Life expectancy in much of the developed world has plateaued or is even declining. Despite this, the number of Centenarians (those living over 100) is the fastest growing age group in the UK, having doubled from 7,000 in 2002, to nearly 15,000 people in 2016.
So what is the secret behind those living to this grand age, that many others are not doing? A recent study by the Blue Zones organisation and National Geographic set out to find where the longest-living in the world are most concentrated and what lifestyle and environment factors are contributing to their long vitality.
These 5 areas are:
Barbagia in Sardinia;
Ikaria in Greece;
Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica;
Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California;
The study then deployed a team of researchers to identify what are the key factors that led to their long lives, the result was 9 factors which were evident across all five communities.
Of course some ailments are due to genetics, but a large portion of illness and disease is down to our lifestyle choice. If incorporated into our lives, the following 9 tips may well lead to a long and healthy life (as well as a happier, more fulfilled life) - there's only one way to find out!
1. Move naturally
Those studied in the research didn't spend much time in the gym or running marathons during their lives, instead they all moved 'naturally' in environments that encourage movement. While no one is saying the gym or classes are bad for you, it seems like a generally active lifestyle has a bigger effect on longevity that focused bursts of fitness activity.
Try to walk as much as possible while avoiding long periods of sitting down at a desk or on the sofa. Avoid mechanical conveniences for work around the house and garden and take up active hobbies like gardening.
A recent trend in the western world for pursuing your Ikagai which you may have heard of, actually comes from Okinawa, one of the regions this study focused on.
Ikagai is a concept of your 'reason to get up in the morning' - many of the individuals studied have life long passions which gives them a sense of purpose in life. What's yours?
3. Routines to de-stress
Everyone knows the damage stress can do to our bodies through inflammation and other action. Those studied all naturally had routines which allowed them to shake stress, whether that was through calm reflection or prayer, naps or even happy hours!
Spend some time working our what your stress triggers are and the most effective ways to reduce stress.
4. 80% rule when eating
Many studies have shown that high calorie consumption may well reduce lifespan. Many of those studies follow the 80% rule when eating - stop when you are 80% full (not 100% or even 110% full!).
Try to eat your biggest meals at the start of the day with your smallest and last meal of the day eaten in late afternoon or early evening. This long gap between dinner and breakfast is a form of intermittent fasting and has been show to bring numerous health benefits.
5. Plant-focused diet
Eat a diet which is mainly plant-based with lots of beans, lentils, nuts, fruit and veg. Those studied often weren't 100% vegan or vegetarian, but their meat consumption was minimal with just a small amount eaten once a week on average. Low meat consumption is also one of the most effective ways to reduce our carbon emissions.
6. Alcohol in moderation
Many studies have shown that those who drink moderately live longer than both T Total-ers and heavy drinkers. This Blue Zone study also reflected this finding with many people they surveyed drinking 1-2 glasses of wine per day.
7. Sense of belonging
Nearly everyone in this study was found to be part of a faith-based community of some description. While the type of religion didn't seem to matter, it is believed the sense of being part of a community is an inherent human need.
You don't need to join a religion if you don't want to, there are many other groups you can join from sports teams to book clubs - just focus on those which have a real community feel with strong friendships built between members.
8. Family first
Those studied in this research all put their family first, often living close to aged parents and grandparents. They also committed to a life partner and put a lot of focus on developing and spending time with their children.
9. Healthy tribe of 5
It is often said we are the average of the people we spend the most time with; this is due to the fact that habits (healthy and unhealthy) are contagious. Whether it be smoking, obesity, happiness or fitness - what we see other people doing, is most likely to rub off on us.
The centenarians studied were often part of a very close-knit lifelong friendship group of around 5 people, all of whom had healthy habits, forming a self-perpetuating cycle.
So there you have it, 9 fairly straight-forward ways to live a long and happy life. We're going to put these into place immediately - we'll see you in next century to celebrate!
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