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Healthy at 100: The Scientifically Proven Secrets of the World's Healthiest and Longest-Lived Peoples [Format Kindle]

John Robbins

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Abkhasia: Ancients of the Caucasus

People don’t grow old. When they stop growing, they become old.


In the early 1970s, National Geographic magazine approached the world-renowned physician Alexander Leaf, asking him to visit, study, and write an article about the world’s healthiest and most long-living people. Dr. Leaf, a professor of clinical medicine at Harvard University and Chief of Medical Services at Massachusetts General Hospital, had long been a student of the subject and had already visited and studied some of the cultures known for the healthy lives of their elderly people. Now, National Geographic commissioned him to continue these travels and investigations and to share with the world his observations and comparisons of those areas of the planet which were famous for the longevity and health of their inhabitants. It was a time, unlike today, when these regions and their cultures were still somewhat pristine.

As a scientist, Dr. Leaf did not believe in a mythical fountain of youth in which anyone can bathe and be miraculously restored to eternal youth; nor did he believe in magic potions that can instantly heal all afflictions. But he did believe it was possible that there existed certain places on earth where people actually lived longer and healthier lives than is considered normal in the modern West. His goal was not to identify the oldest living individual, but rather to locate and study those societies—if they did in fact exist—where a large percentage of elder citizens retained their faculties, were vigorous, and enjoyed their lives. Rather than being interested in mythology or panaceas, his goal was to understand the key factors that influence human prospects for long and healthy life.

Dr. Leaf undertook a series of journeys that he subsequently described in an influential series of articles that appeared in National Geographic magazine beginning in 1973.1 His writings were among the first authoritative efforts to bring practical medical knowledge and research to our desire to know what we can do to impact the future of our lives.

When Dr. Leaf began his study and his travels, three regions of the world were famous for the longevity of their inhabitants: the valley of Vilcabamba in Ecuador, the Hunza region of Pakistan, and certain portions of the Caucasus mountains in what was then the Soviet Union. These three locales had long been the subject of claims that they were home to the longest living and healthiest people on earth. According to the stories swirling around these high mountainous regions, people in these communities often lived spectacularly long lives in vibrant health.

Dr. Leaf and prizewinning National Geographic photographer John Launois traveled to these remote areas to meet, photograph, examine, and appraise for themselves the longevity and health of those who were reputed to be the world’s oldest and healthiest people. Dr. Leaf listened to their hearts, took their blood pressure, and studied their diets and lifestyles. He watched them dance and saw them bathe in ice-cold mountain streams. He spoke with them about their daily lives, their hopes, their fears, their life histories. His goal was to separate fact from fallacy and determine the truth about longevity.


“Certainly no area in the world,” Leaf wrote, “has the reputation for long-lived people to match that of the Caucasus in southern Russia.”2 And in all the Caucasus, the area most renowned for its extraordinary number of healthy centenarians (people above the age of 100) was Abkhasia (pronounced “ab-KAY-zha”). A 1970 census had established Abkhasia, then an autonomous region within Soviet Georgia, as the longevity capital of the world. “We were eager to see the centenarians,” Leaf said, “and Abkhasia seemed to be the place to do so.”3

Abkhasia covers three thousand square miles between the eastern shores of the Black Sea and the crestline of the main Caucasus range. It is bordered on the north by Russia, and on the south by Georgia.

Prior to Dr. Leaf’s visit, claims had been widely circulated for life spans reaching 150 years among the Abkhasians. Just a few years earlier, Life magazine had run an article with photos of Shirali Muslimov, said to be 161 years old.4 In one of the photos, Muslimov was shown with his third wife. He told the reporter that he had married her when he was 110, that his parents had both lived to be over 100, and that his brother had died at the age of 134.

Muslimov had passed away by the time of Leaf’s studies. But a woman named Khfaf Lasuria had also been featured in the Life article. Leaf wanted to meet her, and he found her in the Abkhasian village of Kutol, where she sang in a choir made up entirely, he was told, of Abkhasian centenarians.

