Here is the full transcript of psychologist Susan Pinker’s TED Talk: The Secret to Living Longer May Be Your Social Life.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: The secret to living longer may be your social life by Susan Pinker
Here’s an intriguing fact. In the developed world, everywhere, women live an average of six to eight years longer than men do. Six to eight years longer. That’s, like, a huge gap.
In 2015, the “Lancet” published an article showing that men in rich countries are twice as likely to die as women are at any age. But there is one place in the world where men live as long as women. It’s a remote, mountainous zone, a blue zone, where super longevity is common to both sexes.
This is the blue zone in Sardinia, an Italian island in the Mediterranean, between Corsica and Tunisia, where there are six times as many centenarians as on the Italian mainland, less than 200 miles away. 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. But why? My curiosity was piqued.
I decided to research the science and the habits of the place, and I started with the genetic profile. I discovered soon enough that genes account for just 25% of their longevity. The other 75% is lifestyle.
So what does it take to live to 100 or beyond? What are they doing right? What you’re looking at is an aerial view of Villagrande. It’s a village at the epicenter of the blue zone where I went to investigate this, and as you can see, architectural beauty is not its main virtue, density is: tightly spaced houses, interwoven alleys and streets. It means that the villagers’ lives constantly intersect.
And as I walked through the village, I could feel hundreds of pairs of eyes watching me from behind doorways and curtains, from behind shutters. Because like all ancient villages, Villagrande couldn’t have survived without this structure, without its walls, without its cathedral, without its village square, because defense and social cohesion defined its design.
Urban priorities changed as we moved towards the industrial revolution because infectious disease became the risk of the day. But what about now? Now, social isolation is the public health risk of our time.
Now, a third of the population says they have two or fewer people to lean on. But let’s go to Villagrande now as a contrast to meet some centenarians.
Meet Giuseppe Murinu. He’s 102, a supercentenarian and a lifelong resident of the village of Villagrande. He was a gregarious man. He loved to recount stories such as how he lived like a bird from what he could find on the forest floor during not one but two world wars, how he and his wife, who also lived past 100, raised six children in a small, homey kitchen where I interviewed him.
Here he is with his sons Angelo and Domenico, both in their 70s and looking after their father, and who were quite frankly very suspicious of me and my daughter who came along with me on this research trip, because the flip side of social cohesion is a wariness of strangers and outsiders.
But Giuseppe, he wasn’t suspicious at all. He was a happy-go-lucky guy, very outgoing with a positive outlook. And I wondered: so is that what it takes to live to be 100 or beyond, thinking positively? Actually, no.