A remarkable group of people in southern Italy spend their days outdoors eating fish, drinking wine, and smoking cigarettes. Many of them are also overweight.

Regardless of these seemingly unhealthy lifestyle, many reach ripe old age, with a good number of these people reaching over 90 years old. Residents are likewise marked by relatively good health.

"They have less Alzheimer's, they have less cataracts, they have less bone fractures," Alan Maisel, from the University of California who studied the super-agers in this region, described the people. "We don't see any heart failure, they have high blood pressure, but the heart seems good in practically everybody we've measured. So there's something there."

Secrets Of Longevity

A group of researchers said that it isn't just these people's good genes and their Mediterranean diet that can account for their health and longevity. In a new study, which was published in the journal International Psychogeriatrics on Tuesday, Dec. 12, researchers suggest that psychological traits may also play an important role.

Study researcher Dilip Jeste, from UC San Diego School of Medicine, and colleagues involved participants from villages in southern Italy's Cilento region.

Personality Traits Associated With Long-Lived Participants

Using quantitative rating scales to assess mental and physical health, and qualitative interviews to collect personal narratives of the participants on topics such as traumatic events, migrations, and belief, researchers found a trend in personality traits among very old residents of Cilento: they all showed high levels of mental well-being and low levels of anxiety and depressions, which can be traced up to these people's sense of purpose and their relationship to their surroundings.

"The main themes that emerged from qualitative interviews included positivity (resilience and optimism), working hard, and bond with family and religion, as described in previously published studies of the oldest old, but also a need for control and love of the land, which appeared to be unique features of this rural population," the researchers wrote in their study.

Those between 90 and 101 years old were found to have worse physical health but better mental well-being compared with the young members of their family between the age 60 and 75. They likewise had good decision-making abilities, considerable self-confidence, and a sense of well-being.

Researchers said that the group tended to be stubborn, domineering, and needed a sense of control, which can be considered as desirable traits since these show that these individuals are true to their convictions and care less about what other people think.

"Studying the strategies of exceptionally long-lived and lived-well individuals, who not just survive but also thrive and flourish, enhances our understanding of health and functional capacities in all age groups," Jeste said.

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