10 Things Centenarians Have In Common
By Sara Novak
You’ve heard the term before. They’re called “Blue Zones,” parts of the world filled with centenarians, some of them living well over 100 years of age. We wonder how they do it—what aspects of their lives allow for such longevity. Is it their diet? Their outlook on life? Their location? Or all of these wrapped up into one healthy package? If you want to live your best life well into the future, here are some tips to live like a centenarian.
Table Of Contents:
Where Are The World’s Centenarians?
The book The Blue Zone Solution narrows the world’s Blue Zones to certain parts of the world that have the largest abundance of people living longer than the rest of the world. These places include:
- Ikaria, Greece
- Okinawa, Japan
- Ogliastra Region, Sardinia
- Loma Linda, Calif.
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
What do they have in common? A largely Mediterranean diet loaded with fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and clean sources of protein. But it goes well beyond diet. The centenarian approach to life is a lifestyle built around a spiritual community, ample relaxation time, moderate and regular consumption of alcohol, time spent with family, and a generally slower pace of life. It turns out that slowing down and enjoying all that life has to offer means you may get more of it.
There’s a famous story published in The New York Times a decade ago called “The Island Where People Forget to Die” that outlines the life of a man who was dying of cancer in the U.S. and went back to his homeland on the island of Ikaria in Greece to die. He went there because it was less expensive to have a funeral but then he found that he got better. He slept a lot, met up with friends, drank wine, drank tea and coffee, and grew his own garden. Before he knew it he was feeling better and then four decades later he was still alive and thriving. The article was written when Stamatis Moraitis was 97 years old. It’s a lesson in how to live a long life and it’s worth exploring. Here’s what we know about how to be a centenarian.
10 Tips For How To Be A Centenarian:
If you’re looking to feel your best for years to come, here’s what you need to know:
1. Sleep In
This one makes me want to rethink my morning routine. Centenarians get a lot of sleep. That is, they tend to sleep late in the morning and they regularly take naps in the afternoon. In Ikaria for example, they don’t have alarm clocks and they don’t start work until late in the morning. And it turns out they may be on to something. This makes sense. According to the National Institutes of Health, “it is estimated that 50 to 70 million Americans chronically suffer from a disorder of sleep and wakefulness, hindering daily functioning and adversely affecting health and longevity.” Another study published in the journal PLOS Biology found that “a key function of sleep is to defend against oxidative stress.” The bottom line here is that the key to slowing aging and oxidative stress on the body is to get ample sleep every night. Maybe some days it’s worth sleeping through your morning workout.
2. Eat Local
Eating pesticide and insecticide free foods grown close to home is a great way to look and feel your best. Buying organic at the grocery store is one thing. But it’s much better to choose foods grown in your community. Part of it is the quality of the foods you’re eating and the other aspect is becoming a part of your food community. I just joined an organic CSA and it’s on point. Instead of planning my meals and then going to the grocery store, I’m seeing what’s growing locally in my community and adjusting my menu accordingly. Choose local fruits, vegetables, dairy, proteins, and wine and get to know the people in your community that are growing the foods you love. Take it a step further, and start a garden growing the foods you love to eat. Got a brown thumb? I know I do. But that’s OK because my wonderful neighbor with his green thumb grows delicious foods for me.
3. Drink Tea
Green tea is loaded with polyphenols which helps you to live longer. A study published in the journal Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care found that “tea consumption, especially green tea, is associated with significantly reduced risks for stroke, diabetes and depression, and improved levels of glucose, cholesterol, abdominal obesity and blood pressure.” Another study published in the journal BMC Geriatrics found “the promotion of the traditional lifestyle of tea drinking could be a cost-effective way towards healthy aging.” Finally, a study published in the journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that tea consumption was associated with life lengthening in the oldest populations in China. (Bonus* - instead of green tea opt for an adaptogenic tea, such as an ashwagandha tea to decrease stress and promote relaxation!)
