For centuries, humans have turned to specific foods, exercises and lifestyles to keep their mind and body in top form — and to extend their lifespans. If you think that’s a pointless pursuit given your genetic makeup, think again. A Danish study concluded that only 20% of our aging process is due to genetics and a whopping 80% depends on our lifestyle. That means you may have the power to largely control your health and your longevity through your diet and mind-body wellness practices. Even better, we can learn from other cultures that have established positive outcomes for generations. Read on to find out the longevity secrets and tips for a healthy life from around the world.
Nine Longevity Secrets From Blue Zone Cultures
Perhaps you’ve heard about the Blue Zones, five very special places around the world with the highest percentage of centenarians. These longevity hotspots are:
- Okinawa, Japan
- Sardinia, Italy
- Nicoya, Costa Rica
- Ikaria, Greece
- Loma Linda, California
A group of researchers went into these communities to learn more about their longevity secrets and discovered that the lifestyles of their centenarian residents had nine specific characteristics in common. These became known as the Power 9:
Forget the gym or that morning jog — Blue Zoners all reside in places where they have to naturally move their bodies all day, like walking to shops instead of driving and gardening without the help of electric or gas-powered tools.
A Sense of Purpose
Do you have a sense of purpose in life? Knowing what gets you up every morning can give you up to seven years of extra life expectancy.
Taking Time to De-Stress
Everyone inevitably experiences various kinds of stress in life. But having a routine or ritual to de-stress every day is vital to lessening the harmful, aging impact of stress on your mind and body. For example, Okinawans pause daily to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians have a siesta and Sardinians enjoy a happy hour.
Eating Light and Less
Don’t eat to feel totally full — just 80% full. According to the researchers, this Confucian mantra that Okinawans adhere to could make the difference between losing or gaining weight. Blue Zoners also eat their smallest — and their last — meal in the late afternoon or early evening.
A Plant-Based Diet
Better load up on your legumes: fava beans, black beans, soybeans and lentils are what you’ll have to eat to make it to 100. Meat, usually pork, is eaten just a few times a month in small 3- or 4-ounce portions.
These centenarians know how to enjoy their extended lives. All of them, excluding the Adventists, drink one or two glasses of alcohol (often wine) per day, but always with friends or with food, which is key.
Almost all of the centenarians included in the study were part of some kind of faith-based community. And for good reason: research has shown that attending religious services may help you live longer. If you’re not religious, you could try meditation or other centering activities to connect with your inner self.
Surrounding Yourself With Family
Keep your family close, including aging parents or grandparents. Living with them was also shown to decrease the rates of disease and mortality in the children of the household. Blue Zoners usually partner for life, which can add up to three years of life expectancy.
It takes a village to live healthier and longer. The world’s oldest citizens were part of social circles (by choice or by birth) that supported healthy behaviors and research shows that happiness is contagious. One example: Okinawans created moais, groups of five friends who are committed to each other for life.
More Practices for Healthy Living
Ayurveda (in Sanskrit, ‘ayur’ means knowledge, ‘veda’ means life) originated in India over 3,000 years ago as a natural system of medicine designed to be a scientific guide to live a long and disease-free life. This plant-based practice is all about preventing and healing disease through diet and various physical therapies based on an individual’s “dosha” or mind-body characteristics. The three doshas incorporate the five basic elements of our world:
- Vata (ether and air)
- Pitta (fire and water)
- Kapha (water and earth)
You can determine your dosha type with a free online quiz like this one or by consulting a practitioner of ayurvedic medicine, who can then advise you on what Ayurvedic herbs and practices to incorporate into your lifestyle.
According to Ayurveda Institute, ayurveda has a term specific to the practice of anti-aging, Rasayana, which in Sanskrit refers to clearing the channels of the body and mind for the natural flow of matter and energy. Rasayana is meant to help people of a mature age stay in tip-top shape, both physically and mentally, through a combination of a nourishing diet, wholesome activities and gentle herbs, according to the Institute.
While yoga became popular in the last few decades in the Western world, it’s another ancient practice that has its origins in the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in north India about 5,000 years ago. Sure, the deep stretches, meditation and breathwork will leave you feeling relaxed, rejuvenated and flexible — but most importantly, a regular yoga practice adds another anti-aging tool to your belt. Studies have found that yoga, like other mindful wellness practices, can actually change your body at a cellular level and reverse the process of cellular aging. Yoga also has a positive impact on the brain, which can decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Even with its slow pace, tai chi, which has its foundations in the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism, is actually considered a martial art. But this easy-to-learn Chinese practice is especially excellent for those with chronic pain, joint pain or any kind of mobility issues. Aside from improving balance and mental health, tai chi is known for lowering blood pressure, decreasing inflammation and strengthening blood vessels.
While frequently moving your body is vital to leading a long and healthy life, your diet cannot be ignored. The two go hand-in-hand. The Japanese philosophy behind the longevity-promoting macrobiotic diet is all about finding balance, yin and yang through whole, unrefined plant-based foods like:
- Whole grains and legumes
- Lean fish
- Minimal dairy
Although based on the centuries-old Japanese “zen diet,” macrobiotics was officially established at the end of the 19th century by Sagen Ishizuka, a Japanese army doctor who applied western scientific principles to the Zen diet and stated that:
- Food is the foundation of life, character, constitution, happiness and health or sickness.
- Sodium and potassium are the primary antagonistic and complementary elements in food. They most strongly determine its character, or “yin/yang” quality. Food must be balanced in its contents of potassium and sodium.
- For mankind, the main staple food is grain.
- Food should be unrefined, whole and natural.
- Foods are best if they are grown locally and eaten in season.
Boosting wellness and longevity by sweating out toxins and increasing your heart rate has been around for centuries, as evident by the Northern European sauna traditions, Russian banyas, Turkish hammams and Native American sweat lodges. For example, Finland has over 3 million saunas for its population of 5 million.
Finally, science has caught up to age-old wisdom, confirming what certain cultures have long known to be true — a 2020 study found a link between frequent sauna bathing and benefits to mental and physical health, including a reduced risk of dementia.
A healthier lifestyle certainly promotes longevity, but it also allows you to live a more enjoyable life on a daily basis. What more can you ask for? Try out any of these wellness practices. Hopefully you’ll not only feel better — you’ll also be transforming into the best version of yourself.
What kinds of longevity practices and habits do you incorporate into your daily routine? Tell us about them in the comments.