Researchers in Greece have come up with four tips that may help people reach the age of 100 by studying the places in the world with exceptionally long life expectancies.
Several factors appear to affect life expectancy. Research has shown that genes predict about 25% of a person’s lifespan, with diet, environment, exercise and other factors in our daily lives accounting for the rest.
Although you cannot change your genes, improving your diet will make you healthier and could make a difference in your life expectancy. And studies show that even if you start after middle age or make improvements later, you can still add a decade or more to your life expectancy.
The researchers from the School of Medicine of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens studied five areas in the world with a high percentage of centenarians.
These areas, called “Blue Zones,” include the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, the city of Loma Linda in California, and the islands of Okinawa in Japan, Sardinia in Italy, and Ikaria in Greece.
At first glance, the diets, lifestyles and habits of people in these “Blue Zones” may seem quite different from each other.
Many of the people of Sardinia live in mountainous terrain, where they hunt, fish and produce their own food, such as goat’s milk, barley and garden vegetables.
Loma Linda’s longtime residents are part of a tight-knit community that avoids caffeine and alcohol and follows a largely vegetarian diet, while in Ikaria people eat a typical Mediterranean diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and moderate amounts of meat and seafood.
Okinawans have historically consumed a plant-based diet. They get many of their calories from sweet potatoes and fresh vegetables, which they often harvest from their gardens. Meanwhile, the centenarian Nicoyans tend to eat a traditional Mesoamerican diet rich in starchy plant foods such as corn and beans.
Tips to reach age 100
But while their eating habits are different in many ways, they share at least four common parameters. You can incorporate these common centenarian nutritional principles into your life by doing the following:
1. Eat legumes often. Legumes are especially popular with people living in the “Blue Zones”. Soy is an important part of the traditional diet in Okinawa, as are fava beans in Sardinia and black beans in Nicoya.
2. Eat a handful of nuts daily. Nuts are rich in vitamins, fiber and minerals and are a basic nutritional component for many residents of the “Blue Zones”. Walnuts and almonds, for example, are popular in Ikaria and Sardinia, while in Nicoya they love peanuts.
3. Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. People in most “Blue Zones” tend to eat most of their calories early in the day rather than later. Okinawans traditionally eat a hearty breakfast and a modest lunch, they don’t even have dinner.
4. Eat meals together with your family. In the “Blue Zones” it is common for families to eat at least one daily meal together, usually lunch or the last meal of the day. Although it’s difficult for families with busy lives to take meals together often, it’s worth trying to do it as often as you can. Families that eat together tend to eat more nutritious meals while eating more slowly. They eat more fruits and vegetables and their children are less likely to develop obesity.
Of course, diet alone is not the only factor associated with a high life expectancy, the researchers conclude. Research has shown that people who live in communities where longevity is common tend to have strong ties to friends and family.
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