Destinations in Turkey that increase life expectancy
İpek İZCİ - Güliz ARSLAN - Yenal BİLGİCİ
Photos: İbrahim YURTBAY - Selçuk ŞAMİLOĞLUAfter a Turkish university professor and his team collected an unprecedented amount of data on life expectancy in Turkey, daily Hürriyet reporters visited the miracle towns, spoke to their inhabitants and learned from them how they live and age.
The head of Akdeniz University’s gerontology department, Ismail Tufan, has been attempting with his team to map the ageing scope of Turkey. For the fourth stage of their project named GEROATLAS, Tufan and his crew have traveled throughout Turkey, have come together with thousands of people, directed questions at them and gathered data. The research aims to demonstrate how the people in Turkey age. Though the expectation of the average life span is increasing, are we growing old in a fit and healthy way?
Trabzon - Maçka
IF NOT TODAY, THEN TOMORROW, NO WORRIES
Maçka resident Nemide Karaosman (72): “People who step on land remain young.”
In the middle of valleys surrounded with immense spruce trees with the Sümela Monastery on one side and the Fırtına Stream on the other is the evergreen Maçka… At the moment there is a bustle of hazelnut harvests in the county. After a breakfast enriched with butter, clotted cream, fresh-picked tomatoes and cucumbers, everyone hits the field from early on in the morning until sundown in the evening. The locals, who believe being healthy is correlated with working on the land, eat meat moderately and consume lots of fruit. Their tables are never short of collard, chard, corn and green beans. They also consume a lot of water.
52-year-old Maçka resident Asiye Çalık states that, on the days she is out in the field, she drinks over two liters of water. Her relative, 73-year-old Remziye Çalık, even wakes up at night to drink water. 63-year-old Cemal Dönmez is now unable to drink water in the city after the natural spring water in Maçka.
Here you meet very few people who shop at supermarkets. A large amount of the milk they drink and the yogurt they eat is their own produce. Fish is also a nutrition they do not neglect. The soups that are made most often are corn and collard. Their roast made out of pickled green beans is also very renowned. A must-try if you are in town.
There is also mıhlama on Asiye Çalık’s breakfast platter.
Çalık believes that she remains healthy through walking in the valleys and hills and taking a nap for an hour every afternoon. 85-year-old Grandma Bakiye is also another woman who has worked in the hazelnut fields for years. According to her, the key to leading a fit life, aside from constantly moving around, is not being distressed by anything: “If not today, then tomorrow. Or, a week later. No worries! And you need to be grateful. You will feel better when you are grateful.”
Cemal Dönmez said, “The biggest capital God has given me is my health. The rest is transitory.” Dönmez goes on to say, “A spouse with whom you share similar views and values, gives a better life.” Also, he says he does not get into feuds, adding, “Because if I get into a feud, I cannot have my peace of mind.”
Aydın - Bozdoğan
WE KNOW HOW TO STOP
Her granddaughter often visits 85 year-old Remziye Yumukoğlu.
The province is covered in olive yards and fig trees. Water springs from the Madran Baba Mountains.
Nazmiye Karakış, a resident of Bozdoğan, one of those places where time passes by slowly, asked, “Every now and then when I go to İzmir, I see how fast-paced life is in the big city. Here, we can stop whenever we want. Don’t you metropolites ever stop?
The average lifespan in Bozdoğan is 84 years. Women who spend a considerable amount of time chatting in front of doors say they grow the fruit and vegetables they require in their gardens, prepare food for the winter in the summertime, never using canned food.
The residents don’t use any kind of fat other than olive oil and butter, and go everywhere on foot. What distinguishes them from the other towns in different regions is that they sleep at least half an hour every noon.
The women of Bozdoğan claim to not have much stress and say that if they do, they dissolve it through needlework. If they were to get hung up on something, they simply tell their confidants. Not holding anything in helps them deal with the difficulties of life.
İzmir - Karaburun
FISH STRAIGHT INTO THE PAN...
The average lifespan in Karaburun is 83 years.
Karaburun locals sum up the reason they remain healthy as “an active life in a rough land.”
Produce that stand out in the province’s kitchen are artichokes, grapes, citrus fruits, dates, olives and kopanisti cheese.
The Akyol family, originally from Karaburun, migrated to the city years ago, leaving these delicacies behind. After adopting the city life for many years, the family returned to Karaburun a few years back due to their longing for natural life. After studying tourism, the smallest child of the family, Cem Akyol, is there, in his own words, “to be reborn.”
His mother, Ayşe Akyol explained the eating order of the region as such: “Our tomatoes and cucumbers are shiny, the fish is immediately thrown into the pan after it’s been fished out of the water. The only import is dry pulses. The meat we eat is the meat of our own animals… They eat local crops, never ready-made ones.”
Akyol’s 87-year-old grandmother said: “We do not know what illness is. One every now and then we catch a cold… But even then you only rest in bed for a day, the next day you’re up on your feet again.”