I had a long talk with this diminutive—she stands not five feet tall—sprightly woman who claimed to be 141 years old. . . . Although she carried a handsomely carved wooden walking stick, her nimbleness belied need of it. Her memory seemed excellent. . . . She spoke lucidly and easily about events recent and past. At the age of 75 to 80 as a midwife she assisted more than 100 babies into the world. . . . She described the life of women: “Women had a very difficult time before the Revolution; we were practically slaves.” And she ended our talk with a toast, “I want to drink to women all over the world . . . for them not to work too hard and to be happy with their families.”5

Though he was greatly impressed by this elderly lady’s charm and spirit, Leaf did not simply take her word for her age. To the contrary, he went to significant efforts to assess it objectively. Such a task is harder than it might sound, for there are no signs in the human body, like the annual rings of a tree, that tell us a person’s age.

After laborious investigations, Leaf concluded that Mrs. Lasuria was close to 130 years old. He wasn’t certain about that, saying only that he had arrived at a degree of confidence and this was his best estimate. But he was sure of one thing. She was one of the oldest persons he had ever met.6

Everywhere he went in Abkhasia, Leaf met elders in remarkable health. The area seemed to warrant its reputation as the mecca of superlongevity. Like others who have studied the elders of Abkhasia, Leaf had colorful stories to tell. He wrote of one elder, nearly 100, whose hearing was still good and whose vision was still superb.

“Have you ever been sick?” Leaf asked.

The elder thought for some time, then replied, “Yes, I recall once having a fever, a long time ago.”

“Do you ever see a doctor?”

The old man was surprised by the question, and replied, “Why should I?”

Leaf examined him and found his blood pressure to be normal at 118/60 and his pulse to be regular at 70 beats per minute.

“What was the happiest period of your life?” Leaf asked.

“I feel joy all my life. But I was happiest when my daughter was born. And saddest when my son died at the age of one year from dysentery.”7

Among the others Leaf met were a delightful trio of gentlemen who, like many elderly Abkhasians, were still working despite their advanced age. They were Markhti Tarkhil, whom Leaf believed to be 104; Temur Tarba, who was apparently 100; and Tikhed Gunba, a mere youngster at 98. All were born locally. Temur said his father died at 110, his mother at 104, and an older brother just that year at 109. After a short exam, Leaf said that Temur’s blood pressure was a youthful 120/84, and his pulse was regular at a rate of 69.8

The old fellows clowned around constantly, joking and teasing each other and Leaf. While he was checking pulses and blood pressures the other two would shake their heads in mock sadness at the one being examined, saying “Bad, very bad!” They never seemed to tire of friendly joking, always finding new ways to have fun. Leaf was impressed by their sharp minds, high spirits, and relentless sense of humor.

Like many of the elders in Abkhasia, regardless of the weather, these men swam daily in cold mountain streams. One day, Leaf accompanied Markhti Tarkhil on his morning plunge and was astonished by the vitality and physical agility of the 104-year-old.9 It was a steep and rugged half-mile climb down from the road to the river, but Markhti moved with confident speed and agility. Seeing Markhti take off down the slope, Leaf, a physician coming from a society where elders have thin and fragile bones, was concerned that the older man might fall, and thought he should accompany Markhti down the hill and see to it that he didn’t slip. But he was unable to do so, because he couldn’t keep up with the pace of the far older man, who as it turned out never lost his footing. Later, Leaf learned from the regional doctor that there is no osteoporosis among the active elders, and that fractures are rare.

When Markhti arrived at the riverbank, he stripped and waded out into the stream, immersing his entire body in the cold water. A young guide Leaf had brought with him from Moscow also stripped and began wading into the water, but immediately jumped out, exclaiming that the water was far too cold.

After bathing in the cold water for some time, Markhti got out, dried himself off, put on his clothes, and proceeded to climb swiftly back up the rugged slope, with Leaf, who was a half-century younger and who considered himself physically fit, once again struggling to keep up.


