Life upgrades from the people that live the longest!

World Health Day is a global health awareness day celebrated every year on 7 April, sponsored by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It has actually been celebrated on this day since 1950, as the WHO held the First World Health Assembly on this date. It a huge opportunity for to draw worldwide attention to a subject of major importance to global health.

Here in the UK the average life expectancy is now around 81 years, with women outliving men by around 4 years. Yet experts have calculated that the capacity of the human body is around 90-100 years.

So, if the estimate of up to 100 years is true, that means we are leaving around 20 good years of life on table. But, surely this is down to genes or something? Well, yes some of it is genetic, this was proved in the Danish twin study where they established that around 10-20% of our longevity is determined by our genes. This means that up to 90% is about what we do – basically our lifestyles, what we eat and the choices we make.

This surely then creates a great opportunity for us to upgrade our lifestyles to ensure we live healthy for longer! Dan Buettner, an American explorer and educator dedicated his life to finding out the secret recipe of longevity by finding and studying the oldest people in the world. His work is documented in the book and website the Blue Zones, the strapline is: Add 10 Years to your life? Sounds good to me! Dan describes the 5 regions in the world where the highest proportion of people aged 100+ live:

  • Barbagia region, Sardinia
  • Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
  • Ikaria, Greece
  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Loma Linda – Seventh Day Adventists, California

The amazing thing about these people is that they are not only living beyond 100 years, they are also free from chronic disease, the things like heart disease and arthritis that unfortunately we see so often in our aging society.

What is the magic formula?

Well, the Blue Zone’s team bottled it down to 9 common denominators. It is a great read, check them out on the Blue Zones Website. I am going to focus here on the 3 that relate to food and exercise.

  1. Natural Movement. The world’s longest-living people aren’t body builders, they don’t run marathons and are not gym bunnies. Instead they have a lifestyle that requires them to move functionally throughout the day, they grow their own food and don’t have modern gadgets for housework. Let’s be honest we live in a different world and with the headline last week: More than 20 million Britons ‘physically inactive’ we have a huge hill climb (literally). How can you so we create opportunities within are mostly sedentary days for this natural movement? Here’s a few ideas: walking instead of the car, taking the stairs, having a stretch, speaking to colleagues in person rather than on email, getting of the train/bus one stop earlier, taking hourly movement breaks, scheduling a ‘walk & talk’ rather than a sit-down meeting – which can you add in today? Start now.
  2. Eat your beans. It seems that beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most of the Blue Zone’s diets. These are all great added to salads, soups, stir frys, curries, casseroles or stews. Can you add some in at lunch today? There are loads of recipes on the Blue Zones site to inspire you, here’s a few of my favourites: Avocado & Fava Bean SaladIkarian Lentil Soup &
  3. Wine. My Dad is not the only one that is very relieved that the communities in the Blue Zones (except the Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. In fact the moderate drinkers outlive the non-drinkers. The key is moderation, 1-2 small glasses per day (note: small = 100ml, not the 250ml UK pub measure), always with food and never alone. A wine that is super rich in longevity enhancing nutrients is the Sardinian Cannonau, this is a great upgrade from the regular, mass-produced, additive filled stuff we buy! Ok, I am going to be realistic here, alcohol is not something you perhaps need to start doing, but maybe something you need to look to reduce and/or evaluate the context in which you consume it? With others, with food and small amounts its the Blue Zones approach, is that how you have yours?

I think these all sound very achievable for all of us, no matter how busy and packed our lives are. The payback of an additional 10 years we could perhaps claim back and live a life free from chronic disease is a no brainer. However, the people within these communities practice these for a lifetime, as we say in Work Fuel consistency beats intensity – enjoy! 

Any comments or feedback – get in touch.