With national health in many of the foremost nations in the west consistently on the decline, due to an over reliance on processed foods and an unhealthy relationship with technology, The MALESTROM decided to investigate what the secrets of those communities with the longest life expectancy’s. But what is their secret elixir to long life? And is it the same thing keeping these select groups going?
The remote island of Okinawa Japan has a couple of pretty special claims to fame, the first is The Karate Kid’s Mr Myagi called it home, and perhaps more impressive (depending on whether you were an obsessive fan of the film in the 80s) is that it’s home to the worlds largest population of very healthy elderly adults.
Out of it’s population of 1.3 million over seven hundred are aged one hundred or over, a massively impressive stat. Add to this that these old people aren’t living out their golden years frail and in need of care but rather very healthy and free of the typical ailments that are associated with advanced years. Green tea is the basic drink of choice for the long lived people of Okinawa, and also Bama, China, another society with similarities to the Japanese island.
Harvard Health newsletter tells us just how good green tea is for us in this study:
“A study of 40,530 Japanese adults found that participants who drank more than five cups of green tea a day had a 26% lower risk of death from heart attack or stroke and a 16% lower risk of death from all causes than people who drank less than one cup of green tea a day.
Okinawa’s residents that eat food from soil that had once been below sea level tend to be the healthiest, possibly due to the minerals they were benefiting from. In terms of amounts of fruit and veg they eat around seven servings a day, most of us struggle to make our five. They also tend to eat minimal dairy and avoid meat much more than their Western counterparts. The also adhere to an important rule to “eat until you are 80% full” rather than stuffing themselves till ready to burst like many of us (we won’t be seeing the desert menu in the near future). Okinawa’s citizens get much of their exercise through gardening. They also get more sunlight from being outdoors and keep a positive spiritual attitude. The stress levels are also much lower than what we might experience with their people living a slower pace of life, running at what they call “Okinawa time.”
Okinawa is special but not completely unique, there are small are pockets of societies around the globe that exhibit similar extended healthy lives.
Sardinia is a beautiful island 120 miles off Italy’s coast which too boasts a healthy life expectancy. This is seen particularly in it’s male population, chiefly working men, farmers and shepherds who have to stay active for their work, they’re also known as prolific walkers. Another trait is that these people keep plenty of time aside for leisure so it’s plenty of play and not just all work, it’s no wonder they’re also renowned for their positive attitude. Ovadda, a town on the island is home to five residents over the age of a hundred out of its 1,700 residents. Sardinians follow a healthy Mediterranean diet, and also consume lots of goats’ cheese and milk.
Another Italian longevity hotspot and probably the most well known is the village of Campodimele near Rome, where the average life expectancy is a staggering 95 years old. Known for growing all of their own vegetables, fruit and making olive oil, the locals continue to farm the land well into their seventies and even eighties. With a diet that contains no processed food, a typical dish would contain beans and pulses, pickled vegetables, fish or homemade sausage. Like other successful communities, their is a low consumption of red meat and moderate amounts of dairy, add that to a daily ritual of a glass or two of red wine and you have their recipe a long a healthful life.
These extremely special places are known as Blue Zones, they’re regions where people commonly live active lives after becoming a centenarian. The Greek island of Ikaria, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica and the Seventh Day Adventist community in Loma Linda, California all fall into this select category.
So what are the magic traits these wonderful places share? Which ones do we need to mirror to live a longer, healthier life?
All of the societies in these Blue Zones live very active lives whether due to profession or just in general. More often than not the diet of these societies is evolved from peasant food and a working class approach to lifestyle. A common theme is unsurprisingly harvesting one’s own food and invariably only taking as much as is needed is a rule to live by. Eating a heavily plant-based diet, with limited dairy, so beans, pulses, nuts and green plants, seems to be a key. They also have limited or no consumption of refined sugar and other processed foods. So a bit different to the society we live in.
Good genetics certainly play a part too, but only partly account to their longevity. Positive attitude and purpose clearly goes a long way. These people seem to have similar mindsets in the way they think and most know why they wake up in the morning as they have purpose. Being social and interacting with others is also a factor that crops up in most of these regions. We all know stress can be a killer and these people successfully manage stress levels, keeping them as low as possible.
All of these things put together are huge contributors to living a long, healthy and happy lives. So what are you waiting for sort out that diet, sort out that attitude, get to exercising and socialising and you’ll be the person in the retirement home aged ninety doing one handed press ups while everyone else takes their afternoon naps.