In the 1970s, British human ecologist David Davies made a treacherous journey by bus to the remote Andean town of Vilcabamba, Ecuador and its neighboring villages to find a significant number of seemingly ageless, nimble, bright-eyed and mentally sharp men and women aged 105 to 130. He found these super-centenarians engaged in certain habits we would generally label as destructive or hard on the body. They did manual labor and smoked and drank alcohol. In addition, he found many to be sexually active. In some cases, their own memories actually put them past 140 years of age. Davies sought to find the factors that allowed these people to live for so long and so healthily.
Davies concluded that environment may be at least as important as heredity, and he dived into the mysterious benefits of the mountainous paradisiacal Ecuadorean environment known for certain physiological oddities as early tooth loss, late menopause, and a virtual absence of heart disease and cancer. He mentioned a low humidity environment combined with even temperature, the abundance of trace minerals in the soil which grows their food, the altitude, and prolific medicinal herbs growing readily at hand as contributory factors.
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In addition and perhaps equally as important, these villagers' way of life was simple. They enjoyed freedom from stress and a pervading sense of tranquility combined with physical exercise and a very simple but balanced diet.
These Vilcabambans’ way of life has been likened to the way of life and environment enjoyed by the famed long living elders observed in the Russian Caucasus and in Pakistani Hunza.
Although heredity is often considered a factor in longevity, this factor could be debunked by the studies of twins who have ancestors of old age and share near identical DNA and in which one twin dies very early compared to the other twin.
A factor that seems to be prevalent among centenarians interviewed is that they continue to be engaged fully in life. Their focus is on living and therefore they continue to live. They don’t necessarily retire. Instead, the continue to explore to learn and to grow.
Author Gwen Weiss-Numeroff, plagued by memories of her brother dying of leukemia at age 9, her best friend dying of cancer at age 33, her secretary dying in her early 50s and her mother of ovarian cancer at 70, wanted to ensure her life would be long, healthy and vibrant. She resolved to find centenarians in America and interview them to learn their “old age” secrets. She says:
In Centenarians: The Bonus Years by Lynn Peters-Adler, the centenarians she studied,
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Davies, David. The Centenarians of the Andes. Royal National Institute for the Blind, 1978.
Weiss-Numeroff, Gwen. Extraordinary Centenarians in America: Their Secrets to Living a Long Vibrant Life. Agio Publishing House, 2013.
Adler, Lynn Peters. Centenarians: the Bonus Years. Health Press, 1995.