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The secret to a long, happy life: People

Some years ago, while working, I would meet with my favorite doctor; we would have lunch or a quick cup of coffee. We would discuss trends in healthcare, how we could better serve our patients and their family members. We would talk about travel plans, places we have been or places we were planning on going. He would tell me about restaurants in other cities and states, offering world cuisine, giving his advice on where to go. We would attend healthcare seminars together, the kind that provided education on colon health, telling us not to eat processed meat and foods, limit red meat intake and to eat more fruit and vegetables.

He would suggest books and send me articles to read. I gained knowledge and understanding from this doctor; I learned about people, places, and more than *just* health, I learned about service to others, living and dying.

In 2014, he sent me an article: “How to Stay Healthy Even if You Eat Junk, Smoke Ciggies, Skip Exercise & Booze It Up,” ( written by a doctor (Lissa Rankin, MD, author of the book “Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself”). She begins by saying, for years doctors have encouraged people to kick the habit (ya’ know, the tobacco one), eat a more plant-based diet, drink less alcohol and exercise more.

The article goes on to talk about a tribe of Italians: they didn’t go a day without eating meatballs, that dripped with lard; they smoked, because they wanted; alcohol? If they’re going to eat red meat and fat in excess, as well as smoke, assuredly, they weren’t going to go a day without drinking and eating pasta and breads, too.

Yet, they had an extremely low incidence of heart disease and other illnesses. Most died of “old age.” What was it, in spite of their “unhealthy” lifestyle that contributed to their longevity?


They were a tribe connected to one another within their community. Many had multi-generations, living within one roof. They shared their dinners and delights; they were a daily show of togetherness, with their families. They gave and had a constant feeling of love and support.

Loneliness, on the other hand is the number one contributor to an actual unhealthy lifestyle, according to the article. This feeling raises cortisol levels (an increase is what fuels the fight or flight system). Balanced cortisol levels help to manage and better use the intake of carbs, fats and proteins; control inflammation; sleep better; regulate blood pressure and blood sugar; and maintain energy.

Poor emotional health is likely to show up as a weakened immune system in the body, causing colds, infections and other aches and pains. It can also show up as stress, anxiety, anger and depression. It can also cause the loss of interest in eating healthy, exercising and taking medication, as well as abusing alcohol and/or drugs.

It all comes down to quality of life, having a partner that brings you fulfillment and satisfaction; family and friends; a job you don’t dread going to each day. For some it might be a stringent, weekly, exercise program; for others it might be a book club, traveling or some combination therein.

On the other hand, having a partner who is always angry or who you “walk on eggshells” around, can create short and long term health problems, including anxiety, high blood pressure, headaches, and other health issues, leading to a shortened lifespan.

The five areas who have the longest living people in the world are: Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Loma Linda, Calif; and Ikaria, Greece. Most of the people in these areas live to be 90 and well beyond (Sardinia has the most male centenarians in the world).

While I’m not saying I’m going to be giving up my beloved cheeseburgers or my glorious meatballs (which might be cooked in, yes, lard...also olive oil and love) anytime soon, the people of these areas do boast a mostly plant-based diet, with some variations from one location to the next.

The one thing they all have in common: familial closeness, a tight-knit social circle, community.

Growing up, Sunday was always my favorite day of the week. Grandma and Grandpa’s table seemed to extend endlessly. The intense, flavorful smell of the sugu and meatballs must have wafted a block in each direction.

Today, because of the love and support we were shown and taught growing up, siblings, cousins and aunts and uncles remain steadfast in our support to one another within our family. Even though we don’t have sugu every Sunday, we continue the tradition of Sunday dinners.

As one of my favorite social workers always says: “People need people!”

Gina (Paradiso) Cathcart is the director of Carecorner, Ltd., Colorado Respite Care. She is a healthcare educator, passionate about service to others and quality patient care. She can be reached at

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