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Jan 10

How to live longer, healthily

Dan Buettner gives a really fascinating TED talk on longevity.

The initial premise is that the human body is biologically engineered to live about 90 years, but average life expectancy in America is about 78 years (give or take). The missing 12 years is primarily due to lifestyle and environmental factors, rather than genetics. So, the goal of longevity is not to extend the 90 years, which is currently unattainable for those of us currently living, but to try and access these missing years.

Buettner then describes a research project which identified several “blue zones” throughout the world, in which the people there lived for materially longer lives than the rest of the world. The amazing thing is that these blue zones contain a large amount of people who live beyond 78 years, but the 80-, 90- and 100 year old people there live healthy, active lives. The blue zoners had a tendency to remain healthy and free of chronic disease in their old age and, appealingly, to die peacefully in their sleep.

The most significant factor is having family and friends close by, and belonging to the right community (of like-minded people). Buettner drops in an anecdote of an Okinawan group (moai) of five elderly women who have been together for 97 years and have an average age of 102. He also mentions an amazing array of people over than 90 who are still doing things like heart surgery, or karate.

Other factors include an ongoing purpose – a reason why you look forward to waking up the next morning – and in part this links in with community. So when you retire, you still need something to do – something to look forward to.

Interestingly, diet and exercise play a lesser role, and the role they play is different to what you might expect. People in blue zones actually don’t regularly exercise, although they do have lifestyles which keep them “naturally active” – which means something as simple as walking around throughout the day. They have a diet which is weighted towards vegetables and they don’t overeat.

So there’s no silver bullet, no single fix or magic diet – it’s a total lifestyle approach. But the thing is… it sounds like a pretty darn appealing lifestyle. No starving yourself, no brutal workout regime.

This video reminds of one time when I was in Hong Kong. I was staying over at a friend’s house, which is a 3-storey building, with a steep wooden staircase connecting each floor. My friend’s grandfather stays there, where he lives on the top floor. Every day, he treks up and down those stairs without a walking stick, and every few days he will go out to yum cha with his friends. He is about 90 years old.

The video is 20 minutes but is well worth it.

  10:52pm  •  Life  •   •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment