Italy. The Homeland of Supercentenarians


In 2005 Dan Buettner published his article “The secrets of longevity,” where he first mentioned “blue zones.” This name he gave to places on Earth where people live longer and reach their 90s more often. In the world, there are five blue zones: the Italian island Sardinia, the Japanese island Okinawa, Loma Linda city in California, the Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica, and Ikaria island in Greece. Scientists still research to discover the secrets of longevity in these areas. And often they come to the conclusion that the most important facts are – the diet and lifestyle that people choose there. We decided to study all “blue zones” and will start our longevity trip from Italy.

To live long and happily

Among all “blue zones,” Sardinia is the place where people just adore holidays and festivals and simply can enjoy life on its own. Here no one would be surprised by someone’s 100’s birthday but will be very happy to join this life celebration. You can find portraits of centenarians since 1996 on the facades of the buildings in Seulo, one of Sardinia’s communes. And on his 100’s anniversary, every resident becomes an honorary mayor of the village. To receive this status for only one day is a simple but very sweet formality. But at some point, even this could be a reason and could ingrain extra meaning in one’s life. Scientists think that having a purpose in life helps us to live longer.

To live long and friendly

Family in Italy is sacred. So, Sardinians are passionately devoted to family and its values which they always put first. If you ask any island inhabitants to send their elders to nursing homes, it will insult them. But how does it affect longevity directly?

Research at Harvard University which has been around for almost 80 years, proved that the existence of a partner could positively affect health and make our life longer. Children respect their old people more and very often live with them. The research on healthy aging was supported by MacArthur Foundation, which shows that people who live next to their children or grandchildren have clearer minds, better social skills, and kept their sanity for a longer time. It is perfect when all generations in the family would spend time together, at least once a day, gathering at the family table, have similar interests, and prefer to share vacations.

To live long and simply

Among people of Sardinia, you won’t find those who run marathons or lift weights on Crossfit, but daily throughout their lives, they practice low intensity physical activity, such as collecting food for lunch in their own garden. And they walk a lot. Most of the men centenarians on the island have been working as shepherds, so they had to travel long distances. This type of physical activity meets all the requirements of “healthy moving”: keeps the balance between aerobic exercises and the ones that help build muscles as well as train one’s balance. You can benefit from this type of activity, not only by living on this Mediterranean island. Even city residents can turn into a habit of 30 minute-walk a day.

To live long and with taste

Scientists have been talking about the Mediterranean diet for a long time. It is rich in polyunsaturated fatty Omega-3 acids and vitamins. But when we talk about the Sardinian lifestyle, we are not talking about some exact diet. Especially according to Bob Jeffrey from the University of Minnesota, people stay on a diet for only half a year, then their enthusiasm disappears. Besides, there is no universal diet that would suit everyone.

It is all about a more conscious attitude to food and its calories. For example, if you eat a hamburger, French fries and drink a coke, it would be about 1500 calories. At the same time, classical Sardinian lunch – vegetables, whole grain bread with olive oil, beans, and fruits – would have 3-4 times fewer calories even if the volume is the same.

We must consider that Sardinians have never tried processed food or sweet soda drinks. Mostly they eat natural food: vegetables, nuts, and bread from “durum” whole grain flour. These types of products are not only a source of fiber and minerals but also contain anticancer agents that help to reduce cholesterol and help to prevent thrombosis.

As well, Sardinians choose beans instead of meat, as well, because it is a perfect source of protein, flavonoids, and fiber that help to reduce the risk of infarction.

To live long and moderately

Sardinia is a land of fantastic wine, and its people fancy having one-two glass at dinner. Red wine from Cannonau grapes is rich in polyphenols and antioxidants that help to clean blood vessels from cholesterol plaques.

But the secret of Sardinia’s inhabitants is in moderation. Usually, they have only one glass of wine with food or during catch-ups with friends.

Besides, Sardinians do not overeat. To have the right portion, doctor Brian Wansink, the author of “Mindless eating,” advises paying attention to the surroundings while eating: people, plates, smells, colors, and cutlery. His experiments show that the bigger a plate or glass, the more he will eat or drink. Also, you would probably overeat if you distract yourself with a phone or TV.

Scientists who were studying longevity in Sardinia found some small genetic mutations among its inhabitants. So, it was very easy to conclude that it was the reason that this “blue zone” appeared. But even scientists don’t want genes to play this role. Sardinians’ lifestyle draws more attention and inspires them to have calm and conscious, in other words, a longer and happier life.

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