Reading about communities in this world that live longer, I have noticed a common theme …
Whether it be 75-year-old Tonino Tola from Silanus, Italy who is a shepherd. His life involves hard work, by 11am he has milked four cows, split half a cord of wood and slaughtered a calf, walked 6.4 km with his sheep. He stops for the first break of the day surrounded by his family to eat some flat bread with homemade cheese and drink some red wine. His daily diet is rich in homegrown fruits and vegetables and dairy from his grass fed sheep and cheese, he makes the wine from a small vineyard he has. His diet is rich in antioxidants and nutrients which keep his heart, mind and body healthy. Sardinians have a dedication to family, you wouldn’t find a family putting their elderly father in a retirement home, this would be considered a dishonour to the family. What a beautiful respect for the elderly, rather than their busy life taking over and putting the elderly away in homes for someone else to look after, they are a family and therefore live life together. When asked if he ever gets bored, the interviewer realises that he has spoken a ridiculous notion to this man who responds with, “I’ve loved living here every day of my life!”. That pretty much sums it up really. Love of life, family and good food, you don’t really need much more than that!
Then, we meet Ushi Okushima from Japan. The first thing noted about her is her rich deep belly laugh that seems to echo around her. Ushi is 103 years old. She’s also got a new boyfriend! When asked why the Okinawan people are amongst the longest living in the world with significantly less heart disease, cancer and dementia, Ushi responds, “Ikigai!” which translates roughly to, “that which makes ones life worth living”. These people possess a strong sense of purpose that may reduce the stress and disease associated with modern lifestyle. There is also a strong support network within this community which covers financial, emotional and social support throughout life. When looking at their diet we notice that, firstly they grow a lot of their own food and eat vegetables, tofu, miso soup, a little fish or meat, food that is fresh and rich in nutrients. These people, especially the elderly, never learnt what it was to overindulge, this is the lesson that they attempt to leave with the younger generation, they eat until your stomach is 80% full. When looking at their gardens we see they are like a preventative medicine cabinet. This is a dream of mine, to live out of a garden that not only feeds bodies with rich food full of nutrients but also is full of medicinal plants to treat and prevent disease, naturally. Their gardens are rich in herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables, radishes, garlic, scallions, cabbage, turmeric, tomatoes.
Ushi also has a morning tradition which involves prayer, tea with friends, lunch with family and an afternoon nap, at sunset sits with friends and before bed a cup of sake with the herb mugwort to help her sleep. We are creatives of routine and I believe that the right routine promoted in rest can bring a lot of peace to our lifestyles.
What we can learn from these communities and many others that live long lives is they live lives of purpose, they love family and community and honour the people around them, their diets are full of nutrient dense fresh food that is culturally normal to their body, they live active lifestyles and whilst they may work hard, stress isn’t a common companion. The elderly are a strong part of community which removes the isolation and loneliness that many elderly face in our modern society. They don’t take life too seriously but just enjoy living instead.
“I realised a long time ago that I needed to go out into the world, the world was not going to come to me. I like to talk to people, I look at strangers as friends I haven’t met yet.”
– Marge Jetton