Is it truly possible to live up to 100 years old and in good health? It seems so, which never ceases to intrigue scientists. The phenomenon is multifactorial, and it is fascinating to meet centenarians and learn from them.
Diet, sport, and social life influence the quality of aging and overall health, both physical and psychological. However, not everyone lives to be a centenarian. But what is the longevity secret of these special seniors.
And how can we explain these impressive concentrations of centenarians in some regions of the world? That is what we are going to discover together.
Why is nutrition crucial to longevity?
Good health is the result of balanced nutrition, physical activity, active social life, and a healthy lifestyle.
The improvement of living conditions over the centuries and the last few decades has significantly contributed to the extension of human life. However, nutrition plays a crucial role in our longevity.
Eating well means making sure that our diet is diversified and balanced. Ideally, it should be rich in fruits, fresh vegetables, fish rich in omega 3, and whole grains. It helps delay the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, or cardiovascular disease.
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean Diet (also called the Cretan Diet) has nothing to do with any diet, let alone restrictive. It is more of a dietary custom. The people of the Mediterranean regions follow it in a completely natural way and live longer and healthier.
Did you know that on November 16, 2010, UNESCO included it in its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity as a "set of skills, knowledge, practices, and traditions"?
So, what exactly is this famous Mediterranean diet, and what are its benefits? It is about eating more vegetables, fruits, nuts, olive oil, fish and reducing the intake of red meat, dairy products, and saturated fats.
Science has shown that this kind of diet promotes intestinal health by developing the right type of bacteria. This proliferation of positive microbes leads to improved memory and cognition in general, less inflammation, and stronger bones.
But is it enough to live a hundred years?
The friendly side of meals
Another factor that seems to be a determining factor is the human and emotional factor that surrounds meals:
- Considering meals as kind moments of sharing.
- Cooking with a clear intention of giving to others.
- Enjoying home-cooked meals together with unprocessed and traceable ingredients.
- Taking the time to relax in good company, chewing to promote good digestion.
These countries with the most centenarians
There are regions on Earth where people live significantly older than average and have the highest concentrations of centenarians. They are called Blue Zones.
The United Nations statistics for 2020 confirm that Japan is the country that has the highest number of centenarians. However, it is not the only one.
- Japan: The inhabitants of Okinawa Island have the highest life expectancy in the world, with 42 centenarians per 100,000 people. Their diet consists mainly of fresh local fruits, seaweed, tofu, tea, green leafy vegetables that they have grown themselves, and fish. They eat very little meat. The elders remain active, and the island's population has 80% fewer heart attacks and cancers than in the United States.
- Greece: More than 1 in 3 inhabitants are over 90 years old and live independently. On Ikaria Island, ⅓ of the population is over 90 years old. Not only are the elders stress-free and take a daily nap, but they also eat little meat and sugar. On the other hand, grains, green vegetables, and olive oil are prominent in their diet.
- Sardinia: 1 in 5 inhabitants is over 90 years old, and there are twice as many centenarians as anywhere else in the world. Is it because people have a glass of red wine (rich in polyphenol) every day?
- Costa Rica: On the Nicoya Peninsula, 13% of the population is over 90 years old and 5% is over 100 years old. The centenarians work in the fields and do not consume processed products. The climate is sunny and dry, which results in an adequate supply of vitamin D and keeps respiratory diseases at bay.
What do they have in common? They all live by the sea. Most of them eat plant-based foods but occasionally eat animal-based foods. Above all, they are united by an active social life. They are not isolated and are close to their families and friends.
The longevity secrets of centenarians
As we have seen, diet and maintaining an active social life are two key factors for healthy aging. But what about the other longevity secrets of centenarians?
- Exercise: Studies show that it can extend life by 6 years! In addition, it reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even certain cancers.
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle: don't smoke, but don't forget that quitting at any time is beneficial and helps extend life.
- Monitor excess weight.
- Be vigilant about our dental health.
- Stay optimistic!
Centenarians and still athletic
The people we present below are athletes, despite their advanced age. Of course, it is unrealistic to try to develop such performances overnight. However, everyone can be inspired and make physical activity a part of their daily lives. Better health and fulfillment, the benefits are well worth the effort!
Yoga is not only beneficial for the body but also for the mind. This discipline aims to ensure the harmony of both for optimal well-being. Tao Porchon-Lynch proved it throughout her long life. She practiced yoga from the age of 8 until her death at 101. World-famous, she was the oldest yoga teacher in the world!
Hurricane Hawkins is a 103-year-old athlete who won gold at the US National Senior Games. From Louisiana, she trains in her backyard every day. She says that running keeps her body and mind sharp, that she runs to inspire seniors to stay healthy and realize that age is just a number!
These people are role models and show that sport is a beautiful secret to longevity!
Nutrition, physical activity, and active social life all contribute to healthy aging. Centenarians cultivate all these good habits on a daily basis. It's never too late to learn from them!
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Sources (mostly in French) :