The secret to a long and healthy life

There are four areas in the world that have an unusually high concentration of centenarians. Author Dan Buettner eloquently details these people’s stories in his book titled Blue Zones. These areas include Sardinia, Okinawa, California and Costa Rica. It is believed that the human body has the capacity to live 90 healthy years, but the average age of death falls at around 78, so that’s 12 good years we are leaving on the table. Some people suggest that we should live a long and healthy life and in the last couple months of our life have a rapid decline and pass away at say 85. However, today people are living with chronic disease such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes from their 40’s and 50’s, spending the last 20 years of their life incapacitated in some way.

Well you say it’s all pot luck and down to our genes, right? No! Genetics only contributes about 10% to longevity, so that means 90% of it is down to lifestyle. So what is the secret to these blue zones? Well for at least the first 50 or 60 years of these Blue Zones people’s lives how much non-organic food did they eat? None. How much processed junk food did they eat? None. How much of their food and water was exposed to plastics, dioxins, phthalates, BPA’s and parabens? None. How much physical activity did they partake in? Quite a lot. You get my point here?

But it’s not all down to nutrition and exercise – as the media tells us “eat less, exercise more” – a huge component of longevity is having a purpose in life or a reason to wake up in the morning, something the Okinawans call ikigai and the Costa Rican’s call plan de vida. Having a defining purpose in life certainly adds years to your life and life to your years.

Another argument that gets put forward is that we are all living longer compared to our poor, malnourished and overworked Victorian relatives. In his book Health Defence Paul Clayton suggests that life expectancy rates have only increased as infant mortality rates have decreased. He goes on to suggest that life expectancy in the late 1800’s early 1900’s at age 5 was as good or better than exists today. Even if this is isn’t the case can we put this increased life expectancy down to better health care? No, these arguable increases in life expectancy are down to better hygiene, sanitation and nutrition, but more on this in a minute.

Paul Clayton also suggests that the incidence of degenerate disease in Victorian times was 10% of the levels we have today and that nutrition back then was actually better. Difficult to believe but today we have huge chronic disease and obesity epidemics that are fuel be over eating empty calories and malnourishment. It is the World Health Organisation that said it best – the world biggest cause of death is malnourishment; with the biggest risk factors for chronic disease being an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and tobacco use. What springs in to your mind when you think of malnourishment? The starving African baby covered in fly’s hours from death. Change that picture and replace it with the morbidly obese teenager supping a litre of soft drink and eating junk food.

From the turn of the last century the death rate from infectious disease rapidly declined by about 75%, with a large spike at the end of the First World War due to the Spanish Flu, before the first use of anti-biotics in the 1940’s. There was another slight decline in deaths from infectious disease between the 1940 and the first use of vaccinations in the early 1960’s, however since that point there has been no further decline in the rate of deaths from infectious disease. As I stated earlier in this article the biggest contributor to this decline in death rates was hygiene, sanitation and nutrition. Our biggest threat to longevity is not infectious disease any more – it is chronic disease such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

So you ask “how can I live to 100”, or more realistically you may ask “ how can I grow old healthily and gracefully minimising my risk of chronic degenerative disease?”

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