Who Lives the Longest?

Many of us who are engaged in seeking health are doing so because there is a belief that if we adopt and maintain certain behavior, we will lead healthier, longer lives. Researcher Dan Buettner, who studies the populations that live the longest calls these pockets Blue Zones.

The top five Blue Zones may be relatively isolated and scattered around the globe, but here’s what they have in common, according to Buettner:

  • A cultural environment that reinforces healthy lifestyle habits, like diet and exercise.
  • Healthy social relationships and psychological well-being.
  • People who have a cooperative spirit.
  • People who tend to gardens.
  • Public health that is easily accessible.
  • Seniors are valued as members of their family and the community.

Here are the top 5 places where people live the longest around the world:

1. Okinawa, Japan

The remote island of Okinawa boasts the longest living population of healthy older adults. In Okinawa – an archipelago 360 miles off the coast of Japan – the world’s largest population of centenarians reside: 740 out of a population of 1.3 million. Okinawan seniors not only have the highest life expectancy in the world, but also the highest health expectancy: they remain vigorous and healthy into old age, suffering relatively few age-related ailments.

Secrets of Okinawan Longevity: Widespread gardening provides an opportunity for exercise, nutritious food, and sunlight, and Okinawans do not overeat and feel that doing so is not healthy. They also have a sense of purpose, a positive outlook on life, and close social support groups.

(for an interesting read: The Okinawa Diet, a book that details exactly what they eat)

2. Sardinia, Italy

Sardinia is an island 120 miles off the coast of Italy, where the men – mostly farmers and shepherds – are particularly long-lived. In fact, just one town of 1,700 people, Ovodda, has 5 people over 100 years old.

Secrets of Sardinian Longevity: Sardinian’s genes contribute to their longevity, and they also adhere to the healthy Mediterranean diet with the addition of lots of goats’ cheese and milk. They walk a lot, but they also take time for leisure and maintain a positive attitude and sense of humor about life.

3. Loma Linda, California

Seems surprising, as this community is east of Los Angeles, which is not exactly a mecca of health, but this community includes about 9,000 Seventh-Day Adventists – a religious group that is significantly longer-lived than the average American. Adventist culture is focused on healthful habits, such as vegetarianism and avoiding alcohol and smoking.

Secrets of Seventh Day Adventist Longevity: This group maintains a healthy weight, and their diet includes plenty of water and lots of nuts. They also exercise regularly. They nurture emotional and spiritual health, value their family relationships, and volunteer in their communities.

4. Nicoya, Costa Rica

Another remote inland community in which middle-age mortality is surprisingly low and cancer rates are the lowest in Costa Rica: a man at age 60 has about twice the chance of reaching age 90 than a man living in the U.S.

Secrets of Costa Rican Longevity: Their lifestyle is physically active, they spend plenty of time outdoors, and place a priority on family and spirituality. They sleep 8 hours a night, and their diet includes nutrient-rich foods like beans, corn, and rice.

5. Ikaria, Greece

Ikaria is a Greek island 35 miles off the coast of Turkey. The inhabitants stick to a Mediterranean diet, moderate alcohol, have a high intake of olive oil, and are three times more likely to reach 90 than Americans are. The cancer rates here are 20% lower, and these Greeks have 50% lower cardiovascular risk and almost no dementia.

Secrets of Greek Longevity: Residents stay active through walking, farming, and fishing, but they also make sure to take time out to nap. Social engagement is a priority. In addition to their Mediterranean diet, they eat a lot of wild greens and drink an herbal tea that’s full of nutrients.

While there are some differences among these populations, there is one similarity among all of these cultures: they have limited or no consumption of refined sugar and other processed foods, and they prioritize social connection in their families and communities. But, with increased globalization, this is changing, and the global food environment is becoming more Americanized in all of these once-remote places. This is already having an effect on their health and longevity – for the worse.

The take away for all of us no matter where you live is to live in an environment that values health and exercise, spend time outside as much as possible, tend a garden, nap, eat mostly plants with minimal protein, maintain a healthy weight, and stay connected to your neighbors and family.   

I have lots of weeds if anyone would like to come over and extend their lives by helping me weed my garden. Just saying.

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