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What are the secrets to living a longer life?

20 March, 2020
Healthy people

Good health and longevity

It can be hard to make sense of all the different nutrition and diet advice out there these days. Diet trends seem to come in and out of fashion and it’s hard to know the best advice to follow. One option is to look to the diet and lifestyle of the people in the world that are living the longest. It turns out that there are certain places in the world where people live longer than others and these are known as “Blue Zones”. In these hot spots, people are three times more likely to live to 100 than Australians. In Australia, if you were born in 2017, you have a life expectancy of 84.6 if you’re a female and 80.5 if you’re a male. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander male life expectancy is 8.6 years lower than other Australians, and 7.8 years lower for females.

Where do the healthiest people live?

The places on earth where people live the longest healthiest lives are known as Blue Zones. The name comes from Michel Poulain and Italian doctor Gianni Pes who found a population where people were living longer in Sardinia, Italy and they used blue ink to mark out the area. The journalist Dan Buettner then set out to find other areas where people were living longer. These blue zones include Sardinia in Italy, Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rice, Okinawa in Japan, Icaria in Greece and an area in California, USA. 

What makes them live so long?

What do these people living these Blue Zones do that’s so different from the rest of us?

Diet

What they eat in the Blue Zones is just as important as how they eat – their diets are high in plant-based foods and lower in meat, fish and dairy, and they consume moderate amounts of both food and alcohol. They’re not necessarily vegetarian, but if they do eat meat, they eat small amounts of it. Their diets are made up largely of garden vegetables, legumes, nuts and wholegrains. They also mainly eat seasonal fruits and vegetables. They also don’t overeat, they stop eating before they feel full. It’s a concept known as Hara hachi bu, meaning to eat until you’re about 80% full.

A key take home message is that they don’t spend their time calorie counting or working out the glycaemic index of meals or cutting out food groups entirely.

How we can be more like them – 

  • include more veggies in meals and snacks
  • cut back on portion sizes
  • consume foods that will improve your mood, and find the foods with the right nutrients

Exercise

Intense and regular physical activity in daily duties was another common factor among those populations that live the longest. The concept of sitting at a desk all day long is unknown to those living in these regions. We know exercise has a whole range of health benefits including:

  • reducing the risk of obesity
  • delaying loss of muscle and bone density that comes with ageing
  • helping heart and lung health
  • boosting mental health

Social networks

Maintaining good relations between your friends and family pays off! Peoples in the Blue Zones are highly social, with a strong focus on healthy communal activities that are traditional or religious in nature. These communal groups have a purpose that ties them together, and each person also has their own purpose or “ikigai”.  

They prioritise stress reduction and purpose in their lives. They undertake meditative activities like praying, napping or performing tea ceremonies.

How we can be more like them

Ikigai and finding purpose

Ikigai is a Japanese word meaning ‘reason for being’. It’s important because it gives you something to look forward to and strive towards. For some, their Ikigai is obvious, it could be a passion or their work that they embrace and throw themselves into every day. Others might be searching for their purpose, still trying to determine what it is they value. Everyone’s Ikigai is different, but more broadly, Ikigai falls into one of these groups:

  • family
  • work
  • health
  • passions and hobbies
  • sports
  • pleasure

If you’re still searching for your Ikigai, there are some activities you can try to determine your purpose in life.

  1. 1. Keeping a diary

    Journaling when and why you’ve felt happy or a sense of achievement can help identify what is important to you.


  2. 2. Practicing gratitude

    Before you go to sleep, saying aloud five things that made you feel grateful that day can help you to identify common themes.


  3. 3. Try giving up bad habits

    You could try stopping a bad habit for a week or more to see how you feel. It’s a good idea to start with those things that you think might be a waste of time like TV or social media. When you take away these distractions, notice the activities that your naturally gravitate towards.


  4. 4. Asking those who know you best

    Sometimes our friends and family know us better than we know ourselves. You could try asking someone close to you their opinion of what they your Ikigai might be.


Sources

https://theconversation.com/experts-say-these-two-things-are-the-secret-to-living-a-longer-life-89447

https://theconversation.com/the-japanese-concept-of-ikigai-why-purpose-might-be-a-better-goal-than-happiness-88709

https://www.anu.edu.au/events/blue-zones-why-people-live-longer-and-healthier-in-certain-regions-of-the-world

https://headtohealth.gov.au/meaningful-life/connectedness

https://academic.oup.com/gerontologist/article/55/Suppl_2/695/2489372

https://headtohealth.gov.au/meaningful-life/purposeful-activity/hobbies

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/blue-zones

https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/phy-activity

All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.

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