A psychologist says that a long and healthy life comes down to one important factor

What’s the secret to longevity?

It’s not an easy question to answer. Some people say it’s diet. Other people say it’s keeping stress to a minimum.

But according to longevity expert, Susan Pinker, it’s none of these things.

After studying an area in an Italian island in the Mediterranean known for the occupants longevity, she found that there’s one particular factor to living long that we largely ignore.

So, what is it?

In the brilliant TED talk below, Susan Pinker says that in the developed world, women live an average of 6 to 8 years longer than men. That’s a huge gap.

But there’s one place in the world that bucks this trend. It’s a mountainous zone in Sardinia, an Italian island in the Mediterranean, between Corsica and Tunisia.

There are 6 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.

Why?

She discovered that genes account for just 25 percent of their longevity. The other 75 percent is lifestyle.

So what in their lifestyle are they doing right? Well, according to Pinker, they all live in tightly spaced houses, interwoven alleys and streets.

It means the villagers’ lives constantly intersect. Like most ancient villages, Villagrande couldn’t have survived without this structure, because defense and social cohesion defined its design.

So, what did the data show in regards to their longevity?

Pinker found that the number one predictor of living a long life is close relationships. That is, having people you can call upon when you need help and having people you can talk to when you’re going through an existential crisis.

The second most important factor?

According to Pinker, its social integration. This means how much you interact with people as you go about your day. How many people you actually talk to.

Why? Because face-to-face interaction releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters, and they protect you now in the present and well into the future.

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, which lowers your stress. And dopamine is generated, which gives us a little high and it kills pain.

All of this passes under our conscious radar, which is why many of us conflate online activity with the real thing. But Pinker says that now we have real evidence that there is a difference.

To dig deeper into this fascinating research, watch the brilliant TED from Susan Pinker below where she lays it all bear:

Lachlan Brown