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In One Italian Village, Nearly 300 Residents Are Over 100 Years Old


Researchers think they might have found the secret to living a long and happy life, and it lies in a southern Italian village along the Mediterranean. It's called Acciaroli. About a third of the people who live there - roughly 300 - are more than 100 years old.

ALAN MAISEL: Out of those ones that are over 100, we're not sure exactly, but we think about 20 percent have reached 110 years of age.


That's Dr. Alan Maisel. He's a cardiologist at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. He's part of a joint U.S.-Italian research team launching a long-term study of the centenarians of Acciaroli. They want to figure out why so many of them are living so long.

MCEVERS: Maisel has traveled to the village and says people there don't seem to be trying very hard to stay healthy.

MAISEL: What shocked me is that I don't see people jogging. I do not see people in active exercise classes. I don't see them swimming laps in the ocean.

MCEVERS: In fact, he says, many of the elderly residents of Acciaroli are smokers and overweight.

CORNISH: How can that be? Well, Maisel suspects it's a combination of good genes and good diet.

MAISEL: Everybody ate anchovies. Now, you know, I actually like anchovies on my Caesar salad, but I never thought they would help me live to be 110. But they seem to eat it with every meal.

CORNISH: And another big part of their diet...

MAISEL: Also, every meal they have the plant rosemary in almost everything they cook with. Whatever form they put it in has been shown in scientific studies to reduce cognitive and prevent cognitive dysfunction and some aging.

MCEVERS: Add to this a glass of good, Italian wine and a heavy dash of leisure...

MAISEL: In the evenings, in the late afternoon, they're all sitting around the cantinas, the restaurants. They're having some wine, some coffee. They're relaxed.

CORNISH: Over the next six months, Maisel and his research team will analyze every aspect of the lives of this group collecting blood samples, tracking genealogy and monitoring exercise. As for Maisel, he has a personal goal for his next visit to the village.

MAISEL: I want to find the oldest person, and I want to have a drink with them. And then I want to - as they said in "When Harry Met Sally" - I'll have what they're having.

MCEVERS: Us, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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