EUROPEAN PAPERS ON THE NEW WELFARE

Longevity: a Right to Be Achieved

2. Life style of centenarians

We have evaluated the life style of a sample of 168 extra long living Lazio inhabitants: average age 101.8±1.9 years (range 100-108), 23.5% males and 76.5% females, with a male-female ratio of 1:3, which reflects the national trend. The sample was evaluated by means of interviews lasting about an hour, carried out by a doctor trained in geriatrics, at the residences of the patients. In our sample 84.6% of the subjects had never smoked and this data helped reinforce the hypothesis that smoking does indeed have a bearing on life expectancy and that abstention from this sensual habit contributes to the ‘successful ageing’ of those ultra-centenarians. Although there are smoking centenarians, these are exceptional individuals possessing a defence mechanism capable of avoiding the negative effects of smoking on life expectancy; they represent in fact only 15.4% of the whole sample (4).
Analysis of total cholesterol in 36 centenarians showed an average level of 183.5±32.4 mg/dl, a level which fits into the accepted normal range (130-200 mg/dl). Triglicerides were also within the norm, between 35 and 160 mg/dl, in the major part of the sample where the average level is 98.51+30.59 mg/dl.

Fig. 3
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It has been proven that throughout their lives long-living people have always followed a varied and balanced diet, in which the calories intake was constantly sufficient for their needs and that they have maintained a stable body weight or at least one without excessive variations (5). the qualitative aspect of their diet plan proved that theirs was a typically ‘Mediterranean’ diet, with limited consumption of meat and fats, especially of animal origin, and with a preference for fruits, vegetables, bread, pasta, milk and cheese. A modest consumption of wine, equal to 20.56+13.87 grams of alcohol a day and one cup of coffee a day are also notable (6). These results would corroborate the already widespread idea that a low-calory diet aids longevity (7).
Regular physical activity also proved to be a characteristic of the long-living, also because of the meagre possibility of using transport for the first 50 years of their lives. This is an important element if one considers the effect of physical exercise on the general state of health (8) and blood pressure (9). Could these good life habits be predisposed by an optimum psychic state or by a good capacity for responding to environmental stimuli, in other words to stressors?

3. Psychic factors

The study of the psychological state using GDS (Geriatric Depression Scale), in our sample of centenarians, revealed an average score of 9. Only 12.8% presented a pathological score.

Fig. 4: GDS score distribution in centenarians
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In our centenarians the presence of anxiety was investigated using the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) (10). Our findings describe the long-living as having a low anxiety trait, or rather they present an emotional tendency to react to stressful events with a low average anxiety score of 49±11.9 (range 20-80).
What elements determine this low propensity to anxiety and depression in centenarians? Could it be an obvious consequence of the absence of stressors in the lives of those who have attained extreme longevity?


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