Friday, March 1, 2013

March: Longevity

There’s a very old joke that if you eat right, drink in moderation, exercise daily, avoid stress, and quit smoking, you will either live to be a hundred, or feel like you have.  A recent program on CBC’s Ideas series alerted me to research that, for good or ill, suggests that all the factors in this joke are, indeed, supportive of longevity.  Not really a surprise, but what is interesting is the extent to which research is providing concrete, achievable guidelines to a long, productive life.  Also interesting is the fact that virtually all of the guidelines are already long-held principles of the Slow Food Movement.
Most of the research on this subject seems to come from Dan Buettner, a National Geographic writer who has just released the second edition of his book Blue Zones: Lessons for living longer from people who’ve lived the longest.  Buettner and other researchers have discovered five “Blue Zones,” each culturally, genetically, and socially different from the others, but sharing the characteristic of amazingly long-lived residents.  Sardinias’ Nuoro province, for example, has the highest concentration of male centenarians anywhere… and they live active, productive lives.  Ikaria, Greece has the greatest population of people who live to be over 90 of anywhere else on earth; their rate of heart disease is less than 50 per cent that of the rest of the planet, and they suffer from almost no dementia.  Other “Blue Zones” are Okinawa, Japan (highest average age of a population), the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, and Loma Linda, California, a centre for Seventh Day Adventists.
               Of course, genetics play a part, but studies by some scientists that tried to isolate the influence of heredity on long life, found that it played a much less important role than previously thought.  The common factors among all these diverse cultures were mostly predictable: daily exercise; a low-stress environment, almost always rural; meat as a condiment, not a feature of the meal; a glass or two of red wine daily; a close and engaged family and community.
               While this bare-bones summary does not do justice to Buettner’s work, and I highly recommend his book for its fascinating examination of these happily long-lived folks as much as for its conclusions, we can clearly see in broad strokes what it takes to live healthy and maybe even long lives.  The Slow Food Movement has always advocated good, clean, well prepared food, eaten in a convivial setting with friends and family.  While the movement has never claimed to be a path to longevity, it does claim that healthy eating produces healthy lives; that longevity is a by-product should be no surprise.
               There’s one other notable observation in the research into Blue Zones:  the rural areas where most of these long-lived people reside are coming increasingly urbanized.  The good news is that access to nearby modern medical facilities has actually had a positive influence on their longevity.  The bad news is that even with the availability of health care, the length of life these people can expect has begun to decline.  The culprits, of course, are the availability of supermarket foods and the encroachment of fast food outlets, along with increased stress of traffic and a general erosion of the rural, family-oriented social framework.
To learn more about Pelham Slow Food (your path to a longer life?) contact Valerie Grabove at