Open Journal of Social Sciences, 2014, 2, 61-64
Published Online August 2014 in SciRes. http://www.scirp.org/journal/jss
How to cite this paper: Goduka, N., Rozani, C. and Njume, C. (2014) Unlocking Secrets to Healthy Aging among the Elderly
within the Joe Gqabi District Municipality, South Africa. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 2, 61-64.
Unlocking Secrets to Healthy Aging among
the Elderly within the Joe Gqabi District
Municipality, South Africa
Nomalungelo Goduka, Carina Rozani, Collise Njume
Indigenous Knowledge Systems Office (IKSO), Walter Sisulu University (WSU), Mthatha, South Africa
Received May 2014
The search for genetic and environmental factors for longevity is constantly on the rise. While a
small proportion of adults gracefully age to 100 years and above, others can barely make it above
50. The Joe Gqabi District Municipality of the Eastern Cape Province in South Africa is one of the
few places in the country with a high number of elderly people (≥80 years). The purpose of this
study was to first identify contributing factors towards longevity in this district. It was secondly to
use findings from this study to improve the quality of life that has a potential for the younger gen-
eration to experience healthy longer lives. Questionnaires, in-depth interviews, observation and
focus group discussions were used to collect data. Results of this study indicated that while envi-
ronmental factors may influence longevity, genetic factors appear to be the major determinants of
long life spans in the Joe Gqabi District Municipality of South Africa. However, more studies to de-
termine the specific genes responsible for longevity will shed more light in the determination of
factors that contribute to long life spans in the study area.
Longevity, Lif estyle , Genetic Facto rs, Joe Gqabi, South Africa
1. Introduction and Background Information
Successful aging that leads some individuals to become centenarians is no accident. It begins with a meticu-
lously designed interaction between one’s genetic make-up and environmental factors. Indicators of environ-
mental influence include the following: diet, healthy living and spirituality. Despite spending much more on
healthcare and having better infrastructure than any other African country, life expectancy in South Africa is
amongst the lowest in the world . However, pockets of small areas exist such as the Joe Gqabi District Muni-
cipality with individuals who live longer than everyone else. It is a rural mountainous area in the Eastern Cape
Province which is inhabited by individuals whose lifestyles as they were growing up adhered to indigenous cul-
tural values, diet and work ethics.
The aim of this study was to collect information on genetic factors, healthy living and lifestyle that contribute
N. Goduka et al.
to successful aging. Shared characteristics of the world’s longest-lived individuals from three Blue Zones,
namely, Sardinia in Italy, Ikaria in Greece and Okinawa in Japan motivated us to conduct this study in the Joe
Gqabi District. Another factor that motivated us to conduct this study was, despite the earliest archeological
evidence that Africa is the cradle of humanity and civilization no Blue Zones have been established on this con-
tinent. Questionnaires, in-depth interviews, observation and focus group discussions were used to collect data.
Findings based on this study can be used to provide lessons to younger generations and policy makers for the
improvement of the quality of life that has a potential for living healthy and longer within this district, nationally
and globally. These findings can also be used to open doors to academic research that will discover more Blue
Zones with the longest-lived individuals on the African continent.
The climate in Joe Gqabi is harsh: large temperature fluctuations, unseasonable frost and cold, and relatively
low rainfall meaning only less sensitive crops can be grown. Joe Gqabi District Municipality is rural and cha-
racterized by a breath taking landscape formed by a range iintaba zoKhahlamba - Drakensberg Mountains that
form a boundary between other District Municipalities within South Africa and its neighboring country of Le-
sotho (Figure 1). The Kraai and the Orange Rivers run from these mountains and meander through the District.
The municipalities in the wetter eastern part of the district are mountainous and have communal land as well as
commercial farming. The municipalities in the west of the district are flat with Karoo-type vegetation and con-
sist mainly of commercial agriculture, which drives the economy, with extensive farming of sheep and cattle.
Subsistence and emerging farmers are to be found in the commercial land areas.
2. Methods of Research and Data Collection
Age of participants, number of siblings, offspring, genetic factors, nutrition, lifestyle and spirituality values were
recorded. Questionnaires, in-depth interviews, observation and focus group discussions were used to collect data.
3. Findings and Discussion
Of the nineteen participants interviewed, 9 were 95 or more years old, 6 of them females. Longevity seems to be
associated with genetics in 11 of the 19 cases studied. The diets of 12 of the participants involved the use of in-
digenous leafy vegetables (ILVs). All participants believed in Christianity. Twelve of them had gardening,
walking, and/or doing household activities as daily chores. Only three of the 19 participants did not have child-
ren. Human life span is predominantly dependent on genetic and environmental factors . While humans may
not be able to control the genetic factors, environmental factors such as nutrition and physical exercise should be
well within control. There is no doubt that the food people eat is closely related to their health and life expec-
tancy  The results of this study are supportive of this fact, as the majority of participants indicated using indi-
genous leafy vegetables (ILVs) in their diet (Table 1).