Artvin - Şavşat
TOWN OF THE WALKING
Fehimdar Çelik is a very young 90-year-old.
In the town - which was named “Calm City” this year - water coming down from the mountain is the first thing anyone mentions.
Yavuz Tokdemir, 79, is one of the locals. Tokdemir who lives with his wife, Hürmüz, 72, at Kocabey Kışlası says they do not even have to go to the doctor because they drink this water.
In Şavşat, where the average life expectancy has reached 83 years, the Tokdemir grow organic onions, tomatoes, corn and beans. They also say that because their animals feed on natural crops, their milk is particularly delicious. Added to the fresh air, no one in the village ever gets sick.
Fehimdar Çelik, 90, has been a crop farm worker his whole life. He still trims meadows with a scythe and goes into the woods to prepare firewood.
He says that having milk with honey, local bread and eggs at breakfast is a must. He also walks 10 kilometers every day.
Another life secret that he reveals is being “head-strong,” saying that he has “never bowed down to anyone, never strayed from what I know to be true. I have lived a free life.”
Rize - Çamlıhemşin
THIS AIR CAN BE FOUND NOWHERE ELSE
Emine, 52, works at a tea plantation all day.
Çalıhemşin district, within Rize province, is an oxygen reserve where serenity reigns.
Ömer Demirok, 63, is a beekeper we meet in Çalıhemşin, where the average life expectancy is 82 years. He says that during his visit to Ankara, he couldn’t drink the water - let alone eat.
“That water had a peculiar smell to me even as I was washing my hands.” Like everyone else in the region, he has always eaten butter, honey and clotted cream since his early childhood.
The locals’ favorite fruit is apple. Demirok, climbs up and down a 25-30 meter-long hornbeam tree to keep his body fit. According to him, the secret to a good life is establishing a domestic space free of violence. “Some people see women as merely laborers, but I do not accept that,” he says.
70-year-old Mevlüt Yağcı’s health secret is similar. Yağcı, who has lived in Germany for many years, returned to his village unable to wait for his retirement. “My financial status was very good there but the food, the air and water here were missing.”
Muğla - Fethiye
PEOPLE WHO KNOW SHORTAGES
The Serdaroğlus drink their morning coffee.
The sea holds a prominent place in the lives of Fethiye locals. Alongside swimming, young people ride their bikes around most of the day.
Nutrition contributes greatly to the average lifespan of locals of 83 years. For example, Şükrü, 45, and Adile, 45, eat only what they produce. They say they do not like the taste of any supermarket-bought food.
One of the village’s residents, 73-year-old Cahit Tabanoğlu, agrees. “The produce here tastes sweeter due to the oxygen.” He has eaten natural products his whole life. “During times of sugar shortage, our mother would crush carobs in mortar, boil them and use that to make pudding. But these days nature-based nutrition is forgotten,” he said.
However, Mehmet, 83, and Ümmü Gülsüm, 74, say that what keeps them young is opening up the family memoirs. The secret to their long and blissful marriage is mutual tolerance, they say.
Ordu - Gölköy
HAPPILY GET LOST
An author and translator from Ordu, Hamdi Koç, thinks the people of Gölköy have discovered inner-peace.
In Gölköy, which has a population of 30,000, it rains almost throughout the year. But the life expectancy is 82 years.
Koç, originally from Ordu, travelled around Gölköy with the crew of Atlas magazine: “I came across happy people in Gölköy. In Istanbul everyone sulks. But here in Gölköy you see faces ready to smile as you approach them.”
“They have not lost the sense of belonging, have not parted. Everyone owns their own land, big or small.”
“The tall trees around the Ulugöl lake reach to the sky, giving the water a magnificent green color. In the forest, you can happily get lost.”
Sivas - Doğanşar
A WEAK BODY DOES NOT STAND A CHANCE
1,300 meters above sea-level, the population of Doğanşar is just 3,000. Its cuisine is based on agricultural goods. The locals dig their food out of the ground and put it on the table.
Doğanşar is famous for its soup. Beat and ayran soup in the summer and dough-based soups such as tarhana, tırhıt and sübüra in the winter.
The inhabitants’ possession of a healthy body is mainly due to the necessary adjustment to the harsh terrestrial climate. The town remains covered in snow for four to five months in a year, so a weak body does not stand much of a chance here. Still, the average life expectancy is 83 years.
Afyon - Dinar
GOOD NUTRIENTS, PLENTY OF OXYGEN
After the Dinar earthquake in 1995, the population of the province decreased by 20,000. Nowadays, it is on the rise again.
Even though many locals migrated to other cities after the earthquake, they returned at the first chance they got. Here’s how they explain why: “Because there are good nutrients, clean water and plenty of oxygen here.”
A great majority of the people live on agriculture. With poppy, beet, wheat and barley all considered major crops, lands have a vast scope of production.
