A stone block at the entrance to Perdasdefogu, a town tucked high up in the rugged mountains of south-eastern Sardinia and accessible only by a narrow, winding road, celebrates the Melis siblings with the message: “Perdasdefogu, world record for family longevity”.
The sign was erected in 2012 after the family of nine brothers and sisters shot to fame after entering the Guinness World Records as the oldest living siblings on earth, with a combined age at the time of 818.
But the longevity streak is not limited to the Melis family. Perdasdefogu is currently home to eight centenarians – four men and four women – in a population of 1,740. Ten more citizens could turn 100 within the next couple of years.
“There is of course the fresh air and the good food, but I believe one of the reasons for their longevity is their approach to stress,” said Luisa Salaris, a demographics professor at the University of Cagliari. “They were born 100 years ago and certainly didn’t have an easy life – there would have been hunger and war. But they are people who have managed to adapt – if there’s a problem, they solve it quickly.”
As to food, Adolfo Melis (a youthful 98) says: “Everything we ate came from the garden. What you put into your stomach is so important – if you abuse the stomach, it doesn’t resist.” He's convinced that the main reason for their longevity is diet. There is plenty of meat in the local diet, as well as some fish (the sea is about an hour’s drive away), but the trick is to “eat little, but genuine food”, according to Adolfo. He also belives that being physically active is very important.
Books are believed locally to have played a part in residents’ longevity. Next to a photo of Vittorio Palmas on a wall (who survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during the second world war and died in 2019, aged 105), who is holding a copy of Gabriel Garcia’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, is a sign that says: “Reading keeps you alive”.
At the town's most recent literary event in July, Antonio Brundu, 103, was in the front row to listen to a discussion with Jonathan Hopkin, a politics professor at the London School of Economics. Other elderly people are equally active - Vittorio Lai, 99, still drives and hunts for wild boar.
“Our environmental conditions play a crucial role,” he said. “We live in a place where the air is clean. Our centenarians were in continuous movement in a healthy environment – collecting firewood or working on their allotments. Another important factor is that Perdasdefogu conserves the sense of community. The elderly still live at home and not in care homes. Sociality is so important because if you have good social contacts, you remember, talk, and evaluate … you live well.”