The video above is of a fascinating Tedtalk looking at lifestyle habits of centenarians across the Globe. There are pockets of communities that regularly outlive the average person and we can analyse their habits discover how to enjoy the same benefits in our own lives. As it stands only 1 in 5,000 Americans live to reach the ripe old age of 100, so our chances are low if we continue with the typical Western habits.
To find the path to long life and health, Dan Buettner and team study the world’s “Blue Zones,” communities whose elders live with vim and vigor to record-setting age. In his talk, he shares the common diet and lifestyle habits that keep them spry past age 100.
So what can we do to ensure we live longer? Is it all determined by our genes?
It has been found that only 10% of our longevity is determined by genes, the rest is attributable to lifestyle choices. Is it a case of taking the right supplements and hormones? Living spiritually? Being sociable? Getting the right exercise? It is actually a combination of these.
What is ageing?
Each cell in our bodies renews itself around every 8 years. Each time it does so, some damage occurs, the ‘copies’ are imperfect and over time the blemishes increase exponentially. As we grow older we age at a much more rapid pace. Some telltale signs of ageing are damage to our joints, clogged up arteries and dementia. Medically our bodies should manage around 90 years of typical wear and tear, but the average life expectancy in the States is 12 years short of that.
There is no miracle cure to stop aging to ensure that we will live longer. We can only slow the process gradually over the course of our lives. The common themes of these ‘blue zone’ communities are that they live simply, following similar habits that you could use yourself. We will look at these in turn.
The communities in the blue zones are active throughout their lives. The golden rule here is that they move naturally. They do not force their bodies to perform gruelling hours at the gym, they exercise in ways that they enjoy. They do not tend to take shortcuts, preferring to ‘do it themselves’ rather than opting for convenience with everyday things such as climbing stairs or mixing a cake.
Spend Time in Nature
The blue zone communities spend time outside on a regular basis, connecting with the outside world. This includes taking regular walks and gardening.
Most individuals followed some religious or spiritual faith. This leads to a community life, where older people are generally celebrated. They are looked upon for their wisdom and respected as valuable members of the ‘tribe’. This is not only beneficial for the older individuals, but was also found to have a positive impact on the children. Buettner referred to this as the grandmother effect.
Sense of Purpose
Having a sense of purpose was found to be an enormous factor in longevity. In most of these blue zones, individuals do not have a ‘sell by’ date whereby they are no longer considered useful in the working world. Retirement has been seen to have a devastating impact on people and can knock 7 years off of life expectancy.
The diets shared by these communities are unsurprisingly closer to what nature intended than the average Westerner. Lots of green vegetables and legumes are on the menu. They tend not to overeat, stopping when they are 80% full in most instances. Eating wisely, in moderation, results in lower levels of obesity and diabetes, which are massive killers in America. Levels of heart disease are significantly lower in the blue zones, as are rates of breast and colon cancer. Eating wisely helps individuals to live not only longer, but also disease free.
The blue zone communities have strong social constructs, on an intimate level as well as with the community on the whole. They look out for one another so that nobody is isolated. Friendships are built and maintained over a lifetime, so that positive and negative times can be shared. There is always somebody to rely on and to talk to.
Living in a supportive structure, where people look out for each other means that in times of hardship nobody is neglected, and in times of celebration, everyone can be uplifted. Lifestyle choices are made naturally for the benefit of health and environment, with wise traditions being passed down continually. Staying in touch with rituals that may die out in modern society, means that people consider the bigger picture, making choices for the good of the whole society.
Individuals within the blue zones spend the vast majority of their time with like-minded people. It is known that friends tend to share eating habits, exercise habits and morals. If all of your friends are active, in touch with nature, healthy and respectful, then you will most likely be so too. The group dynamic of these zones has a huge impact on the individuals.
So to summarise, there are no quick fixes to living to 100 years old. You have to start preparing for such longevity years in advance, making these elements part of your every day life. Living a long, disease free life means living actively, continuing to have a purpose, eating wisely, staying connected to likeminded friends and keeping in touch with nature and the wider Universe in a way that works for you.
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