Joe Biden is celebrating his 78th birthday, which is an age that will make him the oldest person to take the presidency in US history

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US Vice President Joe Biden visits the MCG

Joe Biden is celebrating his 78th birthday, which is an age that will make him the oldest person to take the presidency in US history.

Key points:

  • Joe Biden will displace Ronald Reagan as the US’s oldest president
  • His age has placed greater attention on vice president-elect, Kamala Harris
  • Mr Biden’s physician says the president-elect is “healthy and vigorous”

Joseph Robinette Biden Junior was born on November 20, 1942 in the working-class city of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

He will displace Ronald Reagan as America’s oldest commander-in-chief when he is sworn in as president on January 20, 2021.

Mr Reagan left the White House in 1989 aged 77 years and 349 days old.

In 2016, Donald Trump became the oldest candidate to be sworn in as president when he was age 70.

Four years later, questions about the age and health of both Mr Biden and Mr Trump loomed throughout an election race that was decided by a younger and more diverse electorate.

These questions also at times stemmed from the Republican incumbent throughout the 2020 campaign, as Mr Trump routinely labelled his rival “Sleepy Joe”, in order to imply the Democrat lacked the mental acuity to lead the US.

Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan smile in black and white photo

Ronald Reagan’s (left) record as the US’s oldest president will expire when Joe Biden takes office.(Reuters)

Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University who has advised politicians from both parties, said Mr Biden has “got to build up credibility with the American people that he’s physically and mentally up to the job”.

The incoming president’s relatively advanced age also puts a greater premium on the quality of his White House team, Dr Baker added.

Previously, Mr Biden has described himself as a transitional president but hasn’t ruled out running for a second term, which had placed a greater focus on his vice-president pick, Kamala Harris, who is more than 20 years his junior.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris posing together and smiling while a photo is taken through a car window

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris (right) is aged 56, and she may be called to take the top job sooner than her forebears.(Twitter: @adamslily)

“She’s got to be in the images coming out of the White House.

“They also need to, in terms of their messaging, highlight her inclusion in whatever the important issue or debate is going on in the White House.”

Mr Biden, in a September interview with CNN, promised to be “totally transparent” about all facets of his health if elected but he hasn’t so far specified the details.

Biden works out five days per week, physician says

The Democratic campaign had also made the case that Mr Biden wasn’t an average septuagenarian.

His physician, Kevin O’Connor, in a medical report released by the campaign in December, described Mr Biden as “healthy, vigorous … fit to successfully execute the duties of the Presidency, to include those as Chief Executive, Head of State and Commander-in-Chief.”

Dr O’Connor reported that Mr Biden works out five days a week. The president-elect told supporters that during the pandemic he has relied on home workouts involving a Peloton bike, treadmill and weights.

In 1988, Mr Biden suffered two life-threatening brain aneurysms, an experience that he wrote in his memoir shaped him into the “kind of man I want to be”.

Dr O’Connor also noted in his report that Mr Biden has an irregular heartbeat, but it has not required any medication or other treatment. He also had his gall bladder removed in 2003.

History shows the ‘dos and don’ts’ of aging presidents

Donald Trump stands during the playing of the national anthem, December 14, 2019.

Donald Trump was the oldest candidate to be sworn in as president in 2016.(Reuters: Tom Brenner)

Some of Mr Biden’s presidential predecessors had also left behind breadcrumbs about the dos and don’ts of demonstrating fitness for office, according to Edward Frantz, a presidential historian at the University of Indianapolis.

Mr Reagan made sure the public saw him chopping wood and riding horses.

Mr Trump, after being diagnosed with COVID-19, quickly returned to a busy campaign schedule, some of which flouted coronavirus guidelines including social distancing, wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings.

In 1841, President William Harrison, 68 — then the oldest president elected in US history — attempted to show off his vigour by delivering a lengthy inaugural address without a coat or hat.

Weeks later, Mr Harrison developed a cold that turned into pneumonia that would kill him just a month into his presidency, though it remains disputed whether his illness was related to his inaugural address.

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