs never came back. I did come back. I was piloting Navy patrol planes in Japan and Korea during the Korean War, and I was on Cold War Navy Duty in Paris with NATO military forces.”
Burlin's luck carries over from his military experiences to his health. Surprisingly, during World War II, he was the only person on his diesel submarine, the USS Skate, who didn't smoke cigarettes. One can only imagine the quantity of recirculated second hand smoke he inhaled in a submarine. Fortunately, it didn't seem to have any ill effects, and he never intentionally inhaled tobacco smoke in his entire life. This was a remarkable feat, as cigarettes were given out free of charge throughout his time in the Navy.
Another ubiquitous substance throughout Burlin's life which he decided to leave behind was coffee.
“Coffee seemed to be everywhere throughout my time in the Navy and my working years, and one day as I was retiring I said to myself, why am I drinking this?” Burlin recalls. As simply as that, he bid farewell 40 years ago to coffee and all other forms of caffeine. He found that he slept much better, and the absence of coffee made a noticeable difference in his health. While he was at it, he said goodbye to alcohol as well.
“I think that many health problems can be attributed to people deciding to stop moving, sit down, watch television and drink caffeinated beverages and cocktails,” Burlin explains. “You need to keep moving. You need to get out and engage with other people. That is how to stay physically and mentally healthy. Forget keeping your mind sharp with crossword puzzles. Find some people to talk with and some interests to absorb your mind.”
In addition to his daily exercise at Chatham Health and Swim Club, Burlin still drives his car, takes care of the household and outdoor chores, and prepares his own meals. Since the passing of wife Peg a little over four years ago after 68 years and eight months of marriage, Burlin has created a daily diet which gives him the energy and nourishment he needs while keeping extra pounds and unneeded fats, salt and sugars away, choosing homemade granola with fruit for breakfast and following a regimen of simple meals and daily fresh vegetables. He drinks cranberry juice daily, begins the day with a tall glass of water, and never skips his daily two bananas, handful of baby carrots, apple and half cup of raisins.
Some other vital concerns for someone interested in a long and vibrant life like Burlin's include getting a good night's sleep each night and maintaining a sense of humor while avoiding the trap of just taking in passive entertainment in place of accomplishing goals.
“Find something that really captures your imagination and throw yourself into it,” Burlin advises. “Pick an interest to get concerned with and keep a goal in mind. For me, it is writing a book about my experiences on the submarine on which I served in World War II. I've always loved to write, and now I have a book to complete, which gives me a daily goal.”
Sharing one's life experiences with others is a wonderful way to keep the memories fresh while experiencing the pleasure of sharing the past with the next generations. Burlin continues to present speeches on World War II-themed topics to various retired men's clubs and recently to cadets at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
“I've been physically and mentally active all my life. My three sons, ages 71, 69 and 61, visit me and I maintain many friendships at the Chatham Health Club, where I am considered something of a social director,” Burlin laughs. “If I see people sitting in the hot tub staring straight ahead and not talking, I will go over and introduce them. Before you know it, a new friendship is made. This keeps me engaged socially on a daily basis, which is valuable psychologically, and it is a great pleasure.”