September 15, 2023
Sitaram Thirukumar’s grandmother is in her 90s. His grandfather is in his 80s and still loves to ride his motorcycle. Few elders in Thirukumar’s family have chronic diseases such as diabetes. Growing up, the Sri Lanka native’s older relatives would walk and cycle to get around, eat home-cooked meals with freshly made coconut milk, and get together with other community members at the temple.
Thirukumar’s grandparents are some of the many elders in Sri Lanka and the Maldives living longer, healthier lives than the rest of South Asia. As of 2020, the Maldives had the highest life expectancy among all countries in the subcontinent at 80, and Sri Lanka isn’t far behind at 76. To compare, Indians, Bangladeshis, and Pakistanis live to an average of 70, 72, and 66, respectively.
Scientists have been studying the diets and lifestyle habits of people who live long, healthy lives, a high concentration of whom live in the so-called “Blue Zones.” As life expectancies rise, people not only want to live for a long time, but also to live well. So what are Sri Lanka and the Maldives’s secrets to longevity, and why don’t we know more about them?