May 11, 2022

According to Merriam Webster, Longevity is a noun meaning “a long duration of individual life.” Why is there such variation in longevity and life expectancy around the world?  So many people think genetics is the cause, but there is a lot of evidence that lifestyle is a key difference.

Interestingly, there are “blue zones” around the world where people not only live longer, but with a greater quality of life.  People have less disease into their 80s and 90s and remain more active.  Some of these pockets include: Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Ogliastra Region, Sardinia; Loma Linda, Calif.; and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.  

While these populations have different genetics, they share many similarities. Many eat traditional foods that have not been impacted by the widely available processed foods available today.  They move regularly. They are an active part of communities, social circles, and families. And while age is an indicator, they are also largely free of chronic diseases like heart disease, obesity, cancer, and diabetes.

Common factors connected to longevity include:

  1. Movement: While the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week with strength training twice a week, there is evidence that lower amounts are still very beneficial. Also, the longest living people in these “blue zones” do not typically run marathons or join gyms.  They live active lives and move naturally.
  2. Sense of purpose: The Okinawans call it “Ikigai.” Knowing your sense of purpose of why you wake up in the morning can add up to 7 years to your life.
  3. Stress management: Chronic stress can lead to inflammation, which can lead to other diseases.  Finding outlets for stress can be very beneficial.
  4. Healthy diet: Research suggests that a diet heavy in vegetables and whole foods with limited processed foods is beneficial.  In addition, most who live in the blue zones stop eating before they are completely stuffed.  
  5. Community: Many of those who have the longest lives prioritize family and have a group (religious or otherwise) that they belong to. Feeling connected to a group can directly impact well-being.
  6. No Smoking: In addition to causing lung cancer, cigarette-smoking is associated with serious health problems, including heart disease, strokes, and cancers that impact longevity.
  7. Minimal alcohol: While some suggest moderate alcohol has some health benefit, recent studies suggest that alcohol consumption should be more limited. Moderate drinking, according to federal dietary guidelines, means that women should have no more than a drink per day, and men should have no more than two per day.
  8. Good sleep: Research indicates that the sweet spot for sleep duration is seven or eight hours a night. However, the amount of sleep that a person needs can vary from individual to individual.

While we cannot control our genetics, we can make choices that can impact our health and longevity.  We can eat whole foods, move regularly, and prioritize communities, social circles, and families.  If you want to learn more about how lifestyle impacts well-being, make sure to check out my other blog posts.


DISCLAIMER: Sarah Smith MD is a medical doctor, but she is not your doctor, and she is not offering medical advice on this website. If you are in need of professional advice or medical care, you must seek out the services of your own doctor or health care professional.