Living to be 100 years of age is still quite a rare event in the United States — the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that in 2010 there were just 53,364 centenarians in the USA, however, that number is expected to grow to over 800,000 by 2050. We were curious to find out more about how to reach that amazing century milestone, so we did a bit of research into hot spots of longevity around the world. Read on to learn what we discovered and the similar habits and practices among some of the longest-living people that can help you embrace a longer, more vibrant life.
1. EMBRACE THAT LIFE IS MORE THAN WORK
Dan Buettner, a journalist and health activist, is one of the most well-known researchers when it comes to the field of longevity. Through exhaustive research, he discovered five places in the world — dubbed the "blue zones" — where people consistently live long, healthy lives: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California. In his book, The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World's Healthiest People, he writes that having a sense of purpose is one of the common denominators among the world’s longest-lived people. "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.'" In all blue zones, people had something to live for beyond just work. Certainly a bit of food for thought!
2. MAINTAIN A POSITIVE OUTLOOK
There's something to be said about seeing the glass half full. One study took a look at 243 Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews who were over the age of 95 and identified that most had personality traits like being optimistic, relaxed and outgoing. They also enjoyed laughing and were more likely to express their emotions, rather than keeping them bottled up inside. Since all the participants were of the same ethnicity, it allowed researchers to compare results from a similar genetic pool. "This study adds to a growing body of knowledge which suggests that centenarians may share particular personality characteristics and that genetically-based aspects of personality may play an important role in achieving positive health outcomes and exceptional longevity," write the researchers. Life isn’t always rainbows and butterflies, but this is as good a reason as any to try to embrace optimism when possible!
3. MOVE YOUR BODY
Another similarity among some of the oldest living people is that they regularly move their bodies, and not just necessarily pumping iron at the gym. Buettner writes in The Blue Zones Solution that the world's longest-lived people reside in environments that constantly nudge them into moving. "They grow gardens and don't have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work — every trip to work, to a friend's house or to church occasions a walk," he states. Another finding comes from the Okinawa centenarian study, which is the world's longest-running population-based study of centenarians. Since 1976, over 900 Okinawans have been observed with the goal of getting a better understanding of the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to their overall exceptional longevity. Among other findings, the study revealed that Okinawan centenarians engaged in abundant and consistent physical exercise throughout their lives. If you're wondering how much exercise you should be regularly engaging in, the current guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, like a brisk walk, or 75-100 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise, such as running or cycling, per week. Regular strength training is important, too.
4. EAT MORE BEANS
Through his explorations, Buettner identified that beans, including fava, black, soy, lentil and garbanzo, reigned supreme across all the blue zones; in fact, inhabitants of these places eat at least four times as many beans as Americans do on average. If you're interested in incorporating more beans into your diet, Keri Gans, RDN, nutritionist, author of The Small Change Diet, and podcast host of The Keri Report, says canned beans are the most convenient way to go. "You can easily toss them into salads, soups, pastas, stews, chilis, or even simply sauteed in oil and garlic as a side dish," she says. May we also suggest trying out this delicious black bean burger recipe with collagen if you're on the hunt for inspo.
5. CUT BACK ON SUGAR
Another dietary tip to come out of the blue zones is to consume less sugar — people who live in these areas tend to eat about as much naturally occurring sugars as North Americans do, but only about one-fifth as much added sugar. It can feel nearly impossible to avoid the sweet stuff with sugary drinks and snacks lurking at every corner, so we asked Gans for her tips. "One of the best ways to avoid sugary drinks and snacks is to be prepared," she advises. "If you tend to be a person who likes a midday snack, try having a healthier choice on hand, such as nuts, roasted chickpeas or edamame, or yogurt with fresh fruit. Try adding natural sweetness to beverages, such as sparkling water with lime, lemon, mint or cucumber slices."
6. ENJOY TIME WITH LOVED ONES
It's not like you need a good reason to socialize with your favorite people, but here's a pretty good one: numerous studies have connected longevity to those with strong social connections, like this one, which recruited 160 elders in Sardinia to look at factors contributing to their overall positive well-being and successful aging. It found that a high quality of relationships with family members or friends was associated with a favorable adaptation to stress and old age. In our fast-paced and digitally connected society, be sure to make time for things like lunch with your close friends and evening chats with the family.
7. HAVE A BIT OF WINE
In his book, Buettner highlights that people in all blue zones drink alcohol moderately and regularly. "The trick is to drink one or two glasses per day with friends and/or with food," he states. In case you may be wondering, no that doesn't mean you can save up all week and indulge in lots of drinks on Saturday, and of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong if you opt not to imbibe. As we mentioned above, even just socializing with your tribe is good for the soul and offers plenty of benefits.