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Do you want to live a long life? Apparently, all you need to do is enjoy life!

2024-01-30 Long life
Do you want to live a long life? Apparently, all you need to do is enjoy life!

               Everyone  wants to live a happy and long life. Unfortunately, not everyone gets to succeed in doing so. People have been searching for eternal youth since ancient times – from alchemists and their search for philosopher’s stone to modern-day medicine and efforts to reduce the wrinkles, stop the ageing process, stimulate cell renewal, etc. In this article we want to explore the topic of longevity. Is living to a 100 years is still a utopia in the 21st century? What do people who’ve lived to a 100 years do and what do they not do? Maybe there are lessons to be learnt from them? Here are some ideas and tips for you to reach a 100 years (and maybe even more)!

Life expectancy is steadily increasing

               If we were to compare modern science and the alchemists’ attempts to discover the elixir of immortality, then we’ve already made a huge progress. Historians have found that almost half of all children in the Roman Empire died before the age of 5. And while one or couple of ‘old men’ lived to the age of 50 or 60, the average life expectancy was under 30 years of age. In 1900s, the global average life expectancy was still between 31 and 32 years, but it varied dramatically from region to region, and was already around 43 years in Europe. In just over a century, humanity has almost doubled its life expectancy. In 2019-2020, the global average life expectancy was 72-73, with the lowest life expectancy being in the Central African Republic (54 years) and the highest in Hong Kong (85.3 years).

Blue zones, or where all statistical averages are meaningless


               The term “Blue Zones” is used to denote a particular geographical area with an unusually high number of people living longer than anywhere else. The term is a recent one, coined in 2004 by journalists who were studying the lives of the longest living people across the world. After a successful trip to Japan in 2000s, they decided to continue their search for longevity areas, visiting Sardinia, in Italy, known for its centenarian men. When presenting the material they had collected, the journalists used blue circles to mark areas on the map that ‘deviated’ from the usual statistical average range. This is how the term Blue Zones was born, referring to an exceptional concentration of centenarians and, more generally, of people older than the average in a given geographical area.

               Today, we know of 5 main Blue Zones where life expectancy is well above the average for that particular region or the global average. Let’s take a brief look at each of them.

  • Okinawa, Japan. In ancient times Okinawa was known as the ‘land of the immortals’, and even today the area is home to impressive longevity, with particularly high numbers of long-lived women. There are fewer cases of cancers compared to the Western world, people suffer less from cardiovascular diseases or dementia. Diet predominantly consists of plants with sweet potatoes accounting for 67% of the total quantity!
  • Sardinia, Italy. A cluster of several villages in the mountains is home to many centenarians. Their longevity is linked to a genetic marker M26. Because the area is so isolated, this marker was contained with the village borders, which have 10 times more centenarians than there should be on average. The population eat a Mediterranean diet, which is mainly focused on plants, namely, wholegrain products (47%), vegetables (12%), small quantities of fish, meat, chicken (5%) and high quality olive oil.
  • Ikaria, Greece. As many as a third of all population on the island live to be 90. For a long time, the island was poor, people would survive on the catch from the sea or the crops they grew. This is why the inhabitants of the island are used to working hard in their gardens, fishing, and spending time outdoors. Their diet mostly consists of vegetables and fruits (53%) and legumes (11%), whereas fish (6%) and meat (5%) account for only a small portion of their diet.
  • Nicoya, Costa Rica. Nicoya is a city in Central America where things that matter are interpersonal relationships and community. Often, several family generations live together, giving older family members the opportunity to contribute to the well-being of the family by helping raise grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Diet is predominantly made up of grains (26%) and dairy products (24%).
  • Loma Linda, California, U.S. Loma Linda is home to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a rather closed community of around 9,000 individuals. This is a great example of how it is not the place we live in that affects our health (for example, ocean or mountains), but rather our everyday choices. The Adventists live about a decade longer than other Americans in the area. The Adventists are vegetarians, for religious reasons they do not drink or smoke, and they exercise regularly. About 60% of their diet is made up of fruits and vegetables, legumes and soya (12%), and dairy products (10%).

9 essentials for a healthy lifestyle


               Human life can sometimes be difficult to predict or plan. Hence, there is no magic recipe how to live to a 100 years. Researchers, however, who study the Blue Zones and the habits of people living there, have come to a common conclusion. There are 9 areas of life you should focus on, if you want to stay healthy and active for as long as possible. Of course, our genes also have an impact on our quality of life and longevity. Still, each of us can look at these 9 areas and adapt them to our everyday life.

