Sometimes I would ask people, “would you like to live to 100?” The answers would summon approximately 50% yeses and 50% noes. My wife, Delia always gives it an emphatic NO! Why? “Well, she replies, just look at what people look like when they get old.” I do remind that when she was 60, her age limit goal was 70. Now she´s in her 70s and her goal has jumped to “somewhere in the 80s.” When asked why she updates her goals, she says, “well, as long as I feel well, I´d like to keep on going.” In other words, when it comes down to it, I think that, as with other living species, we don´t want to die. We want to live as long as possible…as long as we´re feeling healthy and enjoying our life.
In 2008, National Geographic explorer Dan Buettner, and his team, began searching for the world´s healthiest, happiest and longest living people (100+ years). The result was his NY Times Best Seller “The Blue Zones.” From his research and interviews during the next two years he came upon 5 population groups, which he named the “Blue Zones”. With the hope that we can benefit from what he discovered, the author shares with us the keys to their long and healthy life.
In Dan Buettner´s own words:
For 30 years, my life’s work has been identifying and then studying extraordinary populations around the world and unlocking their secrets to longevity and happiness.
Life expectancy of an American born today averages 78.2 years. But this year, over 70,000 Americans have reached their 100th birthday. What are they doing that the average American isn’t (or won’t?).
To answer the question, we teamed up with National Geographic to find the world’s longest-lived people and study them. We knew most of the answers lied within their lifestyle and environment (The Danish Twin Study established that only about 20% of how long the average person lives is determined by genes.). Then we worked with a team of demographers to find pockets of people around the world with the highest life expectancy, or with the highest proportions of people who reach age 100. People in these “Blue Zones” regions not just live longer, but they live better. Besides having a large number of centenarians, people in these areas remain active into their 80s and 90s and do not suffer from the chronic diseases common in most parts of the industrialized world.
WE FOUND FIVE PLACES THAT MET OUR CRITERIA:
• Barbagia region of Sardinia – Mountainous highlands of inner Sardinia with the world’s highest concentration of male centenarians.
• Ikaria, Greece – Aegean Island with one of the world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality and the lowest rates of dementia.
• Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica – World’s lowest rates of middle age mortality, second highest concentration of male centenarians.
• Seventh Day Adventists – Highest concentration is around Loma Linda, California. They live 10 years longer than their North American counterparts.
• Okinawa, Japan – Females over 70 are the longest-lived population in the world.
We then assembled a team of medical researchers, anthropologists, demographers, and epidemiologists to search for evidence-based common denominators among all places.
WE FOUND 9:
• Move naturally throughout the day. Centenarians live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it.
• Have and cultivate a strong sense of purpose. “Why do I wake up in the morning.”
• Downshift every day to relieve stress (i.e., meditation, exercise, napping).
• 80% Rule: Stop eating when you are 80 percent full.
• Plant Slant: Beans (fava, black, soy and lentils), whole grains, veggies, and fruit are the cornerstone of centenarian diets. Meat is rarely eaten (average 5 times a month and in small portions (3-4 oz.).
• Wine: Enjoy wine and alcohol moderately with friends and/or food.
• Belong: Be part of a faith-based community or organization. Denomination doesn´t matter.
• Love Ones First: Have close friends and strong family connections Successful centenarians in the Blue Zones put their families first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home (It lowers disease and mortality rates of children in the home too.). They commit to a life partner (which can add up to 3 years of life expectancy) and invest in their children with time and love (They’ll be more likely to care for you when the time comes).
• Right Tribe: Cultivate close friends and strong social networks. The world’s longest lived people chose–or were born into–social circles that supported healthy behaviors.
At the beginning of this exploration, we were interested in figuring out if DNA had anything to do with the exceptional health and longevity in these regions. What we learned was that it’s not DNA and it’s not geography. As the Western-influenced lifestyle and diet come in, these “Blue Zones” regions are dying out. The reason most of these places had such incredible health outcomes was partially because they were isolated, geographically, from the rest of the world. It took a while for fast food, processed food, and large quantities of meat to infiltrate their diets. But as we see in Okinawa, Japan, the newer generation has a more modern lifestyle and eat a more Western-pattern diet. And now they are starting to have the health problems of the Western world. Their geographic location hasn’t changed—their lifestyle has.
Hanby Town, Okinawa
So, are you ready to take the next step?
For health seekers, interested in including all or some of these 9 “common denominators”, into their lifestyle, I suggest first making a “mental” checklist of 1) which ones we are presently including into our lifestyle, 2) which ones we should be including and 3) which ones cannot be included, for whatever reason. For example, move naturally throughout the day might not be feasible for someone having to sit at a desk for 8 hours.
Once that´s done then you can rank these common denominators according to a hierarchy based on what is important to you. For example, making a change to a more plant based diet, if you´re not doing that now (Plant Slant), is probably more important for your health, than whether or not you´re drinking wine.
My personal hierarchy of importance would be: 1) Plant Slant, 2) Relieve Stress, 3) Strong sense of Purpose, 4) Belong, 5) Move Naturally, 6) Love ones First, 7) Right Tribe, 8) 80% Rule, 9) Wine. My priority for the past 8 years has been a Whole Food Plant Based Diet (Plant Slant) + Meditation + Exercise. Now, at the ripe and healthy age of 76, I feel that it´s time to dedicate more time and energy to some of the other common denominators from the Blue Zones.
What about you?