Biography of Centenarian Miguel Carpio

About the Ecuadorian centenarian Miguel Carpio biography and history, diet and advice for longevity.

A LESSON IN LONGEVITY

MIGUEL CARPIO (1850- )

Miguel Carpio is not a man of moderate appetites. Each day he consumes, by his own admission, 40 to 60 cigarettes and two or three shots of a potent home-brewed rum that would sear the innards of a lesser man. But physicians know better than to caution Carpio about his excesses this late in the day. After all, he is 128 years old.

Carpio is a native of Vilcabamba, a tiny Ecuadorian village nestled high in the Andes 300 mi. south of Quito, which for centuries was linked to the outside world only by a rutted dirt road. A 1971 census revealed that of the 819 people there, nine were centenarians and nearly one fifth were over 65. The oldest of them, 142-year-old Jose David, died in 1973. His friend Carpio has since reigned as the town's senior citizen.

Born and raised in Vilcabamba, Carpio has 14 children, 98 grandchildren, 56 great-grand-children, and several great-great-grandchildren, and is himself the child of extraordinarily long-lived parents. Not surprisingly, he has never in his life been to a doctor. "Never had to," he says.

When a resident of Vilcabamba finally does give up the ghost, the cause of death as often as not is influenza or simply an accident, for high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer are all but unknown there. And yet at first blush, the townspeople's robust health and longevity are difficult to reconcile with their poverty-stricken life-style. Most Vilcabambans live in primitive dirt-floored huts without benefit of plumbing, sanitation facilities, or electricity. Medical care is often unavailable.

Still, the underpinnings of their longevity are apparent. The air there is entirely unpolluted, as is the nearby river that supplies their water. The weather imposes no burden, for the air is dry and the temperature remains at around 70 deg. F throughout the year. Even Carpio, who admits that he doesn't really understand "why I've been allowed to live so long," thinks that the climate "has a lot to do with old age. It is never too cold or too warm."

A peculiarly unhurried attitude toward the business of just getting from one day to the next seems to be at the heart of the Vilcabamba mystery. Jorge Vivanco, a 46-year-old Ecuadorian journalist who lives in Guayaquil but was born in Vilcabamba, says, "The reason they live so long is that they are born without ambition. They go to bed at six in the evening and get up at six in the morning--no trouble, no strain. That's their secret." The president of Ecuador's Society of Cardiologists adds, "The people of Vilcabamba never worry about anything. They are happy and at peace. That's their main secret of long life."

Carpio's eyesight has deteriorated of late, but his 71-year-old daughter swears that he is still as much of a flirt as he ever was. Carpio does't disagree. "I can't see them too well anymore, but by feeling I can tell if they are women or not."

Diet: Diet may be the single most telling factor in the Vilcabambans' long life. On an average, Carpio and his neighbors consume 1,200 calories a day consisting mostly of vegetables, fruit, unrefined sugar, and very little red meat. Harvard medical professor Dr. Alexander Leaf, who visited Vilcabamba in 1971, says, "The weight of current medical opinion would concur that a diet such as described for . . . Vilcabamba would delay development of arteriosclerosis--that is, fatty deterioration of the arteries of the heart."

Advice: Carpio really can't account satisfactorily for his having reached six-score years and eight, but he has made enjoying himself a priority. "Every few months I get the feeling to have a good drunk," he says, "so I buy a bottle with a friend and we empty it."

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