CALIFORNIA, U.S., May 6, 2014 (University of Southern California): In the lush, verdant hills of India, Bhagavan Kani rises from his bed. He spends a few serene moments gazing at the early morning sun as it crests the horizon, sipping water infused with a local spice leaf called tulsi. Kani eats a simple breakfast of raw vegetables and fruits. Barefoot, he sweeps the leaves from a dirt path in his garden and climbs steep stone steps to take a stroll through the hilly village. Later that day, he sits outside his coconut-leaf-thatched hut, recites tribal songs and talks to plants and animals.
It's a quiet existence that normally wouldn't garner much attention. But Murali Nair, a clinical professor at the USC School of Social Work, is fascinated for one simple reason -- the man is more than 100 years old. "People are definitely living longer," Nair said. "I'm not saying that medical advances have nothing to do with it, but there are other reasons. There must be something beyond their genes, maybe something we can document."
Through interviews and visits with dozens of centenarians around the world, Nair is exploring lifestyle factors that may influence health and promote longevity. He has identified 11 attributes shared by all his study subjects, regardless of their socioeconomic background. Nair is hopeful that his findings will bring legitimacy to practices that are often overlooked and sometimes scorned by the health care establishment, such as spiritual rituals, a positive outlook on life and various traditional healing practices.
"They have a general air of optimism and positivity and try to instill that attitude in others around them," Nair said. "They engage in physical and mental activity on a daily basis, often cleaning, walking, gardening, cooking, reading, writing and memorizing passages of poetry, stories and life events. Learning never ends for them. They always hang around with people much younger than them. Even with a child, they find something to talk about."
Many of the centenarians he has met practice careful eating habits; most are vegetarians who consume fresh vegetables and fruits, spices and herbs in small but regular quantities. Physical and mental activities and practices such as bathing in cold water and watching the sunrise in the early morning are common.
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