Thursday, May 08, 2008

AARP studies Nicoyan centenarians for longevity: a lesson in "family solidarity"?

The May and June issue of AARP Magazine has on page 56 in print an article by Dan Buettner,
“Living to Be 100: A remarkable group of centenarians living on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula share their secrets,” link here.

The article discusses the native Nicoyans who live in what anthropologists call “Blue Zones.” The article discusses the longevity factors that include, besides genetics, lifestyle habits. These include eating less (especially at night) and eating largely plant foods (sort of the Gabe Mirkin low fat diet advice from the 1990s) and sociological factors. The most important seems to be “focus on family” and the tendency for extended families, through great grandchildren, to live together or in close proximity. The people also accept what psychologists call “external locus of control,” willing to relinquish control of their lives to God and receptivity to attention from others.

Doesn’t this contradict modern values of independence and personal sovereignty, and even “extreme capitalism”. Probably so. In this culture, at least, it has to be OK to accept and expect help and attention (that might seem gratuitous to modern individualists) from others, and others in the family must accept the idea that it is expected. They probably accept it because they grow up in a culture that offers a simple life and not much else.

The report makes for an interesting comparison to the New York Times story discussed on this blog a couple days ago. That article took a pessimistic tone assuming that most seniors in the 80s and 90s would become frail and dependent.

Also see the review of Barbara Walters ‘s “Live to Be 150here.

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