Local farmers sell their produce at the Tuesday market. The market is also known for its butter, yogurt, milk and clotted cream there.
The Menderes, which flows through the fountain, is the local source of water.
Putting a family elder in a retirement home is considered a huge disgrace.
ON PROSPEROUS LANDS
Up north, the Black Sea borders Kastamonu, with the Sakarya River on the west and the Kızılırmak on the east.
This rainy region is covered 67 percent by forest. Of course this means oxygen, which means life. The forests, composed of beech, fir, pine, elm, hornbeam and chestnuts, most likely hold one of the secrets to a long and healthy life.
Here, the average lifespan is 82 years. Kastamonu, whose forests grow a variety of delicious mushrooms, is known for its delicious plums, grapes, pears, cranberries, garlic, rice and halva.
Our gourmet author Mehmet Yaşin on Kastamonu: “If you were to go to these prosperous lands, you could hit several birds with one stone: You could do a nature hike, go mushroom-hunting, take photographs on a photo-safari oıf painting quality, go skiing in the Ilgaz Mountain if it is winter, or get lost in the wilderness in Valla Canyon in the beginning of summer.”
GEROATLAS travels around
The GEROATLAS research conducted by the Akdeniz University Gerontology Department and supported by TÜBİTAK, has been carried on since 2000. The research, the fourth stage of which was completed this year, will be completed in 2023 after which Turkey’s aging map will be revealed in full detail.
The crew takes a new sample of people at every stage. Alongside this, they also keep tabs on the surviving individuals from past samples of previous stages. Every stage is conducted with 3,500 people. In order to gather enough people for the sample, the group travels around Turkey. The Address-Based Population Record System (ADNKS) is used as the base of the samples.
As of 2015, 10 locations are on the top of the list based on the combined statistical analyses of factors such as health, fitness, general life satisfaction, family relations, and religious beliefs. Locations include Ordu’s Gölköy district, Aydın’s Bozdoğan district, Muğla’s Fethiye district, İzmir’s Karaburun district, Sivas’s Doğanşar district, Kastamonu, Artvin’s Şavşat district, Afyon’s Dinar district, Rize’s Çamlıhemşin district and Trabzon’s Maçka district. Older people in these regions have been proved to be healthier and fitter compared to other regions. The research that amalgamates various factors and has come up with this result needs to still determine the cause of this, by understanding how much of these results is personal and how much is public.
A HEALTHY LIFE CAN BE LEAD ANYWHERE
Within the GEROATLAS project, 35,000 people were individually interviewed on factors such as satisfaction with life, health, nutrition, involvement with society, loneliness, resting, religious and familial relations, in order to explore how Turkey ages. Head of the Akdeniz University Gerontology Department Professor İsmail Tufan, leading the GEROATLAS Research, says,
“Within GEROATLASI believe that the mutual interaction of these factors not only enable a long life but also a healthy one. We encounter fit and healthy elders, despite their old age, all across Anatolia. This proves to me that a healthy older life is not only a regional quality. The impact of the region is probably seen in life style, geography, air and water. However, I believe more that these rare, fit elders, whose numbers are increasing, are doing something right without being aware of it.”
He also says the findings show the region’s potential effects clearly impact the eating habits but that the findings do not prove anything definite about any particular region. Instead, he says, “Our primary goal is to give examples that old age can also be a quality period of life and that quality of life can be maintained until, and in, old age, removing negative images of the elderly in the minds of the citizens. A healthy life can be lead anywhere.”
He says the group already knowns most of the factors of living a longer life but they do not know the connections between the factors and how they affect one another. He adds, “People with no financial troubles, a high-class education, living a comfortable, good quality life can also die unexpectedly. Comfort is not the only parameter in understanding long life.”
NO ALCOHOL-CIGARETTES, LITTLE AMOUNT OF SALT, SUGAR-FAT
Remziye Çalık (73), a resident of Maçka, cuts wood herself.
People that are ageing in a healthy manner, interviewed in the GEROATLAS research, have common traits. Some eat three meals a day, some eat only one. Their styles are different but they give off the impression that they possess healthy eating habits. None of them consume cigarettes or alcohol. Their genetic traits most likely have an impact on their current state of health and fitness. However, it is obvious that nutrition has an effect on them being healthier compared to others of their age.
The consumption of fatty meat and unsaturated fat is very little. Fruits and vegetables have an important place in their eating habits. They also consume very small amounts of sugar and salt. Most seem to have strong religious beliefs. They do not fear death; moreover, they are in a conscious preparation towards it.
They offer a psychologically stable image.
Their memories are overall very strong. Their morale is up.
They are not immune to diseases; however, they do remain within certain limits. Compared to people their own age, they don’t feel as many pains and aches.
Many of the people interviewed in the GEROATLAS Project do not know terms regarding healthy eating yet they remain healthy.