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How does Lifestyle Habits Increase Your Life Span

Updated: Mar 26, 2022

In certain areas of the world coined The Blue Zones, it appears that the fountain of youth isn't due to water, but rather a pool of particular lifestyle habits. In these zones, people often live long, active lives past the age of 100.


Scientists have found longevity to be longer than average in Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; Icaria, Greece; and the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. In Okinawa, the average life expectancy is more than 81 years, compared to 78 in the United States. What's more, Okinawa has the longest disability-free life expectancy.


According to Dan Buettner, who partnered with National Geographic and the National Institute on Aging to research these areas and document the findings in his book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest, each Blue Zone has its own "recipe" for longevity, but many of the basic ingredients are the same.


For example, the lifestyle habits shared by those living in Sardinia, Okinawa, and Loma Linda are:

  • A focus on family

  • Smoke-free

  • Constant moderate physical activity

  • Social engagement

  • Eating legumes (peas, beans, lentils, and #peanuts)

But genetics mat trump lifestyle, according to recent research out of Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University. This study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found that many people who live to be 95 have less than healthy habits such as smoking, drinking, inactivity, and poor nutrition. Even so, the lead researcher acknowledges that, for the general populations, strong scientific evidence indicates that a healthful diet and exercise can postpone or ward off #chronicdisease and extend life.


Melissa Lonsberry, a registered dietitian in East Lansing, recently visited Okinawa, the birthplace of her karate Sensei. "The traditional diet in Okinawa is based on the sea and what's there, with rice as the main staple", says Lonsberry. "A typical #breakfast is miso soup and salad that contains seafood and nori, which is seaweed, along with green tea. Lunch is rice and fish (or another protein) and fruit. If there is a sweet, it's usually made from rice. The food is beautifully presented and the portions aren't big. A typical Okinawan saying is to eat until three-quarters full. My Sensei says that Americans eat too much - they don't stop."


While there, Lonsberry also observed a flurry of #physicalactivity in the morning, before the day got too hot. "In the parks, people of all ages do tai chi, ride bikes, and use the exercise stations to do push-ups, pull-ups, and stretches. Kids are doing archery and playing soccer.


There's also a lot of physical activity built into the day such as walking and sweeping the porch. I saw people who I thought were really young, but it turned out they were 80."


Lonsberry also experienced a strong sense of family and neighborhood, especially when visiting the Peace Memorial Park, the main memorial of the Battle of Okinawa, with her Sensei and his family.


Social connections are very powerful, says Telka Arend Ritter, LMSW, ACSW, behavioral therapist in East Lansing.


"Research shows that social connections change brain biochemistry. It can change it either way: Good social connections with healthy people and healthy relationships may add years to life, but if relationships are negative or stressful, it can be harmful. People hanging around others with certain lifestyles are more likely to pick up that #lifestyle. So, surround yourself with positive, healthy people and also know that you can be a role model by creating a positive environment."


According to studies of centenarians, finding meaning in life is another aspect crucial to longevity. The people of Okinawa say one reason they enjoy long and #healthy lives is Ikigai, which means "something one lives for".

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