The world’s longest living people reveal their secrets
By Dale Pereira, Contributor
The term “blue zone” is used to describe places on earth where people live the longest. In these places, it is common to find centenarians living healthy and productive lives. Their health and long life is attributable to their lifestyle. Dan Buettner, the man who came up with the term, has travelled around the world looking for these blue zones and distinguishing them from non-blue zones. In his cover story, Secrets of Longevity, for National Geographic magazine, Buettner identifies five of them. By studying each separately, we can learn of the lifestyle factors that lead to longevity.
In central Sardinia, residents live to a remarkable old age. In these mountain villages, Sardinian men can be found chopping wood at 100-years-old. The common profession is shepherding, so many people walk five or more miles a day. Their diet is plant-based and locally grown. In this region, elders are taken care of by their immediate families. Every afternoon, people gather together on the street to laugh with each other. This daily dose of laughter lowers stress, thus reducing the risk of heart disease.
Okinawans enjoy the highest disability-free expectancy rate in the world. Following a plant-based diet, they are heavy eaters of multi-coloured vegetables and tofu. Okinawans also have a very strong sense of purpose. This is embodied in the concept of ikigai or “that which makes one’s life worth living.” In fact, there is no word for “retirement” in the local language. Instead, older Okinawans occupy themselves through gardening. Staying active strengthens the body and is good for cardiovascular health, both of which could lead to longevity.
Loma Linda, California
Seventh-day Adventists are concentrated in Loma Linda, California. Adventists have the highest life expectancy rate in the United States, which could explain why this region is a blue zone. Vegetarianism is popular amongst Adventists, so most restaurants in Loma Linda have vegetarian options. Adventists rest from labour one day a week and are heavy consumers of beans and nuts. Their way of life can be summarized in the acronym NEWSTART: nutrition, exercise, water, sunlight, temperance, air, rest, and trust in divine power.
Nicoya, Costa Rica
A blue zone in a developing Costa Rica, the Nicoya Peninsula, is truly a wonder. What makes a group of villages live longer than the rest of the country? Nicoyans have a strong family focus with up to five generation living together. Having familial support during old age gives you a sense of belonging and a reason to live. Nicoyans find chores fun and the region is known for their physical work. In fact, most centenarians continue to enjoy outdoor labour well in to their old age. Nicoya is also the land of sun, so residents get plenty of vitamin D, which contributes to good health.
Reaching 90 is common in Ikaria, where people have much lower rates of heart disease and cancer. Ikarians eat a Mediterranean diet of beans, fish, and olive oil. They also eat plenty of greens and love herbal tea. Many Ikarians do not wear watches and are not time-dependent. In fact, daily naps are very common in the region. Studies have shown that slowing down helps counteract age-related diseases such as arthritis. Finally, Ikarians preserve family tradition and social bonds. The older and younger generations often see each other every day, a practice that improves the health of both children and the elderly.