Living to be 100 years old was once considered a rare occurrence, but with advancements in medicine and lifestyle changes, living to be 100 is not so improbable today.
In 1910, the average life expectancy was only about 48 years for men and 51 years for women. Menopause was hardly even experienced! How times have changed!
As a group, there are more centenarians worldwide than ever before, with the largest population found in America. Five places have been identified worldwide where people live the longest, healthiest lives. Called “Blue Zones™”, these are areas where people reach 100 years of age at significantly higher rates than anywhere else in the world. They include the Barbagia region of Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan, the Adventists community of Loma Linda in California, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, and the island of Ikaria in Greece. So how do they do it?
These centenarians have strong connections with family and friends. Old-age homes do not exist in the Blue Zones. The community and the families help keep centenarians living with their families. Centenarians are not usually vegetarians but eat mostly homegrown or locally grown food. An overwhelming majority of the centenarians enjoy life and are active. One of the goals of a healthy lifestyle is moderation; none of the centenarians were ever on a diet and none of them were ever obese.
According to Buettner (2012), living long and well doesn’t come from a single practice such as good diet or good genes but from a combination of practices that he calls the Power Nine®. These lessons from the Blue Zones may help increase the centenarian population.
Lessons Learned From the Blue Zones
- Move Naturally. Living in an environment that encourages movement increases longevity. Walking (instead of driving), riding bikes, and gardening are all ways to increase activity. Getting outside and walking with others is one activity that virtually all healthy centenarians do every day.
- Reduce Calories by 20% and stop eating when the stomach begins to feel about 80% full.
- Restrict Meat and Processed Foods. Eat more beans, whole grains, and garden vegetables.
- Drink Red Wine (in Moderation). Red wine contains polyphenols that may help fight arteriosclerosis.
- Have a Sense of Purpose (A Reason to Wake Up in the Morning). A strong sense of purpose may buffer against stress and reduce the chances of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, and stroke.
- Take Time to Reduce Stress. Inflammation is the body’s reaction to stress (such as injury, infection, or anxiety) and promotes age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
- Participate in a Spiritual Community. Healthy centenarians all belong to strong spiritual or religious communities.
- Make Family a Priority. The most successful people in the Blue Zones at reaching 100 years of age were those who put their family first (people who tended to marry, have children, and build their lives around the core family).
- Associate with Those Who Share the Blue Zone Values. Members of the Blue Zone cultures work and socialize together. There wasn’t a “grump” in the centenarians interviewed in the Blue Zones.