Posted By Kaitlyn Wells on Feb 05, 2014
FIRAT SOLA via Flickr
round the world,
people are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. One area
this is most visible is in the number of centenarians, or people living
to the age of 100. In 1840, there were 90 centenarians in the United
States—one for every 189,000 people—according to United States Census
Bureau records. Today, there are more than 53,000—or one for every 5,800
people. Though we know people are living longer, we don’t necessarily
how they do it.
discovering that there are longevity hot spots where people tend to live
especially long, writer Dan Buettner spent the last 12 years locating
and documenting these areas, dubbed “blue zones.” “I increasingly was
interested in mysteries that dealt with the human condition,” says
Buettner, a National Geographic fellow.
that research, he found several factors that might prolong health and
life for people in blue zones. “Longevity is a consequence of constant,
longterm little things,” Buettner says. “There’s no silver bullet.”
Buettner shared the findings in his books The Blue Zones (2009) and Thrive (2010); here are some of the high points:
Ikaria, Greece: Enjoy a nap after tea
Residents of this Greek island are three times as likely
to reach age 90 than people in the U.S. Living to nonagenarian status may be more likely when you get some bonus shut-eye.
Among Ikarian elders who regularly nap in the middle of the day (90 percent of them, according to a 2011 study
in Cardiology Research and Practice
), none of them exhibited symptoms of depression, while many of the non-nappers did. A broader study
examining the sleeping behaviors of all Greeks found that those who
cat-napped for at least 30 minutes had a 37 percent lower risk of dying
from heart disease than those who didn’t.
Being under Sandman’s spell isn’t the only thing helping them live longer: They also regularly enjoy herbal tea. Traditional Greek teas
include wild mint, which fights gingivitis and gastrointestinal
disorders; rosemary for gout; and artemisia for blood circulation. Many
local teas also contain mild diuretics that can treat hypertension. This
may explain why Ikaria has half the rate of cardiovascular disease
compared to the rest of the region.
Okinawa, Japan: Maintain positive relationships
Living to an average of 83 years old, Japan is the nation with the highest life expectancy in the world
, reports the World Health Organization. Okinawans are especially long-lived, and are three times as likely to reach 100 as Americans
Buettner attributes that feat to close ties with social networks.
“Having a grounding sense of purpose is something we see in all five
Blue Zones,” he says.
Okinawans remain faithful to traditional
Japanese culture, including an emphasis on maintaining lifelong
friendships called moais, which provide emotional and social support.
The moais are cultivated throughout adolescence, and the members become
confidants for the rest of their lives.
Just the presence of moais can be a benefit, as it increases social interaction and support. Take for example, a study
in Social Science & Medicine
that examined the mental health of older adults in Japan. Those who
weren’t married reported a higher positive well-being and less distress
in their lives when they had social support. Simply put, the closer your
friendships, the happier you’ll be.
Loma Linda, California: Eat your veggies
miles east of Los Angeles lies Loma Linda, where the proportion of
people aged 85 or over is more than double that of the rest of
California. Roughly four in 10 Loma Lindans are Seventh-day Adventists,
whose adherents live longer than any other religious group in America,
according to BlueZones.com. The Adventist faith endorses healthy living
by discouraging smoking
and alcohol consumption
and encouraging exercise.
recent study, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health’s
National Cancer Institute, examined the eating habits of 73,000
Adventist from across the U.S. and Canada. The vegetarians in the group
were 12 percent less likely
to die of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and renal disorders combined compared to the non-vegetarians.
Another study found that female Adventist vegetarians live four years longer
and males live seven years longer, compared to other Californias. The
study concluded that regular consumption of nuts, fruit, cereal fiber,
green salad, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (such as wild salmon,
safflower oil, and peanut butter) was associated with reduced mortality
Nicoya, Costa Rica: Drink some juice
Nicoya a man at age 60 has twice the chance of reaching 90 as a man
living in France, Japan, or the U.S. It may have something to do with
their diet. Nicoyans typically eat their biggest meal in the morning and
their smallest at night, which Buettner says helps them avoid
overeating. “The Blue Zones eat a lot of food, but the key is their
foods are calorically less dense,” Buettner adds. “It’s not that
Americans are stuffing their face all the time, it’s that we’re eating a
little too much every day—about 200 calories more than we should.”
quantities of tropical fruit, which are low in calories, are staples at
meals in Nicoya. Oranges, sweet lemons, and a variety of banana are
popular choices. Nicoyans also eat a couple of more distinctive fruits: maroñon
, a red-orange fruit with more vitamin C than oranges, and the anona
, a pear-like fruit rich in antioxidants. Some
studies have shown an association between a reduced risk of cancer and
diets that are high in foods that contain vitamin C, but lab tests
studying use of vitamin C by itself have produced mixed results.
Sardinia, Italy: Take a walk
addition to a large number of centenarians, Sardinia is also home to a
remarkably high population of sheep considering its size. The
Mediterranean island’s shepherd and farming community is loaded with
centenarian men who, in their younger years, regularly walked up to five
miles a day across rugged terrain to tend to their shepherding duties,
according to Buettner’s site, BlueZones.com. Daily trips to the grocery
store are also carried out on foot, and climbing the stairs in each
multi-story home provides more exercise.