While the average life expectancy in the US is 78 years old, there are five regions in Europe, Latin America, Asia and the US with the highest concentrations of centenarians in the world. Researchers have studied people in these “Blue Zones” to find out what their secret is in turning back the clock. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
“Centenarians eat an impressive variety of garden vegetables and leafy greens (especially spinach, kale, beet and turnip tops, chard and collards) when they are in season,” says longevity researcher Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. “During the off-season, they pickle or dry the surplus. Beans, greens, sweet potatoes, whole grains, fruits, nuts and seeds dominate Blue Zone meals all year long. Olive oil is also a staple. Evidence shows that olive oil consumption increases good cholesterol and lowers bad cholesterol. In the Greek island Ikaria, for example, we found that for middle-aged people, about six tablespoons of olive oil daily seemed to cut the risk of premature mortality by 50%.”
People in the ‘Blue Zones’ are known for staying active throughout the day. So which is the best exercise? “The one you enjoy most,” says Valter Longo, Ph.D, Edna M. Jones Professor of Gerontology and Biological Sciences, director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California. “But also the one you can easily incorporate into your daily schedule and the one you can keep doing up to your hundredth birthday and beyond. Many Okinawans practice martial arts, especially a dance-inspired version of tai chi. The type of exercise you choose isn’t important. What’s important is working all your body parts with rigor — meaning to the point of breathing rapidly or sweating — for five to ten hours a week. I’m not talking about running weekly marathons. Overworking your body is not a good idea.It’s important to exercise, but not to overexercise, because knees, hips, and joints will eventually get damaged — particularly if you continue to exercise when you feel pain.On the bright side, certain exercises and diet can cause tissue to self -repair and regenerate, so the human body has built-in advantages over a car.”
“Volunteers live longer than non-volunteers,” says Buettner. “We also know that loneliness kills. In America, it shaves 8 years off your life expectancy. An adventist in Loma Linda has such a strong face to face social network. You go to church with them, you hike with them, they’re there for you and you’re there for them. These are subtleties that are enormously powerful but vastly under celebrated because there is no profit in them. If social connectedness and volunteerism were pharmaceuticals, they would be blockbuster drugs.”
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One thing people in the Blue Zones have in common is limiting the amount of alcohol they drink, if not abstaining altogether (as in Loma Linda). “They’re drinking herbal tea all day long,” says Buettner. “In Okinawa it’s often green tea, while in Ikaria it’s usually a tea made with oregano, rosemary or mint. They drink no more than two glasses of wine a day.” When it comes to wine, an Italian red variety called Cannonau is said to be the healthiest. “It’s filled with artery scrubbing antioxidants,” Buettner adds.
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Multiple studies show that people who feel they have a purpose in life live longer, happier lives. “People don’t find the same level of health, happiness, healing or longevity when they don’t have a reason to get up in the morning,” says best-selling author and executive life coach Richard Leider. “There’s studies on people who have dementia. When they get up to read to a child, or to water a plant, or to feed a pet — when they have something larger than themselves, they do better. What you find [without purpose] is a certain lethargy. In my business we call it ‘inner kill.’ We all know and have experienced inner kill. We know when we’re disengaged like that, we’re more tired and we have to slog through the day. And when we’re engaged, the day flows by, and it’s like, oh my gosh, it’s six o’clock.”