People often say you can live your best life at any age. This suggestion may also apply to some centenarians and supercentenarians.
Can you imagine getting married and having children after the age of 100?
Well, these are among some of the legendary claims made about a community of people living in the Caucasus mountains south of Russia called the Abkhazia People.
While impressive, some Soviet researchers and skeptics indicate that many people within this community exaggerated their ages in previous studies, especially since members of the community revere old age.
Many of them lacked birth records, and some documents were hard to obtain.
Birth records were often not kept, and the activities during the Stalin-era contributed to the destruction of many of birth and baptismal records that did exist.
However, despite these colorful stories, legendary tales, and lack of certainty, scientists remain convinced that this community has a high percentage of aged residents who live well into their 90s,100s, and beyond.
Located not too far from the eastern shores of the Black Sea and near the crest of the Caucasus mountain range is an independent state known for the vitality of its people.
The independent state wedged with Russia to its north and Georgia to its south is called Abkhazia.
Its residents are known as the Abkhazians. They maintain the reputation of being among the societies with the most prolonged longevity.
Abkhazia has a large number of centenarians that represent a small yet significant percentage of the population.
According to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Republic of Abkhazia, as many as two out of five people (40%) were more than 90 years old in 1970.
The Abkhazian townspeople consist of farmers, shepherds, hunters, and field workers who maintain good mental and physical health.
While their bodies distinctly show the signs of aging, such as wrinkled skin and white or gray hair, many of the older adults still maintain their hearing, eyesight, and erect posture.
These older Abkhazians are known to display large amounts of energy, sharp minds and hearing, and a sense of fun and humor.
The Abkhazians Secrets to Longevity
The Abkhazians aging population experiences with chronic illnesses are minuscule compared to other countries.
Abkhazians eat a wholesome diet, but many researchers believe that it’s their way of life that helps them to avoid chronic diseases and incidences of cancer.
Their calm rural lifestyle doesn’t require them to rush to meet deadlines; therefore, they live a stress-free life.
Researchers describe older Abkhazians as vigorous when comparing them to the Americans who reside in nursing homes in their remaining years.
Abkhazians don’t necessarily have to draw up a fitness program to make sure they get their daily exercise.
Their exercise results from necessity.
Their daily routine includes walking long distances up and down steep, rugged mountain roads, horseback riding, plunging into frigid mountain waters and for a winter swim, and climbing ladders to add foods to their meals.
Abkhazians keep their activity constant.
The Abkhazians mostly maintain a Lacto-vegetarian diet that’s associated with foods that are readily available and fresh.
This diet includes foods they pick from branches like apples, pears, plums, peaches, figs, grapes, persimmons, and berries. They will also dry fruits for consumption in the winter.
Abkhazians will eat locally grown raw vegetables like watercress, radishes, tomatoes, cabbage, onions, and cucumbers.
Most often, the Abkhazians will pickle their vegetables.
Abkhazians also eat whole grains.
The majority of their meals include a warm cornmeal porridge, known as abista, with goat cheese.
They consume nuts in high quantities, such as walnuts, almonds, beechnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, and chestnuts.
Ultimately, their diet ranges between 1500 and 2000 calories a day.
Abkhazian meals don’t include sugar, but they do introduce honey into their foods to sweeten their meals.
They don’t eat butter and have minimal amounts of salt.
They value moderation as a whole within their society, and as a result, they take small bites of their food and chew slowly.
They shun overeating and perceive weight gain as unhealthy.
Abkhazians don’t drink tea or coffee. Instead, they enjoy a drink made of fermented milk called matzoni, also considered a Caspian Sea yogurt. It contains a combination of milk from goats, cows, and sheep with a taste that resembles buttermilk.
During the 1970s and 1980s, some U.S. corporations saw a profit in marketing the idea of yogurt associated with the longevity of Abkhazians.
At the time, the health of the community was considered a phenomenon.
In 1977, Dannon promoted this concept in a television ad.
The ad marketed a Soviet woman, claiming to be a centenarian, encouraging her son in his 80s to eat his yogurt. The ad proved convincing and successful.
Culture of Aging
Researchers have found that the stability, values, and continuity of the Abkhazian culture plays a significant role in their long life expectancies.
It is a culture that promotes unity, families, and tribes.
Many Americans seldom place a high value on old age.
They often view the elderly as frail and at risk of illness or death and lacking independence.
Aging within the Abkhazian culture is seen as a status symbol and a privilege.
The community values the wisdom of older adults.
They receive extreme respect and play central roles within the community.
The older adults lead major ceremonies and celebrations, help settle disputes, and are the primary consultants when discussing pressing issues, and this helps to give them a sense of usefulness.
Retirement isn’t a concept that’s familiar to the Abkhazians.
They consider work vital; yet, their stressors are far different and far less. Their work centers around their ability; they don’t rush.
Even though Abkhazians will reduce their workload as they age, many of them will put in as much as a half a day.
Some supercentenarians will work in gardens and orchards and tend to their livestock.
Abkhazians take pleasure in the strong relationships from their social connections, their natural rural setting, and music.
For example, Abkhazians consider people with the same surnames as family, which researchers indicate can provide both the young and old a strong sense of security and belonging.
The Abkhazians also have a famous choir consisting mostly of men ranging between 70 and more than 100 years old.
Abhkasians live a wholesome lifestyle, but some Abkhazians centenarians indulge in alcohol and smoke cigarettes.
Yet, doctors suggest that even the alcohol they consume may have helped them to avoid some diseases.
Researchers associate many factors to the long lifespan of the Abhkasians.
While diet plays a significant role, they believe genetics and lifestyle are among the main contributors to Abhkasians longevity.