5 Secrets of People Who Live Long
Humans have always been fascinated by the idea of living a long time — or even living forever. Legends of the Fountain of Youth and Holy Grail giving us immortality have led us on a search that has so far been unsuccessful. Yet, we haven’t given up on the possibility of finding everlasting life.
It seems as though every year, there’s news about someone living to 100 (along with an interview about their lifestyle habits), or about a supplement or new discovery in science that can somehow contribute to living longer.
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In 2005, National Geographic ran a cover story called “Secrets to Living Longer,” by Dan Buettner. In fact, the story was brought to attention once again in a 2016 special edition of National Geographic with the cover story, The Science of Living Longer. In the article, Dan recounts how his travels have led him to discover that there are Blue Zones: communities where common elements of lifestyle have led a large proportion of the population to live longer and without illnesses.
What are these common elements and how can we implement them in our lives? Keep reading to find out.
What Is Aging?
Most of us know that aging means to grow old. But what are the mechanisms of aging – and most importantly, why do we age?
The answers to these questions are complex and still incomplete. To put it as simply as possible, aging is traditionally defined as the gradual deterioration of the bodily functions that are required for our survival and fertility. Think about how some of the older people you know may have cardiovascular issues, vision problems or are hard of hearing. This decline in our capabilities usually begins in our 30s to 40s.
What exactly goes wrong? Well, there are several theories. One is that aging is a by-product of our metabolism, resulting from the reactive oxygen species (ROS) created by our mitochondria, which damage our cells and proteins. One of the oldest theories of aging is the wear-and-tear and genetic instability theory, which states that aging is a result of the small traumas (mutations and dysfunction) in our body that build up over time.
Whatever the cause of aging is (and it may be a combination of theories), we all know the signs of it: wrinkles, loss of senses and increase in illnesses (especially chronic ones such as diabetes and cancer). We also know that aging eventually leads to death. For the average North American, that usually happens around the age of 79. Globally, the average life expectancy is 71.4. But, there are some places in the world where the average life expectancy is much higher than this, as you will soon read about.
Surprising Facts About Longevity
You may think that a large part of what determines your longevity has to do with genetics. However, only about 20% of how long a person lives is determined by genetics — the rest has to do with the environment and lifestyle.
One good piece of evidence for this is that although humans as a species have not changed much genetically over the past 100 years, our life expectancies have dramatically increased. Much of this has to do with advancement in medical technologies and overall improvement in standards of living.
There are even some scientists that believe that humans will one day (maybe within the next 200 years) have the ability to be immortal. Science may be a bit closer to finding out the key to immortality. One recent study found that in C. elegans worms, a genetic switch starts the aging process shortly after the worm reproduces. The switch turns off cell stress responses that normally protect the cell. This finding may give us some insight about immortality, but much more research still needs to be done.
The World’s Blue Zones
In his book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for the Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, Dan Buettner outlines four of the World’s Blue Zones—Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; and the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. The Blue Zones website also mentions a fifth Blue Zone—Ikaria, Greece.
In each of the Blue Zones, a surprising number of the residents live well into their 90s and even 100s, without any serious illnesses. Dan Buettner, along with researchers in the field of aging, put together a list of nine common denominators, known as the Power9, found in the Blue Zones. We’ve condensed these factors into five main groups to make your life a bit easier.