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How to Live to be 100 – Lessons from Centenarians

Naturopathic Medicine is often focused on trying to find the root cause of disease and advocates for a healthy lifestyle, eating right, exercising, managing stress, and sleeping right. However, the longer I practice, I observe that for some people they must do EVERYTHING properly to feel healthy, while other people stay healthy while paying very modest attention to their health and wellbeing.

After studying centenarians, only 3 of Dan Buettner’s 9 recommendations relate to diet and alcohol, while the other 6 recommendations have more to do with social and emotional factors (www.bluezones.com). Nir Barzilai, a gerontologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, says that the centenarians he studies have led him to believe that genetics are more important than diet and lifestyle. “They’re a chubby bunch,” he says. He does, however, say that “today's changes in lifestyle do in fact contribute to whether someone dies at the age of 85 or before age 75.”

The Blue Zones is a book that studies pockets of people around the world with the highest life expectancy and the world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality. These 5 places are the Barbagia region of Sardinia, Ikaria in Greece, Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, Seventh Day Adventists around Loma Linda, and Okinawa in Japan.

The 3 diet and alcohol recommendations from the Blue Zones include:

1. Beans and plants make up much of the diet.
2. Drink modestly and daily: most centenarians drink alcoholic drinks; preferably wine, regularly and moderately, around 1-2 glasses per day with friends and/or food.
3. Not over eating; eating the smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening, then not much after that.

The KEY to Understanding Centenarians

The 6 social and emotional factors that make up the remainder of the Blue Zones recommendations may be the key to understanding why some people stay healthy even while paying very modest attention to their health and well being.

1. Move naturally; centenarians don’t exercise at the gym constantly, but rather grow gardens and continually are moving.
2. Live with knowing your sense of purpose.
3. Deal with stress: Ikarians nap, Sardinians do happy hour, Adventists pray.  They have exposure to stress, but they shed it daily.
4. 98% of centenarians interviewed all belonged to a faith-based community, regardless of denomination. I wonder if it was the faith that allows releasing of stress or the sense of community and belonging?
5. They kept their families/loved ones close by and invested with time and love.
6. They belonged to social circles that supported healthy behaviors.

Furthermore, another review of 8 studies found contentment increases longevity and health.  Anxiety, depression, a lack of enjoyment of daily activities, and pessimism are associated with higher rates of disease and a shorter lifespan.  So eat right but consider that what is more important may not be what you eat, but the joy and peace you feel as you eat (and live life).

Diener, E. and Chan, M. Y. (2011), Happy People Live Longer: Subjective Well-Being Contributes to Health and Longevity. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 3: 1–43. doi: 10.1111/j.1758-0854.2010.01045.x