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Aging Gracefully 1.0: Living Longer, Better

Living Longer, Better

Aging Gracefully 1.0

 

National Geographic researcher and explorer, Dan Buettner, reports that a long, healthy life is not an accident. It begins with good genes, but it also depends on wise habits. Buettner’s study indicates that the right lifestyle could add an extra 10 healthful years to a person’s life.

Mr. Buettner has interviewed over 250 centenarians on five different continents. The surprising thing is that many of these super seniors are still involved in a career; and most are active in ways we might not expect, such as being able to climb trees, chop their own firewood, or even participate in athletic competitions.

In studying longevity and conferring with medical professionals, Buettner found that the life-capacity of the human body today seems to be approximately 90 years. Yet life expectancy in the United States is around 78 years, leaving 12 good years on the table.

So Dan Buettner and his team have worked to identify places where people experience lower rates of cancer or heart disease and tend to live at least 10 years longer than average. He and his researchers have found five or six areas around the world where a high percentage of the population age into their nineties and beyond, without chronic illness or extensive medical support. Labeling such areas “blue zones,” Buettner’s team have looked for common lifestyle denominators.

Not surprisingly, nutrition seems to be a common factor. In each of these blue zones, people typically consume whatever vegetables, beans, fruit, or nuts they (or their neighbors) might grow themselves. Most of these plant-based diets also include antioxidant teas, milk and cheese from their own goats, and wine produced from local grapes. Processed foods do not seem to be part of the fare, and many of these healthy seniors push away from the table when 80% full.

Additionally, these centenarians have lifestyles that seem to nudge them into physical activity frequently during their day, whether it is working in their garden, walking to a friend’s house to help with a chore, grinding grain or kneading dough for their next meal. The pace of their lives is active yet not particularly fast-paced or stressful.

Another common theme found among the elderly in these blue zones is a strong sense of community. Multiple generations of family members often live near each other or in the same dwelling. Buettner has coined the term “grandmother effect” to describe the comparative health and well being of children, grandchildren, and grandparents when there is a nurturing close connection. In addition to family members, populations in these blue zones seem to be encircled with friend groups who maintain life-long bonds. Each of these communities also demonstrate a reverence for the wisdom and experience of elders. Seniors view themselves as responsible for younger generations, and actively participate in daily chores and childcare, sharing their knowledge as they work. One of the terms Buettner uncovered in his research was ikigai, which means having a purpose for which to wake up each day. He finds that meaningful purpose is a healthy benefit to people of all ages, but particularly to the elderly.

Interestingly, Mr. Buettner observed that every super senior he interviewed seemed to be a happy person. He did not find any grumpy centenarians, which is a nice reminder that letting go of worry and resentment might also lengthen our lives.

Dan Buettner is currently working with city managers who want to incorporate blue zone principles into their own communities. For more information, go to www.bluezones.com.