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How to live longer - Kristina Chetcuti

Staying in touch with nature, eating healthy food and keeping calories down late at night is the secret to a happy, long life.

Staying in touch with nature, eating healthy food and keeping calories down late at night is the secret to a happy, long life.

We were in Sardinia last week, in a tiny remote village in the midst of rural land of shepherds and farmers.

It so happens that Sardinia is the island that has the highest number of centenarians in the whole of Europe, and in the village where we were staying there were some five people over the age of hundred. Not the frail, blank-eyes, sitting-in-a-wheelchair-with-a-carer-wiping-their-drool kind of centenarians, but ones who radiate happy liveliness, alertness, wisdom and a remarkable agility.

“My great-aunt is 102 years old and she still tends to her vegetable orto, prepares meals for the family, goes to Mass every day, and you can hear her laughter from the corner of her street,” one villager told us, adding that she, like all the other island’s centenarians, worked hard in agriculture all her life, and still does. In fact, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are always trying to slow her down.

The secret, according to his old zia, is in the food. “Collazione in abbondanza, un bel pranzo, e poco da mangiar per cena.” Which essentially is the old adage ‘breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper’. Obviously, an abundant breakfast does not mean an extra-large portion of a sugar-fest cereal like Special K. Oh no, zia eats a variety of fresh vegetables grown in her garden, homemade bread, homemade cheese and salami, and delicious eggs laid by the chickens running free in her garden.

It is so obvious, isn’t it? Staying in touch with nature, eating healthy food and keeping calories down late at night is the secret to a happy, long life. And yet, yet, in the new millennium we seem to be finding all sorts of excuses to discard the obvious. 

Each year, the number of people suffering from depression or anxiety is increasing. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children is steeply on the rise. But year after year, we get scientific reports that people living close to trees and green spaces are less likely to be obese, inactive, dependent on anti-depressants or suffering from ADHD symptoms.

Instead of preserving the bits of green we have, we are happy to destroy them

Look at the countries in Europe with the highest longevity rates: France, Italy and Greece – all places where they take their food seriously and where people can grab a car and drive to vast green spaces in nature if they need to recharge.

In the world, Japan has the highest ratio of people who live up to the age of 100 or beyond. There is a specific rural town, Ogimi, nicknamed the Village of Longevity, where people live longer than in any other place on the planet. Why? They lead a busy – but not rushed – life with constant contact with nature every day.

Ogimi centenarians all have a vegetable garden, plant their own vegetables and cook them themselves, often inviting friends over to join them. Their diet is rich in vegetables and herbs, and low in animal products.

What about us? Malta fares badly in longevity. We know why: instead of trees and green spaces where storks can land, we have monuments to ugliness – horrible tasteless blobs of towering concrete, where storks are shot at. Instead of preserving the bits of green that we have, we are happy to destroy them to build more roads. Instead of fresh air we wake up in the morning, look out of the window and see an apocalyptic toxic cloud looming over the island, and we’re told to stay indoors and not breathe. It’s depressing even writing about it, let alone living it.

What worries me is that our children are exposed to this hideousness every day and seem to be growing immune to it, or maybe even worse – they think this is the way it should be. If you have children in their late teens, you’ll know that they consider fresh countryside air as alien. Ours do, at least.

“All we’re seeing is cows,” they moaned. ‘Cows’ is the teen term for any four-legged creatures in fields, because we did not see a single cow, but we did see lots of sheep and goats. “Can we go to a shopping mall?” came the next plea.

Such is their addiction that half-way through the trip we had to drop them off at a mall so they got their three-hour fix of wandering aimlessly from one shop to the next. Only then were they ready for more days of cows and horses and canoeing, and trekking.

It makes me want to desperately shake them out of this addiction – the addiction to ugliness. But how? How can we immerse ourselves more in nature if the little we have is being taken away from us? When the people we elect to take care of our country keep failing us? What can I do? I have no orto, my car drives are punctuated by swearing, not by goats and sheep, and the pace of my life is rushed.

If you think about it, the secret of a long and happy life is to be surrounded by beauty; beauty of nature and of souls. I want our idyllic Malta, once so pristine, to allow us to step out of our homes, look around us, and breathe in beauty.

And I want that now, not when I’m hundred.

krischetcuti@gmail.com
Twitter: @KrisChetcuti

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