Healthy In Sardinia
|By Emma Bird
that your sister then” Louise asked my boyfriend Mario. “She’s in
good nick.” “My sister?” Mario spluttered, gobsmacked
at the idea. “That’s my mum. She’s 35 years older than me.”
Not of course,
that you could tell. With a deep, golden tan and toned body, immaculately
coiffed hair and only a few more worry lines than 27-year-old me, Bruna
could easily pass for a fory-something. Forget Leisure World, the community
south of Los Angeles which has become the byword in youthful old age, and
welcome to Sardinia.
island is not only synonymous with taut, tanned bodies and good looks,
it also has the world's highest percentage of people who have passed the
|Five of the
world’s 40 oldest people live in Sardinia and some 135 people per million
live to see their 100th birthday, while the western average is nearer 75.
Centenarians are scattered around all of the island’s 377 municipalities
with female centenarians outweighing the males four to one.
do indeed look much younger than they are. My boyfriend is 37 and friends
who haven’t yet met him expect him to arrive in prim, conservative clothes.
“Dove Mario? Where’s Mario then?” Valentina asked me in the Cagliari
gelateria where we were celebrating her birthday. “Over there”,
I replied, pointing to a normal-looking bloke that just happened to be
my boyfriend. “Oh” she said, “But I thought he was old. He just
looks like one of us.” It is not uncommon for women in their seventies
to be mistaken for their 50-year-old counterparts. And even those who have
already blown out 100 candles on their birthday cake are still fit and
active: going for daily walks, doing the shopping, and even running to
catch the bus on occasions.
is the second largest island in the Mediterranean and has a wonderful villagey
feel to it – probably not surprising given that there are only 1.6million
in total and only six main towns. But the real surprise is that while most
Sardinians are slim, they enjoy their food – a regular Sunday lunch will
consist of six courses, followed by coffee and liquors.
the daily meals consist of depends on the region, each boasting their
own speciality. In land you will eat meat, and by the sea, fish. But one
thing is sure: each meal will be doused in copious amounts of freshly pressed
olive oil and washed down with lots of red wine – often homemade from the
family’s own vignetti growing in their garden or more probably the allotment
or terreno. If the natives really are unable to get hold of a good wine
made by a friend of a friend of a friend then the island has a host of
good quality wines to choose from.
including the ruby red Canonau, traditionally produced in Jerzi in the
east but can now be
the region; the light, dry red Capidano di Terralba which goes
well with red or white meats; Carignano del Sulcis whose grapes were orignally
imported by the ancient Phoenicians and is now available in either red
or white versions and the Vernaccia di Oristano which is amber yellow and
has an almond bouquet. It is one of the best wines to drink while relaxing
outside on a balmy evening with friends and enjoying easy conversation.
inhabitants think a couple of glasses of red wine is the trick to keeping
the crows’ feet and laughter lines at bay, others disagree. As with any
question here, you’ll get a different answer every time depending on the
Sardinian you talk to. “Ah, la segreta, la segreta- E’ ovvio, no?”
said one 96-year-old man sitting on a rickety chair outside his house in
Assemini, an old ceramics town 15 km from Cagliari, and just inches from
the cars zooming past on their way into Sardinia’s capital. “The red
wine perhaps?” I ventured. “Ma che…you don’t understand anything
my daughter. It’s in the air of course.” His neighbour stared at him,
ready for confrontation. “Air, ma stai scherzando? You are joking? It’s
the homegrown vegetables and the pecorino cheese”.
wife an in the middle of them both looked at them as if they were mad.
“Take no notice of them, what’s important is doing everything in moderation.
That’s how you live to a good old age.”
the reason for Sardinians receiving the traditional greeting A Kent’Annos
– may you live to be 100 – one thing is sure: forget the fresh air,
the good wine, the local vegetables and doing everything in moderation,
you need to live in or around Nuoro. In this mountainous interior province
located in the Barabagia region, the prevalence of centenarians is striking:
240 in every one million people.
And to further
your chances even more, you need to head for the village of Orrolì,
which has just 2,748 people - seven natives (five since decesed)
have reached 100 over the past five decades.
are so startling they have led Sardinian scientist Luca Deina to investigate
the genes of every person aged 100 and over on the island. The molecular
biologist has codenamed the project A Kent Annos, and already seems to
have discovered a genetic link.
that G6PD gene, which helps with glucose metabolism and is located
on the X chromosome is connected to longevity – in centenarians, the incidence
of G6PD deficiency is on average double compared to control groups. But
people who have this deficiency can also be affected by a disorder known
as acute hemolytic anemia. It means that if they eat fava beans or inhale
their pollen they could have a severe adverse reaction. In some cases,
this reaction is fatal.
proof that longevity is linked with genes and not the popular nurture
v. nature debate came yesterday when I reached an important – and in some
ways unwanted - milestone in my life: for the first time in the two years
and 10 months I have been living in Italy, I was called Signora, instead
of the usual Signorina, reserved for girls and young women. Admittedly,
I wasn’t wearing any make up and I was dressed down in a sundress and flip
flops but the change in attitude was enough to provoke a mini crisis in
I got home, I stared at myself in front of my bathroom mirror, looking
for any signs of old age that had crept up on me in the night while I was
sleeping unawares. But, even now, as much as I stare and contort my
face into weird grimaces that would surely win me Gurner of the Year, I
just can’t see it. Back in May when I took five schoolboys to be told off
by the headteacher of the high school I was working in at the time, I was
told off, too. “E tu signorina, why are you here?” he asked me sternly,
glaring down at me from his old, oak desk in his study. “What have you
done to annoy my teacher.” “Actually, I am the teacher” I replied.
“This isn’t a time for joking, unless you want to be suspended”
he jeered back. How, in a matter of four months, could I have gone from
resembling a schoolgirl to a middle-aged woman?
with my “pale cadaverous skin” (you note here that Sardinians
don’t mince their words) I’ll never develop the deep, glowing tan of
my friends, nor will I ever have the tiny, pert backside that Sardinians
are blessed with because it is in the genes.
But I truly
believe that if I keep using the olive oil, eating fresh food and enjoying
a couple of daily glasses of rich, red wine, I may not live to be 100 but
I’ll sure have a good time trying.
is Emma's first article for the magazine:
is a freelance journalist, English teacher and the founder of Weaveaweb,
a bilingual networking association for professional women in Sardinia.
Index ~ Italy