Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

How the Sardinians beat the longevity odds

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I’m an avid observer of “blue zones”, those places in the world where people live the longest with the lowest rates of chronic diseases. An article in today’s Wall Street Journal highlighted Sardinian life in the review section. The author of the article, Dan Buettner wrote the “Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People.  http://www.wsj.com/articles/want-great-longevity-and-health-it-takes-a-village-1432304395 The book gives insight about the high percentages of centenarians in certain parts of the world. These include Okinawa, Japan, the mountains of Sardinia, the Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica, and the remote island of Ikaria, Greece.  The only American hot spot was Loma Linda, California, which is dominated by Seventh Day Adventists who, not by coincidence,  eat a vegetarian diet. Funded in part by the U.S. National Institute on Aging, scientists focused on these longevity hot spots to determine what accounted for these differences and found that while it helps to have good genes, that’s less than 30% of the equation. If you adopt the right lifestyle, they concluded, the other 70% can be up to us. “The secret of good health is to move,” says 88-year-old Hoei Tabaru, who keeps in shape spearing octopus from the sea, picking vegetables in his garden and by biking through his village on the island of Okinawa.

I found a fascinating resource when writing this blog – . http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/world-life-expectancy-map . This website shows life expectancy by country, leading causes of disease, and if you’re interested in USA statistics, a breakdown by counties within the states. As for leading causes of death in the USA, the top three remain – 1. heart disease 2. Cancer 3. Lung disease.

There’s a lot we can do to reduce the incidence of some of these illnesses.  Eating a plant based diet, having a sense of community with very frequent socialization, and knowing that others will help when needed, accounted for longer lives. Family life dominates these “blue zones” where children, spouses, siblings and parents are always put ahead of other commitments. No retirement homes exist in most of these communities.  You can imagine the amount of stress this relieves. Living life with a sense of purpose, and a strong belief in God were other common traits of these centenarians.

People in blue zones had very few mechanized conveniences, and they walk to just about every activity. Sardinians shop for fresh produce several times a week and cook it using their own elbow grease. They knead their sourdough (rich in lactobacillus and yeast) for 45 minutes before chopping wood and stoking the oven in preparation for baking. This is a lot more work than going to the gym. Their exercise comes from living naturally; their socialization is ingrained as part of their culture, and local healthy pesticide-free fruits and vegetables are cheap and accessible. Would  you have guessed that beans are the cornerstone of every longevity diet in the world? For every 2 tablespoons of beans eaten a day, the chance of dying dropped by 8%. Researchers looked at the variety of beans eaten by people in the “blue zones”. Fava beans, black beans, lentils, soybeans, and many other varieties all proved effective at prolonging life. One theory is that along with being an excellent source of protein, beans serve as “gut compost” allowing healthy bacteria to thrive. The longest-lived people ate a high complex-carb diet with medium levels of fat and medium-to-low levels of protein.

The take away?

  • Do what you can to limit meat intake and eat primarily things with no face and no mother.
  • Move frequently or exercise throughout the day- work additional activity into every day
  •  Think about your unique purpose in life
  • Strengthen familial and community bonds
  • contemplate your spiritual connection
  • focus on the fact that your longevity is only 30% based on your heredity!

You can have a major influence on the number of years in your life, and most important,  the life in your years!

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