Secrets to Living Longer: What We Can Learn from Blue Zones

Secrets to Living Longer: What We Can Learn from Blue Zones


What if we could live forever? We’re nowhere near that, and unless the fountain of youth is finally discovered we may never get there. But people are living longer than ever, and the number of people living to 100 and beyond is growing rapidly. In fact, there are some places in the world called ‘Blue Zones’ where people routinely live to 100 years and beyond. Can a study of these places reveal the secret to human longevity?

Genes Have A Lot To Do With It

Genetics may be the biggest factor in whether you live a long life, but whether you fulfill your genetic destiny may be left up to other factors. If you have great genes and are born into severe poverty, for instance, there’s a good chance you will never recover according to some studies. A Northwestern University study found that poverty may affect the coding on our genes, and that even if we escape poverty we may never fully recover. Socioeconomic status is a strong determining factor for health and longevity, but does childhood poverty always mean premature death?

Community Makes A Big Difference

One of the things we can learn from these Blue Zones is that community and the way we interact with and value each other can strongly determine whether we are able to live a long and healthy life. In Loma Linda, California, the religious underpinnings of the society translate to a tight-knit community in which members all care for each other out of religious obligation. The result? The life expectancy is ten years greater than the rest of the United States. 

In the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica, inhabitants are seven times more likely to reach the age of 100 than the global average. In addition to an indigenous diet of corn, squash, and beans, inhabitants cultivate a strong sense of purpose throughout their lives, thus giving them a reason to live. In Sardinia, Italy there are ten times the number of centenarians as there are in the United States, and strong familial ties may be at the root of this phenomenon. In fact, in many of the Blue Zones around the world factors like vegan or mostly vegan diets, an emphasis on vigorous exercise, and a strong sense of purpose and community are the greatest differences from the rest of the world.

How Can You Live Longer?

Some scientists believe that a long life only equates to about a quarter of your likelihood of living a long and healthy life. The other three quarters have to do with your lifestyle. Making conscious decisions to exercise, eat right, and build a sense of purpose and community can take you the rest of the way.

It may seem this is easier said than done in today’s fast-paced, dog-eat-dog society. How can you eat healthy when there’s no time left for cooking and shopping? When we all have full time jobs and side hustles just to make ends meet, how can we find time for exercise? If we can’t afford to pay both rent and student loan bills, how can we build a community? These are all difficult challenges to be sure, but even small steps can help you work toward a greater sense of purpose and well-being in your life. Build community by rotating cooking duties among neighbors and friends - and go for a walk after dinner for even more together time disguising exercise. There are often solutions to the problems of everyday life that can be leveraged to achieve multiple goals.

If you weren’t born with the right genetics, don’t fret — just start making better decisions today. We may be among the first generation where the majority of people live to 100 and beyond! Learn more about Blue Zones from the infographic below.

Secrets to Living Longer
Source: Best Health Care Degrees


Secrets to Living Longer: What We Can Learn from Blue Zones

Global life expectancy in 2016 72 years – but today, more people than ever are joining the ranks of centenarian (person who lives to be 100 (or more))
Worldwide centenarian* population is projected to grow 8X by 2050
2050: 3,767,000
2015: 451,000

Secrets of People Who’ve Lived the Longest

From Ponce de León to present, everyone is looking for a way to live longer ― what can we learn from those who are among the oldest in the world?
When asked, centenarians accredit varying reasons to their extended lifetime:
Positivity
“Attitude, attitude, attitude” – Trudi Fletcher, 100
Exercise
“Move it or lose it” – Louise Calder, 101
Clean living
“Just stay out of trouble” – Harry Adler, 101
Cigars and Whiskey?
“Just keep living, don’t die” – Richard Overton, 112
With so many factors, is there really a way to predict who will live the longest?
Gender
In 2016, the global average life expectancy after age 60
Men: 19 years
Women: 22 years
Genes
The offspring of centenarians stay healthier than same-age counterparts
60% lower prevalence of heart attacks
71% less risk of cancer mortality
Geography
Blue Zones are geographic regions of particular longevity and health
Higher concentrations of centenarians
Lower risk of middle-age mortality
Fewer cases of dementia and Alzheimers
What is it about Blue Zones that cause people to live longer?

Secrets of the Blue Zones

Okinawa, Japan
Life expectancy is 85.3 years ㅡ the highest overall life expectancy in the world
Emphasis on plant-based diet and lifelong social groups
Tradition of Ikigai or “reason for being” emphasizes a purposeful life
Loma Linda, California
Life expectancy is over 10 years longer than for average Americans
Follow “Biblical diet” of vegetables, grains, fruits, and nuts
Tight-knit community stems from strong religious motivations
Ikaria, Greece
1 in 3 Ikarians live to be at least 90 years old
Prevalent Mediterranean diet ― healthy fat, small amount of meat and dairy
Mountain living means vigorous exercise is part of daily life
Sardinia, Italy
Home to nearly 10X more centenarians than the US*
Traditional lifestyle features low-protein, plant-based diet
Close family relationships tie into a strong sense of community
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Men over 60 are 7X more likely to reach age 100*
Roots of indigenous diet linger with diet of mostly squash, corn, and beans
A strong sense of life purpose is cultivated ㅡ a plan de vida
Patterns within these Blue Zones ㅡ like diet and emphasis on community ㅡ contain possible answers for prolonging and improving quality of life

Not-So-Secret Ways to Live Longer

How long we live is determined by
Genetics: 25%
Lifestyle and choices: 75%
“It follows that if we optimize our lifestyles, we can maximize our life expectancies within our biological limits” ― Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones
Physical
Exercise:
30-minute intervals of physical activity, 5X per week helps keep weight and blood pressure under control
Diet:
Recommended to eat lots of vegetables and low amounts of meat and dairy
As far as what not to do ㅡ not smoking is one of the most important factors in maintaining good health
Social
Family:
Having a close familial bond can help prevent behaviors stemming from childhood that would negatively affect physical health over time
Community:
Socializing and engaging with others releases natural pain-relieving hormones and lowers stress levels
Mental
Purpose:
Enjoying work is associated with living a longer and healthier life
Attitude:
Those with a positive outlook on aging were 50% less likely to develop dementia than those with a negative view

What habits can you start now to help you live better and longer?

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