Live to 100: the remarkable record of an island’s centenarians

This scene of residents gathered in an Italian cafe may not sound remarkable, until you know their age; they are each 100 years old – and Guido Lepori says he has years left: “At least 150! he told correspondent Seth Doane.

Old age is common and celebrated in this city, where murals depict residents who have reached at least 100 years of age.

A mural honoring one of Villagrande’s centenarians.

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Villagrande is located in Sardinia, a well-known destination for tourists who come for the culture and the beaches. But it also attracts scientists and gerontologists, including Gianni Pes, and Valter Longo, who heads the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California, and who works with Pes to study this centuries-old phenomenon.

“The whole world is talking about this city,” Longo said. “Having six centenarians out of 2,000 or 3,000 people, extremely rare anywhere in the world.”

Nestled in the mountains of the Italian island of Sardinia is the village of Villagrande, where researchers study one of the highest concentrations of centenarians in the world.

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

Villagrande is a place where, after 63 years of marriage, we still find Gabriele Mereu and his wife Ermelinda taking care of their garden.

Doane asked, “Are you still that active? “

“Always, I always worked”, confides us this man of 96 years.

Gabriele Mereu, 96, takes care of his garden.

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His cousin Vittoria too. At 93, she is still hired by the Orlando Hotel to demonstrate the traditional way of doing pistoccu bread.

Pes said: “Ten percent of people born in Villagrande reach the age of 90. In Italy it’s 3%. So you can imagine it’s more than three times the national average.”

Longo believes that periods of fasting, for example during wartime, followed by a richer diet (with more protein and fat) in the last few years can help lengthen lifespan. But when he met these centenarians, he noticed something else: the age of the siblings.

Doane asked, “How much of this is genetics versus lifestyle?” “

“If you think of an athlete who wins a lot of gold medals, you probably have to have the genetics,” Longo replied. “But then you have to have the training, et cetera, et cetera. So, I think genetics have prepared you, but they won’t get you there on your own. So the lifestyle, and especially the food, is a key factor.”

These lifestyle factors are displayed: living in these mountains means getting regular exercise.

In the city, community and family are important, especially for Marietta Monni, who lives alone at 100 years old. Doane joined her for lunch, prepared by the family living in the upstairs apartment. On the menu: pasta with tomato sauce. Historically, vegetables have featured prominently here. Red wine too (to be consumed in moderation).

Nearby, at Giulia Pisanu’s, we asked this centenary what, according to her, could be the secret of a long life. “Don’t be jealous,” she replied. “And don’t be envious.”

Advice that may not be scientific, but like the one celebrated here on the walls, it comes from the perspective and wisdom of the age.


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Story produced by Robert Marston. Publisher: George Pozderec.

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