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More to longevity than diet, exercise

More to longevity than diet, exercise
More to longevity than diet, exercise
Dr. Wayne Willis

The inhabitants of Roseto, Pa., became famous in the mid-20th century. Cardiologist Stewart Wolf found in Roseto abnormally long lifespans, unusually low stress levels and half the national average rate of heart disease. A research team formed and conducted a study of 50 years of Roseto residents and found no one younger than 55 who had shown signs of heart disease. They also found no suicides, no drug addiction, no peptic ulcers, no alcoholism and a crime rate almost nonexistent. Most people died of, well, old age.

What they did find was something that has become known by sociologists as “the Roseto effect.” Almost all 1,600 Roseto inhabitants were descendants of settlers from Roseto Valfortore, a small town in southern Italy whose people shared a common history, language and culture. They knew each other well, worked hard, went to church and took every opportunity to gather as a community. Their houses were close together. Several generations often shared a home. Neighbors visited each other, and their children played together daily. Malcolm Gladwell in “Outliers” noted that Roseto’s secret sauce was “the high quality of their interpersonal relationships.”

Dr. Wolf, who initially stumbled onto something different about Roseto that led to the research project, concluded that it was the tightly-knit community where everyone felt loved and supported and connected that made Roseto special. Strong social ties, Wolf contends, may be a better predictor of heart health than cholesterol levels or tobacco use.

Robert Putnam in “Bowling Alone” put that insight this way: “As a rough rule, if you belong to no groups but decide to join one, you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half.”

A supportive family and strong community ties may be as important as diet and exercise to long-term heart health and longevity.