What’s the secret to longevity? Medicine? Supplements? The latest ‘superfood’? With so many products claiming to be ‘anti-ageing’ and ‘life-enhancing’, it’s easy to lose sight of what will truly make a difference to the years in our life and the life in our years. Our intern Elly looked into what really matters when it comes to longevity – ours and the planet’s.
National Geographic fellow Dan Buettner (watch his TED Talk here) and his team of researchers spend a lot of time thinking about longevity. And it’s not a pointless exercise. The Danish Twin Study established that only 10% of how long the average person lives is dictated by genes, the other 90% is dictated by lifestyle. It means, in short, we can have a huge say in how long and how well we live. It paves the way for a sort of ‘longevity lifestyle code’.
But what exactly makes up this code? Do you know how to live long and well? We’re bombarded with a cluster-mess of contradictory health messages on a daily basis; it’s no wonder, in general, we’re at a bit of a loss.
What if we had real life examples of people living to 100+ in good health to base our own actions on? Real examples, not speculative theories or contrived studies. Well we do. These people exist. Buettner and his team found them and they’re dotted in communities around the world. Five communities actually, which Buettner calls Blue Zones. Yay!
Blue Zones are communities of people consistently enjoying unusually long life expectancies. We say ‘enjoying’ because not only do people in Blue Zones live longer, they live longer disability free. By closely studying the habits, diets and actions of these Blue Zone communities over many years, Buettner and his team identified nine habits that explain their thorough longevity and wellness – a real longevity lifestyle code. The good news is that many of these habits are in line with the sustainable living practices we already aim to include in our lives:
All of the communities studied lead active lives, not by spending hours sculpting at the gym, but by doing practical, functional, everyday movements like walking, riding a bike, gardening and going about things the old fashioned way (like cooking from scratch). When intentional exercise was performed, it is fun and not considered a chore. It’s seen as ‘play’, rather than ‘exercise’.
Eat less meat and more plants
All the centenarians studied by Buettner and his team eat mostly plants (mostly vegetables and beans), with meat eaten on average once a week and even then in small amounts. As you probably know, unprocessed plant based diets have loads of benefits. You don’t have to go full veggo, just make meat a special treat instead of a daily indulgence, and when you do eat it, choose high quality, ethically-farmed meat, eat sensible portions and avoid highly-processed products. Eat instead loads of local chemical-free vegetables. Vegetables are they key!
For 21 meat-free recipes (timely, since Meat Free Week 2014 begins Monday 24th March) download our ecookbook for FREE here!
Find your purpose
A sense of responsibility or belonging makes you feel valued and means that each day counts for something. It can be something simple like cooking for another, tending to a veggie garden or donating time to charity. Having someone or something depend on you (like a bee hive!) can be enough to ward off depression, which sadly is becoming increasingly common in the ageing community.
Blue Zone communities intentionally take time to rest and relax every day (think Europe’s siestas and long lunch times). Australian culture can make it tricky to ‘shut up shop’ for two hours mid-week, but intentional resting can be as simple as taking 20 minutes to sit in the sun, meditate, practise mindfulness, read a book or just sit under a tree eating an orange.
Eat to 80%
Okinawans in Japan’s Blue Zone practise hara hachi bu – the habit of not eating beyond 80% fullness. You won’t be at risk of slipping into a food coma after every meal, plus it’s better for your metabolism, digestion and decreases the likelihood of weight gain. Practice mindful eating too, to help slow down and savour your food.
Drink red wine (in moderation and never alone)
The Cannanau wine that people drink in the Blue Zone area of Sardinia has three times the amount of antioxidants and flavonoids compared to other wines, making it particularly good for heart health. Whilst the wine we drink here in Australia might not be quite the same, a glass or two of high quality red now and then might still have antioxidant benefits – or at the very least, sharing it with family and friends can certainly be a solid social experience.
Be part of a group
People in Blue Zone communities feel a strong sense of belonging. A solid, inclusive and fun social network (not Facebook!) can do amazing things for emotional and psychological health. Sites like Meet Up have hundreds of real meet up groups for all sorts of people, whether you’re into boardgames, badminton or bushwalking.
Feed your soul
Spirituality or religion is a key link between all the Blue Zones. It’s okay if you aren’t religious, practicing mindfulness or engaging in meaningful conversations with others can all help bring meaning to your life.
Spend time with family
Your family (and close friends) are your tribe. Close bonds make each individual feel valued – which is particularly important within the aging community. Respecting, including and loving the older people in your family is so important, plus they can provide plenty of wisdom and advice to youngsters.
Want to incorporate more plant-based meals into your life? Download our free 21-recipe ecookbook here: