In a little-known mountainous area called Hunza Valley, located far north of Pakistan, people seem to defy all medical odds.

It is primarily home to the Burusho and Wakhi people, who for centuries have survived and thrived in remote villages — with minimal amenities and rudimentary health facilities. Studies have found that the average life expectancy here is around 100 years.

My husband was born and raised here, and is from the Burusho indigenous community. After we got married, I left the U.S. and we settled down in the Central part of the valley.

Here are some intriguing habits that help the people of Hunza live longer:

1. They consume apricot seeds and oil

Apricot trees are one of the most important local crops in the valley. Studies have shown that apricot seeds can help fight cancer and other sources of inflammation in the body, in part due to a compound called amygdalin.

Most people in Hunza have at least one apricot tree, and the seeds are harvested from inside the apricots every summer.

Photo: Samantha Shea

Nearly every traditional Hunzai dish includes apricot oil. Back in the day, it was made by hand, but now locals use machines to extract it from their harvested kernels.

My mother-in-law told me that 50 years ago, it was all anyone used to cook food with, even meat. Dried versions of the fruit also help with altitude sickness, and are boiled into a soup come winter.

My father-in-law organizing dried apricots on his roof

Photo: Samantha Shea

2. They never stop moving

People here are healthy and active throughout their lives, well into old age. It’s very common to see folks in their 80s outside, even in the winter. Elderly family members still graze their cows and sheep, collect wood, and do other household tasks.

They also participate in community activities like “rajaki,” which involves cleaning out the elevated water canals when spring arrives.

Locals of all ages cycle, skate, and play sports like soccer and cricket every day.

3. They drink glacier water

Hunza is filled with dozens of glaciers, all of which melt throughout the summer.

A shiny, dark-grey liquid, “Hunza water” has long held the interest of scientists. Unlike other water sources, this glacial water is naturally filtered by layers of ice and rock and contains precious minerals.

A view of the Passu Glacier from Patundas, a meadow in Upper Hunza where locals bring their livestock to every summer

Photo: Samantha Shea

What Hunza glaicer water looks like straight from the source

Photo: Samantha Shea

The runoff generally lasts from May to October each year, which is when you’ll find it served at restaurants and in homes. Locals swear by it, and prefer it to filtered water.

4. They rarely eat processed foods

Almost every piece of meat eaten in Hunza comes from a locally sourced animal that’s been recently killed.

People rarely eat processed foods, and you certainly won’t find any fast food spots here. Meals are typically prepared fresh in the home daily, and almost every household grows some kind of vegetable.

Spinach is especially popular, and other favorites like tomatoes and potatoes are grown locally and organically.

5. They have strong community values

Neighborhoods and villages are tight-knit, and the people of Hunza take care of each other, especially the older members of the community.

Retirement homes don’t exist here. Elders are highly respected and attended to by their families.

Myself and two strong older women from Chapursan Valley, which is one of the most remote parts of Hunza situated alongside the Wakhan Corridor

Photo: Samantha Shea

With essentially zero crime, it’s safe enough for kids to wander about on their own, even at young ages. It’s likely one of the last places where you’ll see more outdoor play than iPad play.

Having lived here for for the past two years, I can happily say that I’ve never had the privilege of experiencing a society as collective as this one.

Samantha Shea is a Polish-American travel writer from Connecticut. She lives and works remotely in Hunza Valley, Pakistan, and runs women’s tours to the region. Follow her on Instagram and YouTube. 

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