After Leaf’s articles in National Geographic appeared, however, a heated controversy developed over the validity of the ages claimed by some Abkhasians. When people say they are 140 or 150 years old, this naturally raises eyebrows. When the Soviet press announced that Shirali Muslimov was 168 years old, and the government commemorated the assertion by putting his face on a postage stamp, knowledgeable scientists around the world were skeptical. There is a reason that, until recently, The Guinness Book of World Records introduced its section on longevity with the warning: “No single subject is more obscured by vanity, deceit, falsehood and deliberate fraud than the extremes of human longevity.” Currently, the longest fully documented and irrefutably authenticated age ever reached by a human being is 122, by a Frenchwoman named Jeanne Louise Calment.

How old, in fact, are the oldest Abkhasians? No one knows with absolute certainty. In the days when these elders were born, probably less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the world’s population was keeping written birth records. When birth records are lacking or questionable, as they are in almost all cases of people born prior to 1920 in regions like the Caucasus, contemporary researchers have had to be creative in developing methods to appraise the ages of elders. Many volumes have been written about the enterprising techniques that have been employed in the effort, and probably an equal number of scholarly volumes have been written critiquing these techniques. It has been a difficult task.

Probably the foremost skeptic about the extremely old ages sometimes claimed for elders in the Caucasus was a geneticist from Soviet Georgia named Zhores A. Medvedev, an expert in the methodologies used in the effort to arrive at accurate age verifications in Abkhasia and elsewhere in the Caucasus. Medvedev’s articles expressing his doubts received a great deal of attention when they were published in the scientific journal The Gerontologist shortly after Leaf’s articles appeared in National Geographic. (Gerontology is the study of the changes and associated problems in the mind and body that accompany aging.) In these articles, Medvedev presented convincing evidence that the claims that people were regularly living past the age of 120 were not to be trusted.10 At the same time, though, he recognized that unusual longevity in the region was a genuine reality, and that the area was indeed home to an inordinate number of extremely healthy elders.

As the controversy was unfolding, the legend of extraordinarily healthy and long-lived people in the Caucasus was being heavily promoted by U.S. corporations that manufactured and sold yogurt, attempting to connect the phenomenal longevity of people in the region to their consumption of yogurt. The Dannon yogurt company marketed a widely seen commercial showing a 110-year-old mother pinching the cheek of her 89-year-old son and telling him to eat his yogurt. This clever ad and others featuring Soviet centenarians were fabulously successful in the American market. They produced a generation of Americans who associated yogurt with extreme longevity, and who naïvely believed that people regularly lived to 140 and beyond in the Caucasus.

Unfortunately, it was the inflated claims for supercentenarians living to extreme ages that got most of the attention in the 1970s and 1980s. What made Abkhasians so interesting to the Western world at the time was not their lifestyle and the wondrously healthy way they aged, but the exotic phenomenon of people supposedly living to unbelievable ages. When these extreme claims for superlongevity were found to be false, there was a regrettable tendency to dismiss everything about Abkhasian longevity as a hoax.

My interest in longevity in Abkhasia, however, doesn’t depend on whether any specific individuals have reached ages beyond 120. Perhaps none have, but I don’t find the question to be particularly important. What makes these people fascinating to me is the fact that an extraordinary percentage of Abkhasians have lived to ripe old ages while retaining their full health and vigor. What I find remarkable is the high degree of physical and mental fitness commonly found among the elders in Abkhasia, and their obvious joy in life.

From the Hardcover edition.

Revue de presse

"John Robbins inspires me on every page. His unique experiences and viewpoints were the reasons I wanted him to be in my film Super Size Me. This book only reinforces my faith in him as a thought-provoking humanitarian." (Morgan Spurlock Producer, Director, and human guinea pig, Super Size Me)

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 1450 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 384 pages
  • Editeur : Ballantine Books; Édition : 1 Reprint (10 décembre 2008)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • Synthèse vocale : Non activée
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  • Word Wise: Activé
  • Composition améliorée: Non activé
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: n°191.456 dans la Boutique Kindle (Voir le Top 100 dans la Boutique Kindle)

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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 étoiles sur 5  148 commentaires
253 internautes sur 261 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Why isn't this a bestseller? (review by former scientist) 7 janvier 2007
Par Patrick D. Goonan - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
At one time, I was a research scientist who studied both biochemistry and physiology in graduate school. Now, I work in the psychology area with an emphasis on integrating psychology, the world's wisdom traditions and the mind-body connection. I am well read in a variety of subject areas, I read ravenously in general and I've reviewed a lot of books on Amazon. Therefore, when I say this is a GREAT book and that I had difficulty putting it down, this is not faint praise. I actually do believe this should be a bestseller!

