ROME, July 30 (Xinhua) -- As of Jan. 1 this year, there were about 14,500 people residing in Italy who have reached the age of 100 or older, according to the latest figures from Italy's National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT).
Experts said it was a testament to the country's cuisine, lifestyle, and health care system -- and was held back a little by the first World War.
"Italians benefit from good weather, traditions like a healthy, fresh diet, a lot of walking, good community support systems, lower stress, and free access to good health care," Raffaele Antonelli Incalzi, president of the Italian Society of Gerontology and Geriatrics, told Xinhua.
"If you look at other areas with similar advantages, like southern France, you will see similar results in terms of life expectancy,"added Incalzi.
The trend shows the number of elderly generally growing over time, according to the ISTAT. There were over 11,000 people aged 100 or older in Italy a decade ago, compared to around 14,500 today. The number of people aged 105 or more has seen an even bigger jump, from 472 in 2009 to 1,112 this year.
But the current numbers of centenarians are not an all-time high for Italy, according to Gustavo De Santis, a demographics professor at the University of Florence.
Five years ago, the number of Italians who were at least 100 years old surpassed 19,000, an all-time record. But the decrease from that level was not due to a change in Italian cuisine, lifestyle, or the health care system.
"Blame it on World War I," De Santis said, adding that "During the war, life was very difficult for many families and so it is not a surprise that fewer children were born."
"People who turn 100 this year were conceived during the war, and there are fewer of them than there were a few years earlier or later."
De Santis predicted that because birthrates started to rise in Italy after World War I, the number of centenarians will begin climbing again since next year until 2039 when the numbers will dip again due to a slower birthrate during World War II.
"Almost all the factors that contribute to a long life, like access to health care and medical advances, improve over time," De Santis said. "But the numbers must also reflect the birthrate 100 years earlier."
Antonelli Incalzi said the benefits Italy provides in the aging process aren't just for Italians: "A non-Italian who lives in Italy would have all the same benefits," he said.