Don’t bother about trying to live to be 100. Only about one out of 5,000 people in America can.
Our bodies have 35 trillion cells, and those cells turn themselves over once every eight years. And every time they turn themselves over there is some damage. And that damage builds up. And it builds up exponentially. That’s why a 65-year-old person is aging at a rate of about 125 times faster than a 12-year-old person.
The first area discovered where men live the longest , is on the island of Sardinia, an area called the Nuoro province. There are about 10 times more centenarians than in America. And this is a place where people not only reach age 100, they do so with extraordinary vigor. Places where 102 year olds still ride their bike to work, chop wood, and can beat a guy 60 years younger than them.
Because the land is so infertile, they largely are shepherds, which occasions regular, low-intensity physical activity. Their diet is mostly plant-based, accentuated with foods that they can carry into the fields. But the real secret I think lies more in the way that they organize their society. And one of the most salient elements of the Sardinian society is how they treat older people. Here in Sardinia, the older you get the more equity you have, the more wisdom you’re celebrated for.
A second area is on the archipelago of Okinawa, a place where the oldest living female population is found. It’s a place where people have the longest disability-free life expectancy in the world, and tend to die in their sleep. What do they do? Once again, a plant-based diet, full of vegetables with lots of color in them.
They have all kinds of little strategies to keep from overeating. E.g. they eat off of smaller plates, so they tend to eat fewer calories at every sitting. Instead of serving family style, they serve at the counter, put the food away, and then bring it to the table.
They also have a 3,000-year-old adage invented by Confucius – to stop eating when their stomach is  percent full. It takes about a half hour for that full feeling to travel from your belly to your brain.
Typically in America we’ve divided our adult life up into two sections. There is our work life, where we’re productive. And then one day, boom, we retire. And typically that has meant retiring to the easy chair, or going down to Arizona to play golf. In the Okinawan language there is not even a word for retirement. Instead there is one word that imbues your entire life, and that word is “ikigai.” Roughly translated, it means “the reason for which you wake up in the morning.”
In Americaon the prairies of Minnesota, there actually is a very high proportion of centenarians. But that’s because all the young people left. (Laughter) So, we turned to the data again. And we found America’s longest-lived population among the Seventh-Day Adventists concentrated in and around Loma Linda, California.
They have a set of very small lifestyle habits that they follow ritualistically for most of their lives. They take their diet directly from the Bible. Genesis: Chapter one, Verse , where God talks about legumes and seeds, and on one more stanza about green plants, ostensibly missing is meat. They take this sanctuary in time very serious.
For 24 hours every week, no matter how busy they are, how stressed out they are at work, where the kids need to be driven, they stop everything and they focus on their God, their social network, and then, hardwired right in the religion, are nature walks. And the power of this is not that it’s done occasionally, the power is it’s done every week for a lifetime.
So, what are the common denominators in these three cultures? What are the things that they all do?
- N one of them exercise, at least the way we think of exercise. Instead, they set up their lives so that they are constantly nudged into physical activity. These 100-year-old Okinawan women are getting up and down off the ground, they sit on the floor, 30 or 40 times a day. When they do do intentional physical activity, it’s the things they enjoy.
- Each of these cultures take time to downshift. The Sardinians pray. The Seventh-Day Adventists pray. The Okinawans have this ancestor veneration. When you’re in a hurry or stressed out, that triggers something called the inflammatory response. When you slow down for 15 minutes a day you turn that inflammatory state into a more anti-inflammatory state.
- They have vocabulary for sense of purpose, ikigai, like the Okinawans. You know the two most dangerous years in your life are the year you’re born, because of infant mortality, and the year you retire. These people know their sense of purpose, and they activate in their life, that’s worth about seven years of extra life expectancy.
- There’s no longevity diet. They tend to eat a plant-based diet. Doesn’t mean they don’t eat meat, but lots of beans and nuts. And strategies to keep from overeating.
- And then the foundation of all this is how they connect. They put their families first, take care of their children and their aging parents. They all tend to belong to a faith-based community, which is worth between four and 14 extra years of life expectancy if you do it four times a month.
- We know from the Framingham studies, that if your three best friends are obese there is a 50 percent better chance that you’ll be overweight. So, if you hang out with unhealthy people, that’s going to have a measurable impact over time. Instead, if your friend’s idea of recreation is physical activity, bowling, or playing hockey, biking or gardening, if your friends drink a little, but not too much, and they eat right, and they’re engaged, and they’re trusting and trustworthy, that is going to have the biggest impact over time.
- Diets don’t work. No diet in the history of the world has ever worked for more than two percent of the population. Exercise programs usually start in January; they’re usually done by October.
- When it comes to longevity there is no short term. Your friends are long-term adventures, and therefore, perhaps the most significant thing you can do to add more years to your life, and life to your years.