An article1 in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine identified 5 places where people routinely live more than 100 years2. People in these communities are 10x more likely to reach 100 than someone in the USA.
The paper references a study that reported that on average only 20% of someones ability to live to 100 is dictated by genes, the other 80% is due to lifestyle3.
9 Factors for long life
The nine factors that each of the five geographic communities had in common are:
Move naturally. The world’s longest-lived people do not pump iron, run marathons, or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it. They grow gardens and do not have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work.
Purpose. The Okinawans call it Ikigai and the Nicoyans call it plan de vida; for both, it translates to “why I wake up in the morning.” Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to 7 years of extra life expectancy.
De-Stress. Even people in the Blue Zones experience stress. Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. What the world’s longest-lived people have that others do not are routines to shed that stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors; Adventists pray; Ikarians take a nap; and Sardinians do happy hour.
80% Rule. The 20% gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it. People in the Blue Zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening, and then, they do not eat any more the rest of the day.
More Plants, Less Meat. Beans, including fava, black, soy, and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Meat—mostly pork—is eaten on average only 5 times per month. Serving sizes are 3 to 4 oz, about the size of a deck of cards.
Wine, daily. People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers outlive nondrinkers. The trick is to drink 1 to 2 glasses per day (preferably Sardinian Cannonau wine), with friends and/or with food. And no, you cannot save up all week and have 14 drinks on Saturday.
Church. All but 5 of the 263 centenarians interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. Denomination does not seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services 4 times per month will add 4 to 14 years of life expectancy.
Family first. Successful centenarians in the Blue Zones put their families first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home (it lowers disease and mortality rates of children in the home too.). They commit to a life partner (which can add up to 3 years of life expectancy) and invest in their children with time and love. (They’ll be more likely to care for aging parents when the time comes.)
Friends. The world’s longest lived people chose—or were born into—social circles that supported healthy behaviors, Okinawans created moais—groups of 5 friends that committed to each other for life. Research from the Framingham Studies shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. So the social networks of long-lived people have favorably shaped their health behaviors.
Blue Zones in Europe
Located off the coast of Italy, Sardinia is home to the world’s longest-lived men. This community of shepherds walk 5 mountainous miles a day or more. This natural movement provides all the positive cardiovascular benefits you might expect and also has a positive effect on muscle and bone metabolism without the point pounding of running marathons. The classic Sardinian diet is plant based, consisting of whole-grain bread, beans, garden vegetables, and fruits. Meat is largely reserved for Sundays and special occasions. Sardinians drink wine moderately. Cannonau wine has 2 or 3 times the level of artery-scrubbing flavonoids as other wines. Moderate wine consumption may help explain the lower levels of stress among men.
People on this tiny Aegean island live 8 years longer than Americans do. They experience 20% less cancer, half the rate of heart disease, and almost no dementia. Ikarians eat a variation of the Mediterranean diet, with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, potatoes, and olive oil. Ikarians also downshift with a mid-afternoon break. People who nap regularly have up to 35% lower chances of dying from heart disease. It may be because napping lowers stress hormones or rests the heart. One Ikarian in particular, Stamatis Moraitis, moved to America when he was 22 years old to pursue the American dream. He was a painter, and immediately started having success, bought a house, married, and had 3 kids. At the age of 66 years, he developed terminal lung cancer. Instead of dying in America, he decided to move back to Ikaria and moved in with his parents. He started breathing the air, drinking the wine, and eating a Mediterranean diet. After a few months, he planted a garden not planning on ever getting to harvest the vegetables; 37 years later he has a vineyard producing 200 litres of wine a year. His secret he says? “I just forgot to die.”
Buettner D, Skemp S. Blue Zones: Lessons From the World's Longest Lived. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016 Jul 7;10(5):318-321. doi: 10.1177/1559827616637066. PMID: 30202288; PMCID: PMC6125071. ↩
Demographically confirmed, geographically defined areas with the highest percentage of centenarians ↩
Herskind AM, McGue M, Holm NV, Sorensen TIA, Harvlad B, Vaupel JW. The heritability of human longevity: a population-based study of 2,872 Danish twin pairs born 1870-1900. Hum Genet. 1996;96:319-323. ↩