Certain places around the world have high concentrations of centenarians, or people living 100 years or more. Their stories are the foundation of the Blue Zones Project.
Loma Linda has long been a center of activity for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, whose faith endorses healthy living and leads the nation in the longest life expectancy. Their faith, and the volunteerism it inspires, provides individuals with a sense of life purpose and keeps community ties strong. In addition, their Sabbath creates a "sanctuary in time" from workday stresses.
Many Adventists enjoy a vegetarian diet heavy in nuts and fresh, Californian fruits and vegetables. As a result, they experience a healthier BMI (Body Mass Index) and a lower risk for various types of cancers. A lifelong commitment to regular, moderate exercise also contributes to the vitality of senior citizens, who are gym members and power walkers at 70 years of age and over!
Costa Ricans spend only 15% of what Americans do on healthcare, yet its people appear to be living longer, healthier lives than people in any other country on Earth! Their diet consists of foods high in nutritional value like fortified maize and beans, and fresh fruits and vegetables from their own fruit trees and gardens. Their water has very high calcium levels, which contributes to strong bones and low rates of heart diease, while year-round sunshine provides Vitamin D that counteracts depression and osteoporosis.
During these long and healthy lives, many centenarians live with relatives and are surrounded by lifelong neighbors. They stay focused on their life purpose, believing in God, a strong work ethic and the importance of enjoying life. Costa Ricans don't let stress diminish their natural vigor.
Sardinia has a reputation for having a high number of centenarians, especially with its men! For almost 150 years, members of this isolated, mountainous, Mediterranean region have lived as farmers and shepherds, getting cardio and musculoskeletal benefits from walking five miles every day.
Sardinian diets center around whole-grain bread, goat's milk, beans, garden vegetables, fruits, and pecorino sheep's-milk cheese. Meat is mainly reserved for Sundays and special meals. Moderate consumption of Sardininan red wine, which is high in artery-scrubbing flavanoids, greatly helps lower heart disease and stress levels as well. A sardonic sense of humor is also key, allowing Sardinians to shed stress naturally and diffuse arguments before they start.
The climate, therapeutic thermal springs and landscape of Ikaria, Greece, make the residents of this isolated Aegean island four times more likely to reach 90 years of age than Americans. Through their work of farming, fishing and herding, Ikarians receive a sense of fulfillment from living off their precious land and gain exercise that improves health and staves off dementia.
Another important habit is their diet, which includes staple foods like beans, nuts, local vegetables, field herbs and goat's milk—and a special local honey that contains powerful properties to fight prostate and breast cancers. It seems, however, that their real secret may be napping! Ikarians open shops late, nap in the early afternoon, and then socialize into the night with close family, friends and local festivals.
Okinawans have one-fifth the rate of cardiovascular disease, one-fourth the rate of breast and prostate cancer, and one-third the rate of dementia than Americans. Much of this is attributed to their strong social networks, active walking and gardening and regular exposure to Vitamin D. Their year-round access to fresh medicinal herbs, homegrown vegetables and soy-based protein also contributes to their health.
During World War II, this tiny island also survived The Battle of Okinawa, which was the largest offensive attack in the Pacific. Perhaps this inspires their elders' ability to embrace ikigai, or a "life of purpose," where they feel needed and honored. Okinawans make sure to enjoy life's simple pleasures, including the respect they receive within their families and communities today.