Retirement Puzzle - The secret to longer life

This year Reginald ‘Reg’ Dean died on 5th January 2013, aged a magnificent 110. Reg was a very rare British supercentenarian and prior to his death, the oldest man in the UK. When speaking on TV in 2011 he put his longevity down to two things; firstly a ‘mysterious brown-looking’ elixir of life given to him by a doctor when he was an army chaplain in India and secondly his somewhat laid back lifestyle.

 By Tim Gosden, Head of Strategy for Legal & General’s individual annuity business

 While British supercenentrians are still very rare, centenarians are becoming more commonplace. According to the most recent Office for National Statistics, (ONS) figures the number of centenarians in the UK has increased five fold over the last 30 years from 2,500 in 1980 to 12,640 in 2010. The ONS reckon that the number of centenarians in the UK will exceed 160,000 by mid 2040 which is more than twelve times the 2010 figure.

 Whilst we we might gasp in awe at how UK life expectancy is improving, in a previous article I mentioned how Sardinia is classified as a ‘Blue Zone’, where communities in its remote and mountainous regions experience unheard of longevity. Sardinia has the highest documented percentage of people living past100 in the world. In one small town ‘Ovodda’ with a population of just over 1,700, five residents are centenarians with an improbable number breezing into their nineties and beyond. And interestingly as many men live to 100 as women.

 The reasons why these people live so long may not be surprising but given the huge demographic challenges that we face in the UK face, then perhaps we can learn from them. Both the lifestyle and diet of these people has been studied over years by, for example, National Geographic writer and explorer Dan Buettner and a team of scientists.

 So based on Buettner’s work and others, here are some of the key tips for living a longer life


 A typical Sardinian diet is lean and consists of whole-grain bread, garden vegetables, beans, fruits and with red meat on special occasions

 Some individual components include:
 Carta de musica – Thin and crisp sheets of unleavened, whole wheat bread that’s high in vitamin D. Apparently, the bacteria used to raise bread creates a variety of substances with very positive health attributes.

 Home-grown fruits and vegetables such as zucchini which is rich in folate, potassium and vitamin A and eggplant, tomatoes, and fava beans, which are high in fibre and folate that reduce the risk of heart disease and colon cancer.

 Sardinians use olive oil and eat olives from their olive trees. They also use mastic oil which has antibacterial and antimutagenic properties and acts as a decongestant of the lymph nodes and veins, as well as being great for respiratory issues.

 Cannonau di Sardegna wine. A very dark red wine, the finest examples of which are from the eastern half of the island in the Nuoro, Ogliastra and Cagliari provinces. The wine is drunk with a meal and is full of antioxidants (which are two or three times higher as in other wines) which help keep arteries clean.

 Pecorino Sard, which is a hard ‘ewes’ milk cheeses that comes from grass-fed sheep and is high in Omega 3.
 Almonds and hazelnuts.

 Goats milk that may help protect against inflammatory diseases of aging such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s.


 For thousands of years Sardinians have been pretty well isolated and when invaders such as the Phoenicians and Romans discovered them they quickly retreated into the mountains to avoid contact. Today, it is believed that approximately 80% are directly related to the original Sardinians and that this isolation has decreased the variability of the genetic pool and led to positive genetic traits that protect individuals from diseases. For example, studies have confirmed that Sardinian men share a common genetic trait and that is a deficiency of the G6PDH enzyme and as such they are far less likely to die from heart disease or stroke than the general population.

 Family life and general lifestyle

 Sardinians are very dedicated to family traditions and in particular having respect for and caring for the elderly, who in turn provide childcare, wisdom and financial help. These very strong family bonds lead to better adjusted children and people who are fortunate enough to have a strong, healthy and supportive family around them are generally less likely to suffer stress and anxiety.

 Sardinian women also take on many responsibilities including financial affairs, as well as family and caring for the elderly. It is believed that this additional stress may account for why the ratio of female to male centenarians is nearly one to one in some parts of Sardinia.

 In addition, men walking five miles a day or more as shepherds provides the cardiovascular benefits of exercise that we all would benefit from. Men are also renowned for their ‘sardonic’ street humour and it is well known that laughter reduces stress. Perversely ‘Sardonic Humour’ is supposed to originate from the very ancient people of Sardinia, who were called Sardi or Sardoni and who laughed loudly while killling their older people!

 So these appear to be the Sardinian secrets to living longer happier life. To end this month’s article, while interviewed on TV Reg Dean once said:

 “There are three questions everyone should ask himself or herself. 'Who am I, why am I here and where am I going?” And then proclaimed he didn’t know the answers to any of them.

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