Everyone wants to live forever, right?
OK, "forever" might include hurtling asteroids, devastating apocalypse-level storms, and way too many election cycles, so most people would probably be happy with a nice, healthy century. The question is, is it possible to get there without pills, plastic surgery, and pacts with the devil?
A group of centenarians in Acciaroli, Italy might offer a few answers. In this small seaside town south of Naples, more than 10% of the tiny population of 700 are over the century mark. Compare that to the United States, where a meager 0.0017% of residents are older than 100 -- wildly different sample sizes, sure, but it does sound like the residents of Acciaroli are doing something right. Scientists wanted to find out what, exactly.
Longevity literally courses through their veins
During a six-month study of Acciaroli's centenarians, researchers found that the villagers' blood contained low levels of the hormone adrenomedullin. Scientists believe that reduced levels of adrenomedullin -- which plays some role in circulation, though no one's sure exactly what it is yet -- might offer powerful protection for the hair-thin capillaries that keep your circulation strong. If you're struggling to remember Human Anatomy 101, capillaries are your thinnest blood vessels; they connect your blood supply between larger vessels, and get that tasty, tasty oxygen to the small, tough-to-reach body parts, like fingers, toes, and earlobes. The reason you bleed when you get a paper cut is because of these guys.
So, instead of the crappy capillaries many people develop as they get older, these tiny blood vessels in Acciaroli's group of seniors were as robust as those in people decades younger.
In fact, Sapienza University and San Diego School of Medicine researchers found that some of the villagers had the zingy microcirculation of people in their 20s. They also had lower rates of dementia, heart disease, and other life-threatening conditions.
OK, so how do I lower my adrenomedullin?
Before you start searching the dark web for drugs to reduce your adrenomedullin, understand that you probably already know how to do that: eat right, be happy, stay fit. Boring, yes, but the simplest answers tend to be best.
That's the advice this new study seems to support, anyway. When the scientists looked at the villagers' diet, their physical fitness, and the neurological factors that might encourage long life, their preliminary results seemed to back up similar studies on other centenarian populations around the world. Basically, that low level of adrenomedullin is probably the result of the villagers' lifestyle, rather than the cause of their longevity.
While the Acciaroli researchers look for funds to dig deeper, here are a few of the take-home messages this and others studies offer on how we might get to a spry 100.
Inherit a good set of genes
Well, this one you can't control, sadly. A study of super-seniors suggests that at least a few drops from the fountain of youth can be found in your genes. If mom or dad lived a long life, you may have a good chance of getting there, too.
Oops, not one of your relatives saw a triple-digit birthday? Well, hope isn't lost, there are other factors that seem to support long life.
Get off your lazy ass and move around
Walk. Run. Crawl around your living room. ANYTHING, as long as you get moving.
The Acciaroli study showed that those who reached the century mark got their muscles moving and their blood pumping -- through those wide capillaries no doubt -- with daily activities like fishing, gardening, and walking.
Eat like you want to live forever
While a triple-shot mocha latte may make you feel invincible, some variation of the Mediterranean diet should help you be invincible. Or at least long-lived.
To help you grow old gracefully, focus on fruits, veggies, and whole grains; go easy on animal-based foods like butter and beef; and stay responsible with alcohol. While you're at it, try a little rosemary -- the Acciaroli seniors seemed to favor this herb. Hell, toast your new healthy-eating resolution with a rosemary gin fizz, if you like.
Have sex like a horny teenager
You probably don't need to be told to have sex, but it's important to remember that getting older isn't a death sentence for your sexual life. That's what the Acciaroli study and others seem to show. The folks who researched the Italian centenarians reported that sexual activity was "rampant" among these Mediterranean Methuselahs, which is encouraging if for no other reason than that libido lasts into old age.
As sexy as it might be to watch Game of Thrones again, turn off Prince Oberyn and Ellaria getting it on and instead let those steamy sex scenes inspire your own. In other words, definitely try this at home.
Laugh more often
Finally, the best medicine for old age may be mirth, says Gene D. Cohen, MD, PhD. Laughing can reduce stress, Cohen writes, and seems to boost the immune system. Getting the giggles regularly may help creativity flourish, too.
The best bit about laughing your way to old age? You don't have to rely solely on good genes or getting out and getting sweaty. Sometimes the healthiest thing you can do is curl up on the couch with a good comedy.
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