As the senior population grows, the number of centenarians – those over the age of 100 – continues to rise. In the United States, there are currently over 70,000 centenarians. Lynn Peters Adler, author of Celebrate 100: Centenarian Secrets to Success in Business and Life, said that 1 in 26 baby boomers is now expected to live to 100, and many more than that will live into their mid-to-late 90s.
So what are the secrets of longevity? The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society said that living past 100 mostly depends on one factor – genetics. However, other lifestyle factors can play a role in longevity. Dan Buettner and National Geographic set out to identify and study places around the world where people live longer and healthier lives. In each of these “Blue Zones” as they called them, people reach age 100 at rates ten times greater than in the U.S.
The Blue Zones
In Ikaria, Greece, citizens are three times more likely to reach 90 than Americans are. This is in part due to the fact that chronic diseases are very rare. In comparison to the U.S., residents have 20 percent less cancer, 50 percent less cardiovascular disease, and very few cases of dementia. People living in this area do a lot of walking, farming, and fishing every day, but also make time to nap and socialize regularly. They follow a Mediterranean diet, and include lots of wild greens and a nutrient-rich herbal tea.
Loma Linda, California is a community of Seventh-Day Adventists that outlive the average American by ten years. They eat little to no meat, lots of nuts, and drink plenty of water, while many also abstain from drinking alcohol and smoking. They maintain a healthy weight with regular, moderate exercise and eating early, light dinners. Adventists place a high value on emotional and spiritual health as well. They encourage volunteer work and hold a 24-hour Sabbath each week to focus on family, faith, and rest.
In Nicoya, Costa Rica, the middle-aged mortality is low, and people have twice the chance of reaching 90 than Americans do. In Nicoyan culture, the plan de vida, or reason to live, helps the elderly maintain a sense of purpose. They live an active lifestyle and get plenty of sleep. Nicoyans eat nutrient-rich foods like fortified maize and beans, as well as nutrient-filled water – their local water source is naturally high in calcium and magnesium.
Okinawa, Japan, has a long-standing reputation for longevity, with the world’s highest prevalence of proven centenarians (740 out of a population of 1.3 million). Most citizens get their daily exercise from gardening, and follow plant-based diet in which they only eat until they are “80 percent full” instead of gorging. Spending time outside in the sunlight gives them high levels of Vitamin D. Even the oldest citizens take part in social groups and have a sense of purpose.
The small island of Sardinia, Italy, has the highest percentage of male centenarians in the world. They follow a Mediterranean diet, including lots of goat’s milk, whole-grain bread, garden vegetables and fruits, and little to no meat. Walking is the primary form of transportation in their mountain villages, but they also take plenty of time for leisure. Most enjoy a glass (or two) of red wine every day, and the men especially are known for their mocking sense of humor.
The Key Ingredients
So what do the citizens of the Blue Zones all have in common? According to Buettner, the most common denominator is daily movement and exercise.
“Our team found that people [in these places] are nudged into physical activity every 20 minutes or so,” Buettner said. “They’re walking to their friend’s house. They’re going down to the garden. They’re kneading bread with their hands. It’s natural movement. It’s something they don’t have to think about. It’s not something that requires discipline.”
Another factor is diet. The Blue Zones citizens most commonly follow nutrient-rich, plant-based diets. They avoid processed foods, and generally eat less overall. Their other common secrets to longevity include setting aside time to rest, continuing to work and serve a purpose well into their later years, keeping a positive outlook on life, and daily social interaction with family and friends.
Written by Taylor French, Amada contributor.