While it might take a while to blow out 100 candles on your birthday cake, I hope that there are many of us who enjoy our lives so much that living to 100 would be absolutely amazing.
To get there without sacrificing quality of life is the key, though, and there are a few secrets we can learn from centenarians around the world who are still living a long, healthy life.
Many of those who live to 100 or more reside in what are called Blue Zones. Only five exist in the entire world, and each has a higher prevalence of proven centenarians than any other places in the world.
Located 360 miles off the coast of mainland Japan, the island of Okinawa is home to the largest proportion of centenarians in the world, it has the highest life expectancy for seniors and offers the best health prospects for those seniors, who tend to suffer few age-related ailments. In fact, in Okinawa there are 34.7 centenarians for every 100,000 people while the United States has about 10 centenarians for every 100,000 people.
Called “the land of the immortals,” Okinawa is home to 80 - 90-year-olds that live as though they’re 30 years younger, and they appear to have less risk of heart attack and stroke, cancer, osteoporosis, dementia and sexual dysfunction than just about anywhere else.
What’s the secret? There are a few things Okinawans do to maintain their health. They exercise by gardening, they eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables and they rarely gorge when they eat. For them, overeating is unheard of, and instead they follow an adage that says “eat until you are 80 percent full.” (Ref. 2)
Loma Linda, California
While it’s a surprise to see an American community on this list, considering our fat and sugar-filled Western diet, the people of Loma Linda, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, are primarily Seventh-Day Adventists—a religious group that focuses on healthy living.
What’s the secret? In addition to strong faith, the Seventh-Day Adventists eat a vegetarian diet, are against alcohol and smoking, they drink plenty of water and they exercise regularly. They also establish close family and community bonds as a strong support system. (Ref. 2)
While the men of Sardinia, an island about 120 miles off the coast of mainland Italy, are for the most part farmers and shepherds who live particularly rugged lives, they also live particularly long lives.
The island is old, covered with sheep pastures that have been there for hundreds of years and so are its people.
“There is a wild olive grove that is 3,000 years old,” Dr. Luca Deiana told John Hodgman in an interview with Men’s Journal. “And we know from our grandfathers that there have always been old people here. In the 1800s some lived to be over 100. There is this way that we greet each other: ‘Akentannos. To 100 years.' As in, may you live so long.”
Hodgman described them as “the youngest old people you've ever met.”
What’s the secret? While some of the longevity issues may be genetic, the people of the island eat a traditional Mediterranean diet, drink moderate amounts of antioxidant-rich red wine and get lots of exercise, either through farming or tending sheep on the island’s hilly terrain. They also told Hodgman that they don’t get too happy or too sad about anything. Maintaining a steady demeanor, taking in hardships with an edge of sardonic wit, keeps emotions level and prevents hormonal surges from elevating blood sugar and damaging arteries. (Ref. 3)
An island 35 miles off the coast of Turkey, Ikaria is surrounded by the azure blue waters of the Aegean Sea, and has long been considered a place of longevity.
About 25 centuries ago, Greeks treated the island like a spa, and traveled there to soak in the island’s revered hot springs.
Even as far back as the 17th century, the island residents and their longevity could hardly pass unnoticed.
“The most commendable thing on this island is their air and water, both so healthful that people are very long-lived, it being an ordinary thing to see persons in it of 100 years of age,” wrote Joseph Georgirenes, the bishop of Ikaria who wrote a book about his experiences.
Compared to people in other regions, those from Ikaria have 50 percent less cardiovascular disease, 20 percent less cancer and very few cases of dementia. (Ref. 4)
“We wake up late and always take naps. I don’t even open my office until 11 a.m. because no one comes before then,” said Dr. Ilias Leriadis in an interview with Dan Buettner, author of “The Blue Zones: Secret Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest.”
“Have you noticed that no one wears a watch here? No clock is working correctly. When you invite someone to lunch, they might come at 10 a.m. or 6 p.m. We simply don’t care about the clock here,” Leriadis added in a New York Times interview with the author. (Ref. 5)
What’s the secret? In addition to not living their lives by the clock and waking up late – the people of Ikaria also stay active, eat a Mediterranean diet as well as plenty of wild greens. A common beverage is a tea made of mint, rosemary, dandelion leaves and lemon that is packed with health boosting properties. “People here think they’re drinking a comforting beverage, but they all double as medicine,” Leriadis said. Honeys that are indigenous to the island are also used for medicinal purposes, and many people start their day with a spoonful of honey.
A fifth Blue Zone, Nicoya, Costa Rica, has the lowest rate of cancer in Costa Rica, which may be attributed to a nutrient-dense diet of fruit, beans, rice and corn as well as mineral-rich water along with a physically active lifestyle. This inland community is significant because a man who reaches the age of 60 here is twice as likely to make it to age 90 compared to a man in the U.S. (Ref. 2)