Jan 20, 2022

Thriving at 100: An Italian village celebrates its centenarians

Italian centenarians
Photo: CBS News.

Guido Lepori, one of the residents, indicates that he’s got years and years left, “At least 150!” he told CBS News

In this quaint town, old age is prevalent and praised, murals artistically capture residents who have reached the age of 100. 

Situated just off the coast of Italy, Sardinia – particularly its town of Villagrande – is a magnet for tourists wishing to take in the pristine beaches and rich culture. 

Now however, it’s also attracting scientists and gerontologists, including Gianni Pes and Valter Longo, the director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California. Longo and Pes are long-time collaborators seeking to uncover the reasons behind the phenomenon of so many centenarians in Villagrande. 

Longo explains, “The whole world talks about this town.

Pes continues, “We are trying to find an explanation because after 20 years of hard work, we still don’t have a clear explanation.”

Villagrande is a place of deep tradition, routine and connections. Gabriele Mereu and his wife exhibit this perfectly and after 63 years of marriage he and Ermelinda still tend to their garden together. 

Asked about being so active they respond, “Always, I’ve always worked,” 96-year-old Gabriele shared.

His cousin Vittoria is no different. At 93 she’s still employed by the Orlando Hotel to take guests through the traditional process of making pistoccu bread.

Longo contemplates that periods of fasting, during perhaps the war years, followed by a diet rich in protein and fat in the years proceeding could bring about lengthier lifespans. He also acknowledged other factors after studying centenarians and their siblings’ ages.  

Having decades of experience between them, Longo and Pes agree there are a myriad of factors that go into longevity, including genetics and lifestyle. 

Longo says, “If you think about an athlete that wins lots of gold medals, you probably have to have the genetics.

“But then you have to have the training, etc, etc. So, I think that the genetics set you up, but they’re not going to get you there alone. So then, the lifestyle, and particularly the food, is a key factor.”

Villagrande certainly sets its residents up for success, with the lifestyle factor of exercise front and centre in everyday life up in the mountains. 

In the village, family, community and connection is vital, especially for Marietta Monni, who at 100, lives alone. With Italian hospitality on full display, reporters are invited over for lunch, prepared by her family living in the upstairs apartment. The menu, not disappointing, is fresh pasta with equally fresh tomato sauce. Part of a longstanding tradition, vegetables are a fixture in meals here. So, also, is a splash of red wine, in moderation of course. 

Close by at Guilia Pisanu’s house, when asked about the secret ingredient to a long life, she insightfully replied, “Don’t be jealous. 

“And don’t be envious.”

While not precisely scientific, like all those depicted in the murals of Villagrande (photo below), it stems from the deep perspective and wisdom of years fully lived.

Photo: CBS News.

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