Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Italian village with more centenarians than anywhere else in the world

The small Italian village of Acciaroli has the highest number of centenarians in the world but what is their secret to long-life and happiness? ITV Health Editor Rachel Younger finds out as she reports for On Assignment.

Retirement in this Italian village looks very different to in the UK Credit: On Assignment/ ITV

Growing old in 21st century Britain is no picnic. Social care is on its knees, the waiting time for hip replacements is rising by the day and loneliness amongst the elderly is in danger of becoming an epidemic.

Among my parents' generation of sprightly septuagenarians no one seems to fancy hanging around long enough to get that once prized telegram from the Queen. "Shoot me at 85!" they shout, when I tell them I'm off to Italy to meet a bunch of centenarians.


For this couple the small village of Acciaroli, close to Naples, is the perfect place to grow old Credit: On Assignment/ITV

The small village of Acciaroli, close to Naples, has a higher percentage of people hitting 100 than anywhere else in the world. My mission is to find out why.

Blame the red wine and long lunches if you like, but scientifically speaking, I can't say I came home much the wiser. Yes, there is some evidence pointing to genetics, diet, even the local strain of rosemary but frankly the samples aren't big enough, the research not yet fully tested.

What we did discover was a corner of Italy where people have all the time in the world.

No one rushed us through our interviews, everyone offered us a drink, most wanted to invite us back to the family home or local restaurant for a three-course meal. Bowls of pasta that in one cafe were made from scratch by 95-year-old Maria because she likes to keep her hand in. Because she reckons keeping busy - but not too busy - keeps her young.


95-year-old Maria says making pasta from scratch keeps her busy and helps keep her young Credit: On Assignment/ ITV

I did hear the term "office hours" once, but only because that's how 94-year-old Beppe likes to describe the daily appointment he keeps with his friends to play cards at the local cafe.

It's not that the former fisherman doesn't care about his health. Beppe gave up smoking in his eighties to try to outlive his brother. But he's got better things to do than sit around dwelling on it.


Fishing, playing cards, and meeting up with friends help pensioners in Acciaroli keep busy Credit: On Assignment/ ITV

Seriously, this sun-drenched peninsula is no utopia. Mafia style shootings aren’t unknown and there isn't much state sponsored care of the elderly.

Instead families and neighbours look out for each other, everyone's in and out of each other's houses, people never move from here and no one seems to be alone for more than a few minutes. It's life affirming and frankly envy-inducing to witness.

We meet a couple of farmers not far off a century themselves who like to share a drink before dinner. "To life!" they bellow, toasting each other with toothless grins, hamming it up for our cameras. "It's a wonderful life, if you know how to live it!"

I'd like to grow old here, enjoying the sunshine, the food and wine, and the company of my friends.
And if I had to guess, I'd say that might just be the secret behind their longevity.

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The Italian village with more centenarians than anywhere else in the world