Have you ever thought about your 90th birthday? I mean, about what you will look like. Or how you will feel. Or where you would love celebrating it. Would you prefer skiing? Going fishing in a river? Reaching the summit of a mountain? Writing the last word of a new novel? Or celebrating it by participating in a marathon?

I know it’s strange to think about it. And no, I’m not talking about unattainable fantasies. For every one of them I could mention a person who celebrated his or her 90th birthday in that exact way. Still, imagining your 90th birthday is difficult, because we know that the average of life expectancy in western countries is about 77 years. And to imagine spending it in such “dynamic” ways crashes with the awareness that most of elderly people we know reaches that age simply thanks to a massive administration of drugs, and that, however, their physical, psychological and cognitive conditions are quite bad.

But, if we ask some of the best molecular biologists and the most distinguished geriatricians for their opinion about it, all of them would confirm the existence of trustworthy studies that demonstrate – from a biological point of view – man could live with no problems until the age of 90/100 in perfect physical and mental conditions, both physical and mental. So, if that’s true, it means that most of us “leaves on the table” a remarkable lapse of time of about 13 years! Thirteen years that could be lived and enjoyed until almost the last day.

Where is the trick? Which elixir do we have to take to be able to live longer, maintaining at the same time enough energy to make life worthwhile? It’s one of the man most ancient questions, but today we can finally give it an answer. First, I want to clear every possible objection: no, genetic doesn’t really have a role in this question. The Danish Twin Study, the most famous study of monovular twins, demontrates that, when talking about longevity, genetic is responsible just of 15/20% of final result. The left percentage of 75/80% is accountable only to lifestyle (and fate).

So, if it’s not possible to live forever, what is the secret to live longer and healthier? What do we have to do? If we had to solve this question, the most simple answer would be: do everything that permits us to maintain our metabolism in perfect conditions. That means, try to avoid as much as you can lifestyles that could damage it, because this is the real responsible for our energy levels. And second, do try to protect as much as you can your DNA from possible damages by implementing lifestyles that can stimulate its restoration. And, finally, stimulate the autofagic functions (the ability of destroying altered cells) of tissues that human body is naturally provided with.

It seems difficult stuff, but actually reaching these goals is easier than it sounds, if you are willing to radically change some of your bad habits. A proof of this theory is that even in western countries there are some happy islands, where longevity is reached by most of the inhabitants (the so called Blue Zones). In Italy we have, for example, the little village of Ovodda, near the city of Nuoro, which for years has being a crossroads of many studies focused on these issues. But there many others in the world. And the interesting fact is that when we compare the lifestyle of these lucky populations, we realize that there is an amazing facts’ concordance.

For example: • They do not live in wealthy areas and do not enjoy any particular economic wellbeing • They follow traditional diets, where industrial food is almost inexistent • They periodically reduce the amount and the quality of the eaten food • They lead a very active life, even without going to gym or fitness clubs • They have many hobbies and interests • They ive in areas where elderly people are respected and considered an added value for the society, and where traditions are respected.

If it’s true that not every single factor above can be “followed” by everyone, it’s sure that some of them could be easily reproduced. In this series of articles I’m going to focus my attention on those which concern nutrition and physical activity, two elements that today are considered the safeguard of a healthy metabolism. As a matter of fact, the level of the metabolism health is the real marker of one person’s wellness. Unfortunately, in industrialized countries one person out of three suffers from a metabolic pathology (often even ignoring that). So it can’t be a surprise that in Western countries is very difficult to find elderly people who are strong or energetic. Among all the factors that contribute to accelerate ageing, this one is the easiest to control: it only takes eating less frequently, restricting the assumption of industrial foods (especially those added with sugar, salt and trans-fats) and engaging in some high-intensity physical activity.

Centenarian people from Ovodda (Nuoro) do just that. They follow a diet rich in plants, with some cheese and meat coming from rough sheep grazing, and a glass of red wine (Cannonau), which contains three times the amount of polyphenols than any other wine produced on Earth. And that’s the same thing that some animals do (groundhogs, bears, whales, penguins, gooses, hummingbirds, frogs, etc.); nature makes them periodically develop a metabolic syndrome to survive hibernations, migrations or estivations. Nevertheless this syndrome never crosses over physiological limits nor it becomes pathology, as happens for human beings. But I will talk about this issue in my next article.

Translation by Veronica Costantino