President George H.W. Bush’s former pastor once described him as a “cat with nine lives,” and it’s not hard to see why.
The 92-year-old bounced back from yet another health scare this year, returning home from the ICU in January after being hospitalized for pneumonia.
And he made his family proud in October 2015, when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at an Astros-Royals game, just a few months after suffering a serious neck injury that left him wheelchair-bound.
So what’s his secret? We asked his son, former President George W. Bush, 70, during an interview last month.
“Whatever that gene is, I hope I have it,” the younger Bush told PEOPLE. “He has got an enormous will to live.”
“It may have started at the age of 19 or so when he got shot down in the Pacific,” Bush continued, referring to a harrowing incident when his father narrowly escaped being killed by Japanese soldiers after being shot down over the Pacific Ocean in World War II.
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As for the younger Bush, he says he feels “pretty healthy” these days, after recovering from a few health troubles of his own, including two knee replacement surgeries, one back surgery and a heart stent operation.
He stays active by mountain biking and embracing new passions, like his post-presidency painting.
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“I’m staying fit, which is important,” he says. “I give these talks, off-the-record talks, and one of the things I try to emphasize to people who are heading into their final chapters is, live life to the fullest.”
Bush doesn’t have to look very far for inspiration.
“That’s what my dad taught, when he jumped out of that airplane at 90, his message was, you’re never too old.”