4. Drink Coffee
So you’re not a tea drinker. Don’t fret, you can enjoy many of the same longevity benefits with coffee. Centenarian communities based in Italy, Greece, and Costa Rica regularly consume coffee. It’s loaded with antioxidants that keep you younger, longer. Research published in the journal Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care found that coffee consumption reduced all cause mortality and reduced risks of heart failure, stroke, diabetes mellitus, and some cancers. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology followed 10,000 men and found that those who abstained from drinking coffee increased their risk of early death over a lifespan. Another study published in the Journal of Medicinal Foods looked at how coffee consumption worked in the body to promote longevity. Researchers found that in women coffee increased levels of adiponectin which are known to control metabolic processes in the body related to heart disease and diabetes.
Learn More: 11 Reasons Why Coffee Is A Superfood
5. Moderate Alcohol Consumption
We know that drinking too much is not a good thing but drinking the local wine in communities in Greece and Italy is also about being social and coming together. The wine is often organic, local, and usually not as alcoholic as the wines we drink. It’s about relaxing, enjoying time with family and friends, and consuming tons of polyphenols. If you needed a reason to drink your wine, now you have it. In the afternoon, get together with your neighbors, have a glass of wine, catch up on the town gossip, and connect with your community. What more can you ask for in a life well lived? A study published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition outlined that moderate consumption of red wine, preferably with food, is a part of a healthy Mediterranean diet. Another study published the journal Diseases found that “moderate wine intake, at 1⁻2 glasses per day as part of a Mediterranean diet, has been positively associated with human health promotion, disease prevention, and disease prognosis.”
6. Ample Fruits
Oxidative stress happens as we age and the more we can reduce this, the longer we’ll live. If your diet is rich in antioxidants, you’ll reduce the free radicals that can do damage to your body’s systems. Local, organic fruits are loaded with the polyphenols you need to stay younger, longer. The fruits with the most antioxidants include blueberries, strawberries, goji berries, apples, and mangoes. A study published in the journal Optometry and Vision Science found that after consuming a goji berry beverage for 90 days antioxidant levels in elderly study participants went up by 57 percent. Another study, published in the journal Food Function found that strawberries were a rich source of bioactive compounds such as flavonoids, anthocyanins, and phenolic acids. Finally, according to a study published in the journal Biofactors, “several studies have found that foods rich in polyphenols protect against age-related disease, such as atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, arthritis, cataracts, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes (T2D), hypertension, and Alzheimer's disease.”
A common tenet among centenarians is a belief in something bigger than themselves. For some that means religion and for others it’s spirituality or a love of nature. Whatever that means for you, religion is about caring for something other than yourself and it’s often about coming together. Whether it’s church on Sunday or a morning meditation class. It’s about finding presence and learning to be a good and ethical person. Many of the Blue Zones throughout the world find a sense of purpose in the their spirituality and religion. In fact, two of the oldest people in the world to survive COVID, a 107-year-old woman in the U.S. and a 116-year-old woman in Italy (the oldest person in the world) both had a deep belief in religion.
If you want to live a long time, remember the importance of loving thy neighbor. Mostly all of the Blue Zones are in places with tight knit communities where people chat with their neighbors on a regular basis and have many friends in the communities in which they live. They trust those that live around them and spend time each day enjoying a glass or two of local wine and an ear full from their neighbors. This makes good sense when you look at the research. A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found that “after the busy years of midlife, maintaining social connections in older adulthood plays a vital role in protecting health. Chronic conditions naturally increase during late adulthood as part of the aging process. However, socially embedded older adults experience fewer disease risks.” Another study published in the journal Annual Review of Psychology found that “social trends in most Western cultures suggest that individuals are becoming more socially disconnected.”
9. Working Less
The long western work day isn’t doing any of us any good. In Blue Zones people relax more and work less than they do in the United States. They get into work in the late morning and take a long lunch before heading home at a reasonable hour. It’s all interconnected. The more we work, the less we workout. The more we work, the less we spend time with family and friends. The more we work, the less time spent cooking whole foods in the kitchen. You get the point. When you work too much you don’t have time for many of the other aspects of life that keep us happy and healthy. In the end, it seems to throw us completely out of balance. Life is about WAY more than just the workday.
10. Unprocessed Foods
This is the biggy. Those that live in Blue Zones, enjoy a completely unprocessed diet down to the wine and oil they cook with. Everything is either grown in the garden or prepared at a neighbor’s house. You don’t have giant grocery stores with snacks, sodas, condiments, and an array of boxed and frozen foods. Working less means you have more time to cook which in the end spells better health.