  • Movement. Daily exercise, sports or an active lifestyle. It is important to keep moving. And it doesn’t matter if you are going to the gym or just taking your dog for its daily walk. Our bodies need daily exercise. Many people nowadays work on a computer, so consciously dedicating time to get up and move around is very important.
  • Purpose. Purpose in life, the reason for living is one of the most important things in older age. Some help raise their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, others participate in the civic life or volunteer. After retirement, and even more so if your partner has passed away and you suddenly find yourself alone, it is important not to shut yourself at home and alone with your grief. You need to go out, meet people and find purpose and meaning in life.
  • Relaxation. Stress is something we all suffer from and it is normal. But the way we deal with stress affects our health and life expectancy. Find your own way of relaxing – it could be a chat with a friend over a glass of wine, meditation, yoga or perhaps an afternoon nap.
  • 80% rule. This is a rule Confucius came up with that says that one needs to get up from the table when the stomach is 80% full. Many long-living people eat light, low-calorie dinners and do not snack late at night. Maintaining a healthy weight can contribute to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, joint and bone diseases.
  • Plant-based diet. Plants should be the foundation of our diet, i.e., vegetables, grains and fruits. Only a small portion of it should be meat. Many centenarians only eat meat up to 5 times a month. Often, meat is only a snack rather than the main meal.
  • Wine. This is probably the most debated point on the list. But centenarians in the Blue Zones drink 1 to 2 glasses of wine over lunch or dinner and, it seems, drinking wine does not adversely affect their health or life expectancy. This could, however, have something to do with their ability to relax, socialise (a glass of wine is usually accompanied by quality time with friends) and drink in moderation at all times.
  • Community. Interestingly, many long-living people have their own community. Whether it is a religious community (such as the Seventh-day Adventist Church), or some other community. The choice of religion does not affect one’s life expectancy, being part of a community does.
  • Family. Many long-living individuals have lived through numerous painful historical and personal events. But they always had someone to lean on, many come from large families and have built large families themselves. Strong, sincere family ties ensure that you will always have someone to lean on in old age.
  • Social circle. Family matters, but relationships outside the family are no less important. Many centenarians have many friends, are able to socialise with a wide range of people, can easily build and maintain relationships. Some research suggests that both happiness and loneliness can be ‘contagious’, so if you are able to find your own social circle of happy, healthy people, it will be easier for you to stay happy.

What do long-living individuals from around the world have to say about their long lives?


               You can often find interviews in the media with people who have lived to be a 100 years from all over the world. It is always interesting to read what they themselves consider to be the secret to their long lives. What have they done and what have they never done in their lives? How did they manage to reach this impressive milestone? We’ve collected several interesting stories told by the centenarians themselves about their lives and why, in their own opinion, they have been lucky to live so long.

  • Positive thoughts. American business woman Roslyn Menaker gave an interview to The Guardian at the age of 103, telling the paper that a positive outlook on life was the essential condition for a long life.
  • Sports. In an interview with CNBC Make It, sisters Ruth Sweedler and Shirley Hodes (both celebrated their 100th anniversary!) said that regular exercise and movement were an important part of their daily lives.
  • Healthy lifestyle. As he celebrated his 110th birthday, Iranian-born Mohammad Mohyeddin shared his tips for a long life with the CBC station. He said that regular exercise and a healthy diet (at least one fruit a day!) had helped him stay healthy and agile even well past the age of 100. His wife Ashraf, by the way, is also over 100, so longevity cannot be ‘blamed’ on genetics alone.
  • The joy of life. Alfia Distefano, a centenarian from Italy, was a teenager during the Second World War. She says it was undoubtedly the worst decade of her life. The trials of life did not end there, however, and Alfia lost her firstborn son when he was just 5. According to her, this was the most painful thing that had ever happened in her life. But Alfia insists that letting the past go and enjoying what’s in front of you is the ‘secret’ that has allowed her to live to a 100. Even at 100 years of age she still believes that joyful things happen even in the hardest of times.

Health and supplements

Reading the article, you could get the impression that lifestyle changes are the only thing you need to live a healthier and happier life. Ideally – maybe. But nobody lives an ideal life, do they? We believe that other things that matter are regular visits to your doctor, preventive health check-ups, and making sure that you get all the essential vitamins, minerals and other substances with your food or supplements. Today’s Western diet often does not provide us with several essential vitamins and nutrients, so you should pay attention to:

  • Vitamin D. Our body makes this vitamin itself when exposed to the sun, we also get it from mushrooms and fatty fish. However, many people living further from the equator with less sunshine lack this vitamin.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. We get omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish, nuts and various oils. Unfortunately, our modern diet provides us with too little omega-3s.
  • Iron. Iron is found in abundance in many foods, for example, meat and vegetables. However, iron absorption is impaired by caffeine intake, for example, from coffee, tea, energy drinks that often accompany our meals.

These are only 3 key supplements to kook out for. Before you start taking any supplements, consider consulting your GP. Once you ensure that you’re not deficient in any nutrients, it will be easier to follow other advice on longevity. After all, when you are full of energy and well rested, it’s much easier to exercise, meet friends or plan other activities! No one can guarantee you a hundred years of life, but it’s up to you to start changing your life today so that you can live a happier and healthier life.

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