As humans, we spend a lot of time trying to outsmart our own mortality. But, no matter how many long runs we go on or bunches of kale we eat, history suggests at some point it will all come to an end. The average life expectancy for American men is 76 and 81 for women. The U.S. also ranks 31st for life expectancy behind Japan, France, the U.K., and Germany, among others.
Still, there are parts of the world where people consistently beat these averages. National Geographic reporter Dan Buettner and gerontologist Michel Poulain identified five different regions with the greatest percentage of centenarians. These locations included Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa Japan; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Loma Linda, California; and Icaria, Greece. The researchers discovered lifestyle factors shared by all of these groups. So what can we learn from these people? According to Buettner’s Book: The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, here’s how to add ten years to your life.
While HIIT workouts and triathlons are great exercise, people who live long lives typically incorporate movement into their daily life though their work and hobbies. “They engage in regular, low-intensity physical activity, often as part of the daily work routine,” Buettner writes.
The centenarians that Buettner followed, especially in Okinawa and Sardinia, naturally restricted their diets to between 1,900 and 2,000 calories a day. And research shows that losing just 10% of body weight could cut blood pressure and cholesterol for many people.
Eat mostly plants
Buettner found that the people who lived the longest ate a diet rich in plants with minimal meats or processed foods. Their diet consisted mostly of beans, whole grains, and garden vegetables.
Drink alcohol in moderation
Some research has shown the benefit of a single glass of red wine with dinner. But there are also many health risks associated with drinking too much alcohol. Buettner’s study of centenarians show many of these groups, consumed some alcohol — but always in moderation.
Have a reason to get out of bed
Buettner found that many of the people he researched were motivated by larger goals, whether it was watching their grandchildren grow up or even just a new hobby. “The strong sense of purpose possessed by older Okinawans may act as a buffer against stress and help reduce their chances of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, and stroke,” Buettner writes.
Many people with the longest life spans also have a way destress, and to live mindfully, Buettner found. Researchers believe that slowing down can reduce chronic inflammation, decrease the risk of certain diseases.
Find a spiritual community
All of the centenarians that Buettner studied participated in a spiritual community of some kind. “Studies have shown that attending religious services — even as infrequently as once a month — may make a difference in how long a person lives,” Buettner writes. Researchers believe that people in religious communities are less likely to engage in harmful behaviors, they also typically have denser social networks, higher self esteem, and more positive thinking.
Put your family first
Centenarians typically place a high value on their family. “They tended to marry, have children, and build their lives around that core,” Buettner writes. Not only does family function as a critical social network, but in close families children often take care of their parents which can help them live longer.
Cherish your friends
Buettner found that many longevity all-stars had a rich community of friends who reinforced certain healthy behaviors. “The type of social connectedness was not important in relation to longevity — as long as there was connection.”