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The longevity quest Areas of exceptional longevity around the world Michel POULAIN S.D.F.B. – Louvain-la- Neuve 3 Mai 2013. Individual longevity versus population longevity.

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The longevity questAreas of exceptional longevity around the worldMichel POULAINS.D.F.B. – Louvain-la-Neuve3 Mai 2013

individual longevity versus population longevity
Individual longevity versus population longevity
  • Gerontologists apply the term longevity to any individual who is beyond age 90 years and actively functional but the larger number of researches dealing with longevity considers only individual centenarians.
  • In fact longevity is related to individuals (individual longevity) but also to populations as a whole (population longevity).
individual longevity versus population longevity1
Individual longevity versus population longevity

By investigating population longevity, the chance to find more powerful explanatory variables is increased as most persons concerned

  • are born and live in the same location
  • are more likely to share the same genetic make-up
  • had the same early life conditions
  • share the same traditional life style including the same locally produced food.
individual longevity versus population longevity2
Individual longevity versus population longevity

While the individual longevity is generally described by observing the age at death or the extreme survival of the oldest olds,

the population longevity can be characterised through various indexes that are mostly associated with life tables computed for that population as a whole.

some longevity indicators
Some longevity indicators

The centenarian prevalence, the ratio between the number of centenarians and the total population is largely used but could create misleading interpretations.

The probability to become centenarian may be extracted from cohort life tables.

The centenarian rate is obtained by comparing the number of persons aged 60 and those aged 100, 40 years later.

longevity hot spots
Longevity hot-spots
  • In a 1973 National Geographic article, Leaf gave a detailed account of his journeys to countries of long-living people: the Hunzas from Pakistan, the Abkhazians from the former Soviet Union, and Ecuadorians from Vilcabamba. According to Leaf, there were ten times more centenarians in these countries than in most Western countries.
  • However the same author acknowledged in 1982 that a large number of the men and women he had met had exaggerated their age in order to improve their social status or to promote local tourism (Leaf 1982, 1990).
the crucial point age validation
The crucial point : age validation
  • Demographers have become increasingly concerned with the accuracy of longevity claims given the unprecedented growth in very old people in developed countries (Young et al. 2010).
  • To identify alongevity island and to ensure its exceptional longevity, it is crucial to validate the exact age at death or the extreme survival of oldest olds.
centenarians randomly distributed
Centenarians randomly distributed

Lowprevalence High prevalence

centenarians non randomly distributed
Centenarians non-randomly distributed

No concentration High concentration

the concept of blue zones
The concept of Blue Zones

The concept of Longevity Blue Zone has been defined asa rather limited and homogenous geographical area where the population share common life style and the same environment and their longevity has been proved to be exceptional.



and 8,000 inhabitants

lessons from the blue zones
Lessonsfrom the Blue Zones
  • In the BZ’s, the population has been proved to live longer (especially for men) and in more healthy conditions (e.g. fewer dementia).
  • Based on surveys carried out on the oldest olds in these BZ’s we were able to identify some characteristics associated with healthy ageing.
  • What are the lessons from the BZ’s ? What can be done in our post-modern societies to optimize the lifestyle for a longer and healthier life ?

Physical activity : keeping engaged in regular physical activity, often part of a daily work routine


Physical activity : keeping engaged in regular physical activity, often part of a daily work routine

Most people in BZ’s have experienced in their life caloric restriction and stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full.

Avoiding meat and processed food.

Favouring locally produced food.



a strongcommunity support and considering the oldestolds as part of the treasure of the local community

the need for future scientific research
The need for future scientific research
  • Quantitative and qualitative surveys are under development on a comparative way in Sardinia and Ikaria involving biomedical and cognitive aspects.
  • Future plans involve investigations in two directions:
  • demography and anthropology
  • biomarkers, genetics and epigenetics
the need for future scientific research1
The need for future scientific research
  • Individual life course approach is considered and an anthropological viewpoint is favoured in order to understand all transitions experienced in the local community.
  • Longevity genes cannot be found, if any, because of the small size of the populations concerned.
  • An innovative and promising approach would be the study of epigenetic marks, on the assumption that the long-lived phenotype is not solely a result of inherited genetic makeup, but it may be modulated by interaction with the environment.
the need for future scientific research2
The need for future scientific research

But, definitively, significant results can only result from a close cooperation between disciplines that are still too far from each other.

Developing research where biological and social sciences are interacting is crucial and integrating epigenetics and demo-anthropolical traits is our main expectation with BZ’s.

policy implications for healthy aging
Policy implications for HealthyAging

Expanding the Blue Zones

”Blue Zones, now limited to just a few populations in the world, can become commonplace”

Appel, L.J. Dietary Patterns and Longevity, Circulation 2008;118;214-215

blue zones communities creating environments of health
Blue Zones CommunitiesCreatingEnvironments of Health
  • The Blue Zones Project initiative to become a Blue Zones Community is a systems approach that allows citizens, schools, employers, restaurants, grocery stores and community leaders to work together on policies and programs that will make the most impact and move the community towards optimal health and well-being. 
  • Blue Zones Project Initiatives in Action in the US:
  • Albert Lea, Minesota
  • Three Beach Cities in California
  • TenCommunities in Iowa


an islandwhere people take time for all

Including to die…


Antonio TODDE

(1889 – 2003),

The oldest man on earth in Tiana (July 2002).

He experienced the secrets of longevity !

three keywords


three keywords1



three keywords2