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'50 Secrets of the World's Longest Living People'

by Sally Beare


Sally Beare studies the daily habits of people living in the world’s five longevity hotspots. She seeks to dispel the myth that heart disease and cancer are inevitably on the increase because we are all living longer. The folk who dwell in Okinawa, Symi, Campodimele, Hunza and Bama have virtually no experience of these illnesses. Indeed, these people – claims the author – not only live longer, but the vast majority stay healthy, productive and happy until they die.

The five hotspots our host transports us to are Okinawa, a coral island in the East China Sea; Symi, an island in Greece; Campodimele, a village in southern Italy; Hunza, a valley in north-west Pakistan and Bama, a county in southern China.

It should be noted at the start that the denizens of these pleasant oases have a head start on the rest of us, in terms of their clean mountain air, unpolluted soil and pure drinking water. Indeed, their salvation seems to lie largely in living in those rare pockets of human habitation untouched by globalised trade or motorways. A truly local ethos that means they eat mostly their own produce and haven’t been exposed to junk-ridden, packaged food. Meat is a treat, and eaten sparingly. Fish is caught locally, the bread made at home, the wheat and vegetables homegrown. Yoghurt and cheese are made at home from goats’ milk. Diets are supplemented with good oils, seeds, herbs, nuts and fruits.

None of these people overeat: there are not the resources to do so. Nor do they consume large quantities of alcohol, sugar, harmful fats, caffeine or processed food. But their lives are not austere, by any means. They eat good food, drink wine, sing in the streets, dance, meditate, tend their gardens and laugh a lot. They spend lots of time with friends and extended family. Perhaps most importantly, they don’t feel isolated. The elderly people who live in these places are valued within their communities and enjoy a real quality of life woefully denied many older people living in Western nations. Many of the “sprightly octogenarians” mentioned in the book work daily in their gardens, walk in the mountains, take care of their homes, see to their own needs, and enjoy a revered and treasured place in community life. The book stresses the importance of spiritual nourishment, and a sense of belonging in the world and in their communities, as equally as important as  bodily nourishment to these veterans of the 20th Century.

The book is peppered with stories from some of the elderly who populate these places. Kiyoko Fukichi, 102, of Okinawa, eats aloe with every meal (good for the digestive tract), while 96-year-old Georgios from Symi quaffs a glass of ouzo a day, and claims he still walks up and down 80 steps to market each month.Some of the people interviewed cite sprouted wheat, apricot kernels or hemp or homegrown vegetables as the key to their longevity.

In the Hunza valley the locals lovingly cultivate their own organic compost, in stark contrast to the surrounding areas, which are troubled by disease. They hold regular dances, and drink their homebrewed alcohol. The Okinawans practise martial arts and grow 460 different types of herbs! But many simply say that they have eaten well, (and not eaten too much) and stayed busy.

Though we can’t all hope to live in these rare pockets of longevity, or change the soil, water and air where we live, it is heartening to read just what the body is capable of at an advanced age. If we take care of ourselves then disease and frailty are not the foregone conclusions of old age: we do have some control over the destiny of our bodies and our twilight years. An inspiring read.


Review by Vicki West, June 2010

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