The core of this book is the study of four cultures who have a history of producing long-lived people. Specifically, it looks at the Abkhasia of the Caucasus, the Vilcabamba or Ecuador, the Hunza and the centenarians of Japan. It also discusses the China Study in some detail, which was the largest anti-cancer provention study ever undertaken. In short, the books discusses what these cultures have in common and provides informed opinions about the reasons they experience such long longetivity.

The whole book is punctuated by interesting facts by authoratative individuals, organizations and other studies. This lends credibiility to the author's argument for eating more whole grains, less calories, increasing the consumption of vegetables and fruits, going organic and leading an activity life that includes walking, regular exercise of other types and meaningful relationships.

One of the more beautiful and poignant premises of the book is that ALL of the cultures mentioned above revere older members of the society and a positive attitude toward aging that is lacking in our society. Mr. Robbins also repeatedly mentions the importance of close relationships and leading a meaningful life. In fact, he cites some sources that suggest that is a more determenent of health that even smoking and other bad habits.

What makes this book especially good is that it compares and contrasts our cultures values, attitudes toward the aged, perspectives on aging and dietary habits with other cultures where senility, heart disease and lingering chronic illness is virtually absent. It makes a strong argument for a vegetarian or near vegeterian diet, but not in a dogmatic way that is offensive. I also think it is a social useful commentary because it asks the right questions about whether we are caring for, honoring and fully leveraging all the valuable things that older people have to offer. In fact, he directly points a finger at how Western culture often disowns and disempowers older individuals and gives examples of this from the media, movies, etc. In our society, it isn't OK to age and seems to have an affect on how we age.

I have read a number of books on aging and the aging brain by some recognized authorities in the field and what seems to be emerging from their work is that we tend to age in the way we expect to age. It also appears that healthy relationships are a KEY component to aging gracefully, which is directly in opposition to current culture trends of increasing isolation, compartmentalization, etc.

Parts 2, 3, 4 and 5 focus on the following areas: 1) Food; 2) The Body-Mind Connection; 3) The importance of love; and 4) the Human Spirit. These sections take the concepts that were developed in section one and look at the larger implications to the society and individual living within it.

If you are looking for a credible book on aging gracefully with dignity, hope and a chance for a healthy life, you will enjoy this. If you are interested in the influence of culture and beliefs on health, you will find this book an indispensable and informative read. I wholeheartedly recommend this fine and credible book to anyone looking to understand how we age, how we can maintain our health throughout the aging process and the cultural forces that keep us stuck in unhealthy patterns.
99 internautes sur 107 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 This book scores 100 out of 100 29 septembre 2008
Par Francis Tapon - Publié sur Amazon.com
OVERALL: A must read for all homo sapiens who want to live a happy life, not just a healthy one.


* Quite rational and measured. Robbins constantly tempers his enthusiasm for the four healthy cultures he examines. He refrains from idealizing them, which strengthens his argument. He doesn't gush over their way of life and points out their shortcomings (e.g., lack of refrigeration, dirt floors, poor telecommunications, etc...).

* Adds two components that he didn't mention much in his previous books: exercise and love. He's always focused on diet, but now he spends more time talking about the importance of exercise and creating a loving community.

* He's less dogmatic about being a vegan. He admits that the longest lived people in the world (the Okinawans) eat fish regularly. His concerns are how fish have more mercury than ever and that we've over-fished our waters.

* Well researched and documented. As usual, Robbins cites his sources for those who want to dig deeper. He's professional.

CON: His argument that the gaps between rich and poor is the predictor of a nation's health is weak. I would have liked to see more evidence of that.

