A generation or two ago, the idea of living past 90 was unrealistic. For as long as most of us can remember we have been trying to find the secret to living a long life.
There are communities around the world today called Blue Zones where the highest proportion of residents reach 100 years of age. Five regions in Sardinia, Greece, Costa Rica, California and Japan were studied to find nine common denominators that may hold the key to living longer. These studies have shown that longer life expectancy is based around common lifestyle factors including diet, exercise, body weight, social life and avoiding risk factors like smoking and alcohol.
If you think you don’t have longevity on your side because your grandparents and parents didn’t live a long life…. don’t! A recent Danish Study found that just 20% of life expectancy is determined by genetics. The other 80% comes down to environment and lifestyle – things you can influence!
Research into longevity shows that it’s not really a secret at all – here are five tips you can use to live longer and feel better. Advances in modern medicine now help us to survive common ailments and diseases that were once fatal but it’s our lifestyle that ultimately makes the difference.
1. Maintain a healthy body weight:
Living a healthy life can depend on body weight and Body Mass Index (BMI). Pressure on the body’s organs increases with every kilo of excess weight. The World Health Organization states BMI should be between 18.5-24.9 kg m-2 for optimal health. The standard BMI categories are 18.5–24.9 for normal weight, 25-29.9 for overweight, and >30 for obesity. WHO reported the mean BMI has risen in men and women between 1975 and 2016. In Australia in 2016, 29% of adults were obese with a BMI >30.
2. Enjoy physical regular exercise every day:
Do you live longer if you work out? Yes! Exercise is a proven way to keep your BMI in the healthy range and staying healthy and a great way to improve your chances of making it to 90 years and beyond.
One of the nine common traits of Blue Zones’ residents is that they ‘move naturally’ every day. Moving naturally means they don’t do excessive exercise like running marathons but that they move without thinking throughout the day.
They tend to their garden and work in their houses and yards. It’s thought this incidental exercise is better for you than engaging in strenuous gym sessions or long-distance running.
In fact, excessive exercise is harmful in terms of preserving your body. Over-exercise will lead to damaging knees, hips and joints. The Blue Zones recommends working all parts of the body with some degree of rigour so that you breathe heavy and sweat for five to ten hours per week. This equates to swimming, running, walking or riding 30 to 40 minutes every other day and two hours on the weekend
3. Eat a healthy balanced diet:
Can eating healthy make you live longer? Definitely! Eating well ensures you keep your weight and body fat down but also provides your body with the vitamins and minerals it needs for a long, healthy life.
Your diet should be rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats and calcium. The minimum recommended intake is two fruit and five vegetables every day. Choose a range of colours in your fruit and vegetables to ensure you are getting the full range of vitamins and minerals. Limit your intake of red meat in favour of trimmed chicken and consume fish twice a week. Don’t char or overcook any meats as this increases the carcinogens.
Try to eat plenty of plant sources of protein such as nuts and beans. Plants are the best foods to eat if you want to live longer. Choose whole grains rather than refined grains like white bread and limit white potatoes.
4. Keep making good social connections.
If you want to live as long as possible, maintaining strong social connections and relationships is important. As people age, it can become more difficult to get out and see existing friends. Meeting new people can also become difficult. There are transport issues when older people give up driving and their social network can shrink due to deaths and other life changes. Children and grandchildren may not visit often due to distance and busy schedules. However, maintaining a strong social network common to most residents in the blue zones. Many of these communities have a strong connection to their faith and visit church regularly where they connect with familiar faces and maintain a healthy social life.
Research has also shown there are physical benefits to staying connected. Lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system and possibly reduced inflammation can be the result of being happy around other people. Housing choice can be influenced by the need to stay connected. Rather than staying in the family home on their own, moving to a retirement village or care facility will give elderly people daily contact with carers and other residents.
5. Drink less alcohol.
One of the most important tips for living a long life without disease is to limit alcohol consumption. The Australian culture of heavy social drinking might be fun, but our alcohol consumption is sending some of us to an early grave. One of the nine Blue Zone habits is wine at 5pm. Most people living in blue zones drink no more than 1-2 glasses of wine per day with food. Older Japanese women (over the age of 50) consume very little alcohol, one of the main reasons for Japan’s number one longevity ranking. Females over the age of 70 in one of the blue zones – Okinawa Japan – are the longest-lived population in the world. Alcohol can cause a range of diseases and poor health outcomes. Cirrhosis of the liver and car accidents are the leading health risks caused by excessive drinking however researchers have linked it to 60 diseases.