The village of Acciaroli in southern Italy boasts a disproportionate number of elderly people, despite smoking and being overweight. What's their secret?
It has been more than 4,000 years since Gilgamesh, king of ancient Uruk, embarked on his epic quest for immortality. Since then, our human fascination with living forever – or at least, for the longest possible time – has not lessened. We continue to debate the various factors that could lead to longer, healthier living, and wonder at the few small communities sprinkled around the globe that boast residents aging well into their 100s. What is their magical secret?
Now the tiny Italian village of Acciaroli has caught the attention of the world’s experts in longevity. Acciaroli is located in the southern province of Campania, about 140 kilometers south of Naples, facing west toward the Tyrrhenian Sea. In August 2012 an American cardiologist named Alan Maisel visited the village, and was shocked to see how many very old people lived there, despite seemingly unhealthy lifestyles.Maisel told the New York Post: “I was at the beach, and I saw all these leathernecked, tanned people in their 90s and 100s who looked nine months pregnant and were smoking cigarettes.”
This went against everything he’d learned and preached for years – to eat a moderate diet, exercise regularly, and refrain from smoking in order to live as long as possible. The people of Acciaroli, on the other hand, do not follow these rules, and yet they continue to age impressively.
“Had Maisel stumbled upon the Fountain of Youth? Acciaroli has a population of only 2,000, yet the village boasts some 300 elders who have reached the age of 100 — and about 20 percent of those centenarians have reached 110. Furthermore, the area has low rates of Alzheimer’s and heart disease — despite a diet filled with cigarettes and wine.” (New York Post)
In March of this year, Maisel and fellow researchers at the University of California in San Diego launched a study, together with La Sapienza University in Rome, to see if they can figure out Acciaroli’s secret to longevity. While the study is still in its infancy and has yet to delve into blood tests, gene pool investigation, and observation of habits, Maisel has detected a few interesting clues:
Rosemary & Anchovies:These two foods are eaten by everyone in Acciaroli. Rosemary has already been linked to a reduction in Alzheimer’s disease and improved brain memory and function. It releases a chemical compound that increases blood flow to the brain and head, boosting concentration. Anchovies, oily fish laden with antioxidants and good at fighting inflammation, are also featured in every meal.
Fresh air and activity:The elders of Acciaroli do not attend Aquafit or yoga classes to stay in shape; instead, they simply spend plenty of time outside, walking around their beach and hilly village, breathing the unpolluted, non-industrialized air.
No stress:Life in Acciaroli is very laid back. The inhabitants don’t sweat the small stuff, but rather relax with coffee and wine throughout the day, socializing with neighbors. Stress, which is so common in North America, is toxic. According to Maisel, it “eats at your brain cells” and weakens the immune system.
Gilgamesh was ultimately unsuccessful at the end of his quest, realizing that it is impossible to live forever; but perhaps we could pick up from where he left off, learning a few things from the villagers of Acciaroli, who clearly know something that the rest of us do not.