How long do you think you will live? Do you want to know the secrets to living a long life? This is not an easy question to answer, but it is valid nevertheless.
Well, while the average life expectancy is less than 78 years for Americans, there are places in the world where significant numbers of people live for 80, 90 or even 100 years. Besides, in their elderly years, the long-lived people are healthier and more active than Americans.
But what causes such a huge discrepancy in life expectancy? Why would people in one region of the world live for many years or decades longer than people in another region? What are the secrets of the long lived people from around the world?
Where people live longest
Some of the places where the longest living people are found include Okinawa, Japan, Macau in China, San Marino in Italy and Andorra, a region across the border between Spain and France.
For instance, a 2006 study found that the Mediterranean diet which is much lower in calories (1,400 – 2,000 calories per day) leads to a healthier heart and therefore a longer life compared to a western diet containing 2,000 – 3,000 calories daily.
What do the longest living people eat?
The diet of most people who live the longest has specific commonalities which include the following:
They drink teas
In most long living cultures, different teas are an integral component of their diet. The teas are brewed from different types of herbs such as the tea bush, green tea, ginger root, etc.
They consume fermented foods
Long living people of the world consume substantial quantities of fermented food and beverages. The fermented foods include grain, yogurt, fish sauces, cured meat and pickled vegetables. Fermentation produces high amounts of probiotics in these foods which can increase the amounts of good bacteria in the digestive systems.
They eat wild fish
Most of the long living people have lots of fish in their diet. The fish is usually wild-caught from seas and rivers, and not farmed. And because these cultures are found in largely unpolluted regions, their fish is unaffected by the pollution with chemicals, plastics and heavy metals common in most of the Western world.
They consume cultured dairy products
Cultured dairy products are a common feature of long-lived people. However, they don’t get these products from commercial processors. They culture the dairy themselves.
They eat whole grains
Many long-lived people eat unrefined whole grains. Largely located in remote regions with minimal influence by modern food processing technologies, these people’s food is unrefined and the only processing done on it is cooking, fermenting, sprouting and grinding. Such grains include those used to make buckwheat noodles in Japan.
It is also worth to note that the influence of the western food culture is affecting the health of long-lived people such as the Japanese. A 2011 study suggested that growing preference for refined staples like rice and bread may be the cause of a rise in cases of diabetes and high blood pressure as a result of reduced dietary fiber.
They eat organic plant foods
The longest living people regularly eat large quantities of organic fruits, berries, vegetables and nuts. These foods are not grown using any pesticides or herbicides and therefore do not introduce any chemicals into these people’s bodies.
It is worth to note that the majority of the long-lived people live in rural areas where they have constant access to organic foods.
They consume a diversified diet
Long lived people consume a wider variety of food than the rest of us. In traditional Japan, for instance, it is typical to eat about 30 food items daily. It is also noteworthy that some places where long lived people are found such as Macau, Singapore and Hong Kong are important global seaports which handle many different varieties of foods. These have an influence on what people in these places eat.
Although the world contains about 80,000 species of edible plant varieties with 3,000 having been utilized by humans through the years; today, only about 150 species are widely cultivated. However, humans consume 60 percent of their food from a mere three of the cultivated food varieties namely; soy, corn and wheat. Besides, these foods are highly refined and processed and are believed to be a major cause of allergies in the world.
They eat animal protein and fats
While animal protein and fats have been demonized in recent years, many of the longest-living people are not vegetarians. In addition to eating large amounts of plant based foods, they also eat animal products such as meat, butter, cheese, lard and yogurt. The difference between the source animals of these products is that, unlike conventional animal sourced foods, for the long-lived people, the animals are raised on pasture as opposed to grain and hormones.
A number of studies point to some similarities between the various long living people in the world. These similarities include diet, day-to-day activities and their social life. Some studies have also indicated that there are some genetic factors that lead to people from specific regions in the world living for much longer than the rest of the world’s population. However, while genetics may have a hand, it is these people’s lifestyles that seem to hold the secrets of the long-lived people around the world.
They are physically active
While they might not deliberately exercise, long-lived people are physically more active. Even in the modern times, they are more likely to use public transport than drive cars. This way, they cover significant distances on foot even if their occupations are not physically engaging.
They have strong social interactions
Long-lived people generally live in strong social settings. According to a 2011 study, social cohesion ensures that these people get good social and psychological support irrespective of their economic status. This sense of belonging in the community may play a role in these people’s longevity.
Similar results may also be achieved by practicing spirituality as in the SDA community in Loma Linda, California.
Blue Zones: wisdom from the global search for longevity
In the year 2000, Dan Buettner teamed up with scientists from the National Geographic Society to search the world for long lived people. The results, published in his fabulous book, BLUE ZONES, astonished more than a few pundits in the health field. Basically, by studying people from islands off the coast of Greece and Italy, Okinawa Japan, Loma Linda, California for Seventh Day Adventists, and Costa Rica peninsula; researchers found the following in common for all of these centenarians:
- Stop eating when your stomach is 80 percent full to avoid weight gain.
- Eat the smallest meal of the day in the late afternoon or evening.
- Eat mostly plants, especially beans. And eat meat rarely, in small portions of 3 to 4 ounces. Blue Zoners eat portions this size just five times a month, on average.
- Drink alcohol moderately and regularly, i.e. 1-2 glasses a day.
Basic common sense seems to rule in long lived people. Useful movement, means doing something to get something done, like herding sheep vs. walking on a treadmill. Moderation is a key word in their lifestyles.
It would seem that the secret of the long lived people around the world is keeping diseases at bay. According to psychologist Howard Friedman, co author of The Longevity Project, many practices by long-lived people help them to avoid serious ailments such as cancers, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and depression. This suggests that people who live long don’t achieve this by recovering from diseases, but by not getting the diseases in the first place.