It requires down time. And lots of it.
In that vein, the implications of spending 30-40% of your adult life at a desk and then knocking out a 10k or smashing a Crossfit session after work 3 or 4 days in the week are probably not as rewarding as we think they are. Habitual “down time” does not exist in such a schedule.
Thankfully there are places where it still does.
Pioppi is a tiny village (pop 190) south of Naples recognised by UNESCO as the “home of the Mediterranean Diet”. In this village where the people forget to die, there is no gym. Nor is there a supermarket.
In keeping with tradition, many villagers still grow their own vegetables, olives and figs. To run on the tight windy roads around here would be about as safe as jogging along the tracks of the New York subway for fun. Driving is the only thing they do fast.
The espresso bar at the centre of the village overlooking an azure Mediterranean sea is a place of congregation and serious coversation about stuff like the weather and what’s for lunch. They don’t know what heart rate variability is around here, but they seem to know how to live for a very long time without actually thinking about it very much at all.
Traditionally, the men in the region would have worked in the fields for 8 hours a day, every day. Low grade mobility interspersed with full body labor - “try wood chopping for an hour” they suggested - was the making of the local men. They still outlive the women by an average of 2 years - 89 to 87. The oldest man in the area is 107 (in a not dead heat of sorts, so too is the oldest woman). They tell us he is “the Ancient”.
It sounds like a movie - the longevity mafia.
Our waiter for lunch on day 1 was an old man with a huge smile and a bounce in his step. The next day he was helping fix up a roof on his property before orchestrating lunch again. After that he retired for his siesta - along with everybody else in the village. When it was mentioned in passing over dinner that he was in fact 85 years old I choked on my octopus.
That the days ahead would reveal some interesting parallels between the people of Pioppi and the LA Lakers was not something I would have believed either. But I’m joining the dots now.
Pro athletes in team sports enjoy a camaraderie and a cohesive social aspect to their work that is pretty much exclusive to their ilk. Anyone who has spent time in a dressing room knows how comforting an environment it can be - in good times and in bad the team is always there. In Pioppi, it feels like the whole village is a team. Cradle to grave, no trades allowed.
Pro athletes get placed in a controlled, stress free environment; they have access to the very best foods and their sleeping patterns are carefully protected and observed to get the greatest ROI from the “asset.”
In Pioppi, they are borne into it. Food of the highest quality is readily available and the whole “team” takes a siesta each and every afternoon. No Bose noise cancellation headphones required here.
There is no noise.
The environment is controlled and stress free by virtue of its relative inaccessibility and its traditions. Ten small boats leave the harbor every day, each after a specific catch. From sardines to swordfish and shellfish, the strategy is co-operative and sustainable. The catch feeds the local population only.
This is Team Pioppi.
The best thing about Team Pioppi is that they only play one game a year. There is no winning or losing. There is wine and sunshine and tourists. That game is played in August when the rest of Italy stops altogether and for 30 days everyone pretends they are from Pioppi - in Pioppi.
After that they go back to the cities, the stress and the day to day. Pioppi goes back to being just Pioppi. The stress ratio of 11 months to 1 elsewhere is inverted to 1 to 11 in this place of longevity.
If its secrets could be bottled up and exported that elixir would be as valuable as the Lakers franchise. The iconic American Scientist Ancel Keys lived here for 30 years. If his work reflects a skewed view on the demons of saturated fat, his lifestyle reflects a knowledge that something was very, very right in this tiny village where he chose to live.
Keys lived to see 100 and towards the end of his life he had tried - and failed - to publish a paper that called into question his own work on cholesterol many years earlier. In "Run on Fat" Dr Steve Phinney recounts his meeting with Keys and their discussion on this matter.
“He was furious.”
Setting out to find that paper, we eventually found something altogether better.
We found Pioppi and its lessons in longevity.
So what if we took those lessons of old and married them with modern knowledge - could we have you run all the way to 100 or beyond?
What we do know is that a high fat Mediterranean Diet outperforms the lower fat version espoused by Keys for metabolic health. We also know that impaired mobility will take you out before pretty much anything else. Relatively speaking, it is as important to the older person as it is to an LA Laker. Stress is a longevity scythe but sleep is your friend. So too are social connections.
The Lakers with their professional environment take care of all that stuff. But that's a temporary gig for athletes only. Team Pioppi does it for life. And so should you. Right now we’re busy trying to condense, translate and export this knowledge into a practical guide with tangible steps for everyday application anywhere in the world.
Joining us on that crusade is British Cardiologist (and keen runner) Aseem Malhotra.
It's all in our new movie project called The Pioppi Protocol and you can Check it out here.