What does it take to live to 100? In her just-released TED Talk, psychologist Susan Pinker explains the fascinating data drawn from her study of the Italian village of Villagrande. Why do so many of its inhabitants hit triple-digit birthdays? Hint: it has nothing to do with a low-fat diet.
As Pinker points out, Villagrande, while picturesque, is not known for its architecture. Instead, “tightly spaced houses, interwoven alleys and streets…[mean] that the villagers’ lives constantly intersect.” In this “Blue Zone,” there are six times as many centenarians as on the Italian mainland, less than 200 miles away. And, says Pinker, there are 10 times as many centenarians as there are in North America. It’s the only place where men live as long as women. Visiting different Villagrande centenarians, she discovered that the most significant commonality between them was their social integration, at all ages. Looking at longevity statistics in North America, Pinker reveals that “social isolation is the public health risk of our time.”
Similar to research presented in her book The Village Effect, Pinker discusses how developed nations often struggle to build and sustain a social community. Instead, we spend up to 11 hours per day online, and many of our social interactions are on platforms like Facebook. Why is face-to-face interaction so important? For one, it releases a whole host of important neurotransmitters—many of which keep our minds sharp and, yup, our lives long.
“Building your village—and sustaining it—is a matter of life or death,” says Pinker at the end of her TED Talk. And the village doesn’t only comprise close friends and family, she adds. It includes the people who make our coffee, or the woman who walks past your house every day with her dog. Like the citizens of Villagrande, we can find connection in crossed paths, and that’s a strong beginning to any village.