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  • 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 percent of their longevity.

  • The other 75 percent 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.

  • (Laughter)

  • Meet Giovanni Corrias. He's 101,

  • the grumpiest person I have ever met.

  • (Laughter)

  • And he put a lie to the notion

  • that you have to be positive to live a long life.

  • And there is evidence for this.

  • When I asked him why he lived so long,

  • he kind of looked at me under hooded eyelids and he growled,

  • "Nobody has to know my secrets."

  • (Laughter)

  • But despite being a sourpuss,

  • the niece who lived with him and looked after him

  • called him "Il Tesoro," "my treasure."

  • And she respected him and loved him,

  • and she told me, when I questioned this obvious loss of her freedom,

  • "You just don't understand, do you?

  • Looking after this man is a pleasure.

  • It's a huge privilege for me.

  • This is my heritage."

  • And indeed, wherever I went to interview these centenarians,

  • I found a kitchen party.

  • Here's Giovanni with his two nieces,

  • Maria above him

  • and beside him his great-niece Sara,

  • who came when I was there to bring fresh fruits and vegetables.

  • And I quickly discovered by being there

  • that in the blue zone, as people age,

  • and indeed across their lifespans,

  • they're always surrounded by extended family, by friends,

  • by neighbors, the priest, the barkeeper, the grocer.

  • People are always there or dropping by.

  • They are never left to live solitary lives.

  • This is unlike the rest of the developed world,

  • where as George Burns quipped,

  • "Happiness is having a large, loving, caring family in another city."

  • (Laughter)

  • Now, so far we've only met men,

  • long-living men, but I met women too,

  • and here you see Zia Teresa.

  • She, at over 100, taught me how to make the local specialty,

  • which is called culurgiones,

  • which are these large pasta pockets

  • like ravioli about this size,

  • this size,

  • and they're filled with high-fat ricotta and mint

  • and drenched in tomato sauce.

  • And she showed me how to make just the right crimp

  • so they wouldn't open,

  • and she makes them with her daughters every Sunday

  • and distributes them by the dozens to neighbors and friends.

  • And that's when I discovered a low-fat, gluten-free diet

  • is not what it takes to live to 100 in the blue zone.

  • (Applause)

  • Now, these centenarians' stories along with the science that underpins them

  • prompted me to ask myself some questions too,

  • such as, when am I going to die and how can I put that day off?

  • And as you will see, the answer is not what we expect.

  • Julianne Holt-Lunstad is a researcher at Brigham Young University

  • and she addressed this very question

  • in a series of studies

  • of tens of thousands of middle aged people

  • much like this audience here.

  • And she looked at every aspect of their lifestyle:

  • their diet, their exercise,

  • their marital status,

  • how often they went to the doctor,

  • whether they smoked or drank, etc.

  • She recorded all of this

  • and then she and her colleagues sat tight and waited for seven years

  • to see who would still be breathing.

  • And of the people left standing,

  • what reduced their chances of dying the most?

  • That was her question.

  • So let's now look at her data in summary,

  • going from the least powerful predictor to the strongest.

  • OK?

  • So clean air, which is great,

  • it doesn't predict how long you will live.

  • Whether you have your hypertension treated

  • is good.

  • Still not a strong predictor.

  • Whether you're lean or overweight, you can stop feeling guilty about this,

  • because it's only in third place.

  • How much exercise you get is next,

  • still only a moderate predictor.

  • Whether you've had a cardiac event and you're in rehab and exercising,

  • getting higher now.

  • Whether you've had a flu vaccine.

  • Did anybody here know

  • that having a flu vaccine protects you more than doing exercise?

  • Whether you were drinking and quit,

  • or whether you're a moderate drinker,

  • whether you don't smoke, or if you did, whether you quit,

  • and getting towards the top predictors

  • are two features of your social life.

  • First, your close relationships.

  • These are the people that you can call on for a loan

  • if you need money suddenly,

  • who will call the doctor if you're not feeling well

  • or who will take you to the hospital,

  • or who will sit with you if you're having an existential crisis,

  • if you're in despair.

  • Those people, that little clutch of people

  • are a strong predictor, if you have them, of how long you'll live.

  • And then something that surprised me,

  • something that's called social integration.

  • This means how much you interact with people

  • as you move through your day.

  • How many people do you talk to?

  • And these mean both your weak and your strong bonds,

  • so not just the people you're really close to,

  • who mean a lot to you,

  • but, like, do you talk to the guy who every day makes you your coffee?

  • Do you talk to the postman?

  • Do you talk to the woman who walks by your house every day with her dog?

  • Do you play bridge or poker, have a book club?

  • Those interactions are one of the strongest predictors

  • of how long you'll live.

  • Now, this leads me to the next question:

  • if we now spend more time online than on any other activity,

  • including sleeping,

  • we're now up to 11 hours a day,

  • one hour more than last year, by the way,

  • does it make a difference?

  • Why distinguish between interacting in person

  • and interacting via social media?

  • Is it the same thing as being there

  • if you're in contact constantly with your kids through text, for example?

  • Well, the short answer to the question is no,

  • it's not the same thing.

  • Face-to-face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters,

  • and like a vaccine, they protect you now in the present

  • and well into the future.

  • So simply making eye contact with somebody,

  • shaking hands, giving somebody a high-five

  • is enough to release oxytocin,

  • which increases your level of trust

  • and it lowers your cortisol levels.

  • So it lowers your stress.

  • And dopamine is generated, which gives us a little high

  • and it kills pain.

  • It's like a naturally produced morphine.

  • Now, all of this passes under our conscious radar,

  • which is why we conflate online activity with the real thing.

  • But we do have evidence now, fresh evidence,

  • that there is a difference.

  • So let's look at some of the neuroscience.

  • Elizabeth Redcay, a neuroscientist at the University of Maryland,

  • tried to map the difference

  • between what goes on in our brains when we interact in person

  • versus when we're watching something that's static.

  • And what she did was she compared the brain function

  • of two groups of people,

  • those interacting live with her

  • or with one of her research associates

  • in a dynamic conversation,

  • and she compared that to the brain activity of people

  • who were watching her talk about the same subject

  • but in a canned video, like on YouTube.

  • And by the way, if you want to know

  • how she fit two people in an MRI scanner at the same time,

  • talk to me later.

  • So what's the difference?

  • This is your brain on real social interaction.

  • What you're seeing is the difference in brain activity

  • between interacting in person and taking in static content.

  • In orange, you see the brain areas that are associated with attention,

  • social intelligence --

  • that means anticipating what somebody else is thinking

  • and feeling and planning --