Due to the generally low level of crude fat in many of these vegetables and high levels of total unsaturated
fatty acid  , consumption in large amounts would be beneficial to individuals suffering from overweight or
obesity, thereby improving their lifestyle and longevity. The role these plants play in the prevention of prema-
ture mortality through prevention of non communicable diseases including cardiovascular diseases (CVD),
hypertension, diabetes and cancer can therefore not be underestimated. For this reason, low meat high plant-
based dietary patterns are being encouraged to mitigate the hazardous effects of saturated fats in meats to athe-
rogenic/hyper-insulinemic pathologies .
Vitamin C, an important dietary component of most vegetables is a free radical scavenger and in addition is
able to regenerate other antioxidants such as tocopheroxyl which may play a role in healthy aging and longevity
. Different polyphenols employ different mechanisms in the protection of cellular damage and enha nce lon-
gevity. Some prevent deterioration/damage of cells by oxidation while others reduce cholesterol-production and
deposition in the arteries thereby helping to reduce blood pressure . Phyto-components such as catechins (ob-
tained from green teas) and Sulforaphane (from broccoli) are important anti-cancer and anti-CVDs agents re-
Being female could be a determining factor of long life span. A total number of 13 out of 19 participants who
were 80 years and above were females. Six of the 13 females were 95 years and above compared to only 3 males
(Table 1). These findings are consi ste nt in consonance with the reports of Newman and Brach , Bobak 
and Mansdotter . Seventeen of the 19 participants had at least 2 children. While child-bearing may nega-
tively affect longevity due to the stress on the mother and the requirements of upbringing, our study does not
N. Goduka et al.
Figure 1. Map of South Africa showing Joe Gqabi District Municipality.
Table 1. Factors likely to be responsible for human longevity in the Joe Gqabi District Municipality of South Africa.
Participant Age Gender Genetics Number Offspring Daily Activity Diet Rel ig io n
NG01 80 - 85 M No 5 Gardening, Fencing Normal C h rist ian
LE02 > 95 F Yes 2 Weedi n g Normal, ILVs Chr ist ian
MA03 80 - 85 F Yes 4 house work Normal, ILVs Ch r ist ian
JA04 86 - 90 M Yes 12 not hin g Normal, ILVs Chris t ian
MN05 >95 M Yes 12 Walking, gardening ILVs mostly Ch ris tian
LE06 > 95 F Yes - Walking, gardening ILVs mostly Chr ist ian
MO07 80 - 85 F No 6 walking, gardening Normal, ILVs C h rist ian
KH08 80 - 85 F No 9 Gardening, Fencing Normal, ILVs Chris tian
Chr ist ian
HE10 >95 F No 5 Walking and small chores Normal, ILVs Ch ris t ian
MO11 >95 M Yes 8 Gardening, Fencing ILVs mostly Ch rist ian
RA12 91 - 95 F Yes 5 House work Normal C h ris t ian
80 - 85
Chr ist ian
AM14 > 95 F No 3 Cookin g Norma l C h ris t ian
AO15 > 95 F No 6 grass/clay wks Normal, ILVs Ch rist ian
DZ16 86 - 90 F No 5 Physical exercise ILVs mostly Ch rist ian
DZ17 80 - 85 F Yes 0 Kitchen wk Normal, ILVs C h rist ian
NC18 91 - 95 F Yes 12 Cooking, walkin g Norm al Ch r ist ian
NT19 >95 M Yes 10 Walking, gardening Normal C h ris t ian
F, Female; M, Male; -, Not determined; ILVs, Indigenous leafy vegetables.
seem to be consistent with this fact. As recorded above, one of the oldest participants had 12 children and many
others too (Table 1).
Secrets of Longevity Unlocked at Joe Gqabi through Qualitative Research and Focus
Eating healthy unprocessed foods earlier in life; e.g. freshly slaughtered stock, (red and white meat, not often
too); exercising, i.e. walking and working in the gardening and maize-fields; living by good moral values:
N. Goduka et al.
showing respect towards elders; respect for one’s body i.e. not defiling body with pre-marital sex; girls at ado-
lescence not eating highly protein foods like eggs and milk, thus delaying sexual activity; girls not eating lambs
that die but leaving that to the boys; boys and young men not engaging in sexual activities consumption of liquor
and drugs ;spirituality: showing respect and giving honour to Almighty God and believing that he is the giver of
good long healthy lives.
As the number of elderly people increase in the world, it is good to develop interventions that would contribute
to graceful aging and longevity. Genetics have been indentified in this study as a major contributing factor to
longevity. However, other factors include gender, spirituality, daily activity and diet. As in many other reports,
our results also show that being female tends to be associated with longevity. Normal diet which include vegeta-
bles and daily activities like gardening, household chores and walking are all contributing factors to longevity in
the Joe Gqabi District Municipality in South Africa.
We are grateful to the Department of Science and Technology (DST), National Research Foundation (NRF),
South Africa for funding this study through a grant awarded to the Research Chair for Indigenous Knowledge
Systems at Walter Sisulu University. Special thanks to Fr Mafu Ponya, Ms Nkamu Leola and the local commu-
nity of Joe Gqabi District Municipality for their contribution to this study.
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