Cent Anni 564

Cent’anni! Cento di questi giorni!

A hundred years–and many more!

This is a common birthday greeting in Italy, but for the residents (abitanti) of Acciaroli on the Cilento coast about 85 miles south of Naples, it’s not just a wish. One in ten (uno su dieci) of its residents live to—and often beyond—one hundred years.

IMG_0829Walking around the seaside town (la città balneare) a few months ago, my husband and I noticed that many of the townspeople are old—very, very old (vecchie–molto molto vecchie). With sun-leathered skin, the men tend to have paunches (avere la pancia). Smoking is common. No one seems to jog or engage in any form of intensive exercise (in qualsiasi forma di attivita’ fisica intensa). Yet the rates (tassi) of heart disease, Alzheimer’s and age-related problems such as cataracts are low.

So how do these villagers manage to live so long in such good health? For the last few years medical scientists from Rome’s La Sapienza and the University of California, San Diego have  been studying the locals to identify the secrets of their longevity (i segreti della loro longevità). Some clues are in their blood (nel loro sangue). Many of Acciaroli’s seniors have low levels of a hormone called adrenomedullin, which helps prevent narrowing of the blood vessels (il restringimento dei vasi sanguigni) and its consequences. This benefit may come from their Mediterranean diet (la dieta mediterranea), with lots of fish, olive oil, fresh produce and wine.

Although many Italians follow this pattern, the Acciarolesi consume two particular items—anchovies (acciughe) and rosemary (rosmarino)—just about every day. Like other oily fish, anchovies are rich in antioxidants (antiossidanti), which help lower cholesterol (colesterolo), reduce inflammation (le infiammazioni) and slow down the aging process (l‘invecchiamento). Rosemary, which pops up as a garnish or condiment in most local recipes, may increase blood flow to the brain (il flusso di sangue al cervello), boosting concentration and memory.

IMG_0837Other anti-aging boons include a pristine environment (un ambiente incontaminato), with a refreshing sea breeze (brezza marina) and no sources of industrial pollution (inquinamento industriale). And even if there aren’t any gyms, residents walk everywhere (camminano ovunque), including up the steep hills and down to the beach. The pace of daily life is slow and sociable, with frequent gatherings to chat or sit in the sun. As one American researcher noted, “It’s a stress free life.” (È una vita senza lo stress.)

While most of us can’t replicate life in Acciaroli, we can apply some of its lessons for longer, healthier lives:

*Eliminate stress whenever and however you can. Set aside quiet times to decompress (momenti tranquilli per rilassarsi) during the day.

*Eat more fish, fruit and fresh vegetables (verdure fresche) and fewer processed foods.

*Use more olive oil (olio d’olivao) and less butter (burro).

*Be more active (più attivi).  Build some form of aerobic exercise—walking, biking, swimming—into your schedule.

*Connect with others. Share moments and meals with family or friends. Remember the Italian proverb: A tavola non si invecchia mai. One never gets old at the dining table.

Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language