The Mystery of Roseto

The bestselling book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell begins by describing a Pennsylvania mining town whose inhabitants one doctor called a “medical mystery”. Almost all of the inhabits were Italian immigrants from the town’s namesake (Roseto) southeast of Rome.

Virtually no one under 55 died of a heart attach or showed any signs of heart disease what-so-ever. For men over 65, the death rate from heart disease in Roseto was roughly half that of the United States as a whole. The death rate from all causes, in fact, was about 40% lower than it should have been. It was so alarming that doctors teamed up with sociologists to begin studying what was going on in Roseto.

It certainly wasn’t the diet that produced healthy Rosetans: they consumed a lot of pizza and pasta, cooked with lard, and ate a ton of red meat. There carb and red meat consumption was double the rest of the population. They drank wine copiously.

Nor were they type A personalities pounding the pavement in designer running shoes: modern exercise did not even figure into the lives of most Rosetans at all.

By any modern standard, these people were not “fit” at all. They would’ve came in last at the CrossFit Games.

It wasn’t genetics, either: the Rosetans who had immigrated to other parts of America had heart-disease in line with national averages.

Finally, location had little to do with their health success. Other ethnic groups living in the area also experienced heart problems consistent with the nationral rates of incidence. More than just the mountain air was keeping these people healthy.

After extensive medical tests and interviews by sociologists, the researchers concluded that the answer to the mystery lay in Roseto’s way of life, social interactions, and cultural practices. Large families, big family meals, daily social interaction, lots of laughter, and a general lack of stress related to worldly success, to standards of “fitness” (as the world tells us), or to schizophrenia over what they were eating. If you visited Roseto, you’d see three-generational family meals, bakeries bustling with people, families and kids playing in the street, people walking up and down the block and sitting on their porches talking to one another, the blouse mills where the women worked during the day while the men worked in the slate quarries…and all of it permeated by a sense of simplicity: manual labor, eating the local food that was available, and being with others.

It’s time to rethink fitness.

Luke Burgis
Luke Burgis, CSCS, is a Co-Founder of ActivPrayer, an architect of the activMAP, and a sports and performance coach that has worked in the nutrition and fitness industries for over 10 years. He graduated with a B.S. in Finance from NYU and also completed an S.T.B. in Sacred Theology at a university in Italy where he worked closely with the Vatican's office of Church & Sport about the role of sports and fitness in renewing cultures.

He is a well-known public speaker on the topics of entrepreneurship, fitness, and faith.
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