If the promising title prompted you to open the blog and read, you’re not alone. Most people wish to live longer. Just a couple of hundred years ago, newborns were lucky to survive childbirth; they were lucky to make it to age 40 or 50. WHO (World Health Organization) ranks 200 nations around the world for life expectancy. Americans are ranked 36 in the world, average lifespan is 78.
Israel, among other Mediterranean countries, is ranked in the top 10. Average lifespan is 82.
Conclusion? Americans should move to Israel and collect 4 more years of social security.
Dan Buettner, an explorer and writer, wrote an amusing article last year in the New York Times titled “The Island Where People Forget to Die.” He’s best known for identifying and describing the “Blue Zones,” distinct areas in the world where life expectancy surpasses 100.
One such place is the Greek island of Ikaria, some 30 miles off the coast of Turkey.
As a researcher, he wanted to find out why these villagers live longer. Running on the treadmill and doing push-ups does not help. But keeping busy does. Go mend a fence, clear stones from your vegetable garden, pick fruit off trees, knead dough, tend to sheep (or grandchildren), climb hills – all these will add years to your life and life to your years.
According to the centenarians in Ikaria, a glass or two of wine will help too. So will an afternoon nap. So will organically grown vegetables, herbs, legumes. A lively discussion or talk among friends and family late into the night will help. And so will a good roll-in-the-hay with a lover.
Living in Israel, I thought of swimming to Ikaria – it’s 600 miles in a straight line. I figured if Dan Buettner had biked 15,000 miles from Alaska to Argentina (world-record holder), the least I could do is jump into Mediterranean and take a look at wrinkly old faces in Ikaria.
But then I realized, I could look at wrinkly old people outside my front door in Galilee.
That saved me plenty on airfare, boat fare, swim trunks and goggles…
Galilee is rural; it’s full of almond orchards, olive groves, figs, vineyards. But at the end of the day, these crops will be produced industrially like many Western countries. People here might take up gardening, plant tomatoes, eggplants, mint, herbs, basil, soak up better olive oil, but they get most (processed) food at the supermarket. Therefore, the food eaten here is not the reason why people in Galilee reach into their 80s and 90s. Working hard on the farm is not it, either. The farmers rely on hired help (Vietnamese, Thai) to pick almonds off the trees, and the Arabs to pick tomatoes and greens in the fields.
And as for the people of Galilee having a great time in bed when the lights are out – I don’t know – I was thrown out of a couple of bedrooms trying to find out.
Which leads to the one key ingredient why Galilee people live longer. They talk. Boy, do they talk.
Which is wonderful!
People here do wash their laundry in public. Tide detergent sells by the truckload in Galilee. Everyone knows everyone in Kfar Tavor, my village, at least the old timers. They know who had back surgery, who built an addition for the in-laws, who married three times, why olive oil will cost more this season, why the incumbent mayor will win again in the local elections, whose turn it is to host Passover dinner this year (they all virtual Rolodexes in their heads), who sold his house and for how much, who made money, who lost money, who lost a kidney, which pill is best for fighting cholesterol, which salad dressing is low-calorie, how to cool the house, how to save on water, how to fight the Syrians, how to (not) negotiate with the Arabs, and what to whisper in Obama’s big ears.
And that’s only on Tuesday.
So people in Galilee are tightly knit (and tight), and they give and receive advice; they kiss, hug, love, cry together. A sense of community and common purpose all add to a feeling of belonging. And this, according to Buettner, adds years.
So check with me in a few years. We might climb from number 10 to number 1.
But don’t come to Galilee all at once.
I can spare only one extra bedroom.
If you could choose a number, to which age would you like to live?
Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.
He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com
or at BN.com