CONCLUSION: I love this book and recommend it to anyone. I've read 3 of his books and this is the best so far. It's balanced and persuasive. He's matured and become quite wise.
61 internautes sur 65 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 One of the most grounded, beautiful, rich and inspiring books on health I've ever read. 23 septembre 2006
Par Theodore Hargrave - Publié sur Amazon.com
I laughed when I read the editorial review from Booklist, that begins with the words: "Robbins has moved on from his career as a successful ice-cream manufacturer..." Obviously, that reviewer hasn't actually read Healthy at 100.

I have, however, and I am exceedingly grateful for all I've learned, and even more for the experiences I have had while reading, and as a result of reading, this extraordinary book. In the days since I finished it, I've felt uplifted in every cell of my body. I also shared it with an older friend, who read it. She then gathered her children, friends, and grandchildren around her so that we could talk together about aging. My friend spoke of what she is grateful for in my life, and all that she is looking forward to in her later years. We talked about our images of aging, where they come from, and whether or not they serve our optimum health potential. None of this would have happened without Robbins' fabulous new book.

Prior to reading Healthy at 100, like most Americans I had adopted a pretty negative view of aging. But as a result of the exquisite blend of heartful wisdom and rational clarity in Robbins' superbly written book, I now have a positive and beautiful vision of what my wisdom years can entail, and the steps I can take not only to live long but to live well. He describes exactly the steps we can take not only to increase our life spans, but also to increase our health spans.

I have read a great number of books on health and healing, on diet and exercise, and on the healing powers of love and positive attitudes. I've never read a book as full of truth, as deeply grounded in the joys and struggles of life, as real and authentic, as Healthy at 100. And I've never read a book ultimately as hopeful, as genuinely uplifting, as honoring of who we are and who we can be.

Robbins has written many outstanding best-sellers before, but this may well be his best ever. If you want to read a mature writer at the culmination of his craft, get Healthy at 100. If you want to live a healthier life, more centered in your optimum health potential, and more in touch with what really gives you life, read this book. I am going to buy copies for everyone I know who is aging, and I don't mean just the older people in my life. As Robbins points out, aging doesn't begin at 65. We are all aging, every day, and this is the book for those who want to do it well, who want each stage of their life to be fulfilling, creative and vital.

Dean Ornish calls this book "a masterpiece." Marianne Williamson calls Robbins "one of the most important voices in America today." I couldn't agree more.
69 internautes sur 74 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Such a loving and wonderful book. 9 octobre 2006
Par Bruce Friedrich - Publié sur Amazon.com
I'm not quite sure what I expected, but since I'm only 37 years old, I didn't expect to be completely blown away. But I was. The book is a thorough look not just at aging, but at living--at how to live a life filled with joy.

I could not agree more with Dr. Dean Ornish, who writes on the book jacket: "If you are interested in extending your health span as well as your life span, read this book! Healthy at 100 is a masterpiece."
62 internautes sur 67 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Great Book! 30 mars 2008
Par Gary G. - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
This is a great book which reviews four cultures which achieved health at old age. But it goes beyond the historical perspective and cites recent studies which support the lifestyle and dietary approach of these four cultures.

The book led me to read other books which support this mostly vegetarian, whole grain approach to achieving good health as one ages. I was led to The Spectrum by Dean Ornish, The China Study by Colin Campbell, and Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell Esselstyn. They are all excellent books. But having read Healthy at 100 first they had much more meaning to me.

I was motivated to try the Esselstyn program even though I am in very good health at age 72. And without even trying I have lost 10 pounds in three weeks. This was not a real objective of the trial, but it is a nice side benefit. I was not overweight, but feel that my new weight is what I would like to maintain. I was also impressed with how easy it was for me to adjust to the vegetarian diet, although I tried to avoid eating a lot of meat before.

I was also motivated to try the vegetarian approach by the high percentage of people whose first sign that they have heart disease is the incident that causes their death. I also was impressed to learn that the four cultures discussed in the book also significantly avoided many other diseases that we have come to think are a natural part of aging.
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