If you want to know the secret to living to well past a hundred, you’ll find these research results about a unique community in the Cilento region of southern Italy very useful.
You may already know about the health benefits of the famous Mediterranean diet, but this is not the reason why so many members of this community are enjoying a happy, productive life in their nineties and beyond.
In fact, their lifestyle is quite unhealthy by many standards we have become accustomed to, which features smoking and drinking wine on a daily basis.
It’s not every day that the participants of a research project range in age from 90 to 101, but these were exactly the subjects of a study by researchers from Italy, Switzerland, and the United States. Their amazing results were reported in the journal International Psychogeriatrics on December 20th.
The researchers were aware that the villagers enjoy a healthy Mediterranean diet and many still work their own fields, but they still wondered if there wasn’t some other element that played a role in these people’s unusual healthy longevity. Their hunch was right.
They found five distinct psychological traits that contribute to the healthy longevity of hundreds of people who live to 90 and beyond in the region. It was found that although they were worse off physically compared to younger neighbors and family, mentally they were far better off.
What’s so interesting is that one of the five psychological traits that was highlighted as making this group mentally robust, is one most of us regard as a negative personality trait!
But sure enough, being stubborn is one of the five traits. The others are being optimistic, resilient, hardworking, and family-oriented.
“The main themes that emerged from our study, and appear to be the unique features associated with better mental health of this rural population, were positivity, work ethic, stubbornness and a strong bond with family, religion and land, ”said Dr. Dilip V. Jeste MD, senior author of the study, senior associate dean for the Center of Healthy Aging and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine in a press release.
There were 29 study participants from nine villages in the Cilento region of southern Italy. The researchers used quantitative rating scales to assess mental and physical health and qualitative interviews to gather personal information about the participants on topics like migrations, traumatic events and beliefs.
Their children or other younger family members were also given the same rating scales and asked to describe their impressions about the personality traits of their older relatives.
The results were astonishing. The older adults were physically worse off than their younger peers, but they were more joyful and showed less stress and depression than their younger neighbors and family members – mentally they were very robust.
“The group’s love of their land is a common theme and gives them a purpose in life. Most of them are still working in their homes and on the land. They think, ‘This is my life and I’m not going to give it up,’” said Anna Scelzo, first author of the study with the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse in Chiavarese, Italy.
This is amazing.
In contrast to visions of inept elderly people who need help with taking care of routine and life decisions, this group showed themselves to be confident and have considerable decision-making skills.
“This paradox of aging supports the notion that well-being and wisdom increase with aging even though physical health is failing,” said Jeste.
The researchers found that this group tended to be domineering, stubborn and needed a sense of control.
This need for control made me wonder. Don’t we all have a need for control, and don’t older people feel they have less control?
I’m wondering to what degree the belief that you have a level of control in your life, what you do and where you go and with whom you associate, contribute to mental well being.
Think about it. These villages have something in their favor that is missing from many other communities: a measure of environmental stability and personal control. Is life so fast where they live? Are things changing constantly? Is their living cost rising almost week by week? Is the environment safe? Can they move around in safety?
Are they less stressed because they live in a relatively stress-free environment where they have a measure of control over their personal lives? Does that factor contribute to their happier, longer lives?