By Micheal Seabaugh
I recently reported on those yoghurt- (actually, Matsoni-)
eating Abkhazians and their “long-living” ways. A little song, some
nuts, and, most importantly, a respect for aging — all have
powerful effects on living the long life back in old southern
But these plucky folks aren’t the only ones who are winning the
long life lottery. Most of us know about the Okinawans, who live
longer because they eat fish and stay away from Western-style
stress. Even in the United States — loaded with Western-style
stress — the number of centenarians doubled in the 1980s and did so
again in the 1990s. Some estimates claim we have more than 70,000
centenarians with projections coming in that by 2050, there will be
more than 800,000 Americans who can claim this Grand Geezer
Common in all of these longevity studies, according to one
Harvard Health Publication on the topic, is activity.
Centenarians — no matter if they are Swedish or Okinawan — are
active both physically and mentally. In Okinawa they may do Tai Chi
and in Santa Barbara they are probably walking or golfing, but
moving the body is what it is all about.
All of this talk of longevity is fine, but who wants it if it is
going to be like something out of a Chekhov play? This is where we
need to bring the Cubans into the picture. This tiny communist
island claims Benito Martínez, possibly the oldest person alive at
120. Cuba equals the U.S. in life expectancy (77 years) yet pays
only $251 per head a year on healthcare, compared to the $5,711 we
spend in this country.
Cubans live longer, it seems, because they drink lots of coffee,
smoke a lot of cigars, and enjoy abundant sex. Maybe they are on to
something. I’ve always thought it wasn’t worth living a long life
unless the enjoyment factor was firmly in place. Despite their
austere communist deprivation, I have imagined Cubans as a
fun-loving lusty people who can find enjoyment under a rock if
necessary. If this is so (and not just my fantasy), then perhaps we
should pay attention to what the Cuban centenarians have to say
about the secrets to their longevity.
Like many other long-lived people, the majority of the Cuban
centenarians had parents who were likewise blessed with longevity.
They also eat a relatively healthy diet of white meat, vegetables,
eggs, milk, and, like the Okinawans, lots of fish; all enhanced
with natural seasonings, but little salt. What distinguishes the
Cubans from other long-lived folk are those “healthy vices” they
indulge in; remember these folks love their coffee, cigars, and
sex. It should be pointed out that the one “vice” they don’t
partake of is alcohol.
I have never been to Cuba (they won’t let me go) but I have
always had a warm spot in my heart for it. Back in its pre-Castro
days, my mother and father treated themselves to what was most
likely a very festive weekend to Havana. They came back inspired to
learn all kinds of Latin dances. Pérez Prado was played brightly,
if not nightly, on our living room hi-fi system as my parents
thrilled their wide-eyed children with their joyous and very
I really think I must have witnessed my lovely long-legged
mother and my dashing father cha cha cha-ing around our living room
and believed at the time that it wasn’t so bad to get old. Next
week, in the online edition of Healthspan, I will look at the
longevity factors necessary for us to live a long life (that is, if
the genes are willing and the creeks don’t rise).
Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh is a licensed clinical psychologist
with a psychotherapy practice in Santa Barbara. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit his
Web site/blog at www.HealthspanWeb.com for more
information on the topics covered in this column.