Vital, healthy and sexually active into the senior years: Learn from these Italian elderly
In the areas surrounding Acciaroli, Italy, the local population on average reaches an extremely advanced age. This geographic spot, just below Naples, belongs to the so-called blue zones: areas where people on average live longer, healthier and happier lives than in other parts of the world. Japan’s Okinawa and Italy’s Sardinia, for example, are among these marked areas.
The village of centenarians
In Acciaroli many people reach ages over 90 years in good health. For example, they retain a robust libido and they are still sexually active. The brains of the 95-year-olds resemble "normal" people in their 50s, with concomitant sexual interest and stamina. One male researcher studying the group of elderly even describes a woman of 94 years trying to seduce him during the study.
One of the physical characteristics of Acciaroli elderly is their extremely healthy microcirculation. Their small (capillary) blood vessels, supplying nutrients far into various tissues and removing waste, are in fact just as healthy as those of teenagers. Concentrations of adrenomedullin, a hormone that dilates blood vessels, was the indicator for this remarkable finding.
Epigenetics still more important
Genetic factors are not to be disregarded but epigenetics seems to claim an increasingly important role in the understanding of health and aging. Epigenetics is the science of factors that can switch genes on and off, including lifestyle changes and environmental factors, without changing the underlying DNA, that is, the actual genomic code.
This means that old-school genetic determinism is increasingly referred to the recycle bin. Statements such as "I'm fat or sick or ... because of my genetic predisposition" thus become increasingly questionable.
In the Acciaroli case some nutritional and lifestyle factors concur with what is known as the Mediterranean lifestyle. People of all ages cinsume a lot of local food, including anchovies, rabbit, and in particular a local variant of rosemary, which is 10 times stronger than the rosemary that the typical European eats. This regional variety of rosemary is used in the preparation of almost every meal. It may thus be considered a specific factor, as it contains higher concentrations of beneficial substances.
Senolytics: Slowing down aging
Perhaps one of these nominated substances may be included in a class of new molecules known as "senolytics". Senescent cells are those cells that are no longer able to communicate, yet do not die, and become de facto dysfunctional cells negatively affecting other, healthy cells. The amount of senescent cells increases with age. Senolytics, some being plant molecules, remove these senescent cells.
Environmental factors remain higher in the hierarchy of causation than nutrition. For instance, Acciaroli elderly spend plenty of time outside in the sun, breathe fresh air, swim in the sea and get their share of mountain hikes. In an earlier blog we discussed what is called the exposome and the role of the total spectrum of environmental factors for good health.
Importance of sunlight
Vitamin D3 is not the only reason why sun is healthy. There are numerous mechanisms by which the sun affects our wellbeing. The following list of well-known beneficial effects is likely to be only a part of the actual spectrum of benefits.
Exposure to sunlight:
- Sets the circadian rhythm
- Benefits heart function and blood pressure
- Positively influences mood
- Works nootropically (that is, benefits the brain functions)
- Is good for tooth health
- Increases alertness
- Boosts sex hormones and relieves pain
In optimizing your well-being it may be interesting to look at lifestyle factors common to “blue area” residents, including healthy diet and staying active. Specific factors may play an important role, too, as the rosemary case in Acciaroli elderly may suggest. Common “blue” factors may be considered a solid general basis while specific factors will be good to experiment with.