Who in the World Lives the Longest and Why

We hear that with every generation, people are living longer. But just how much longer? Well, last year, Los Angeles resident, Mark Johnson died at the age of 112. He was thought to be the oldest living Californian and oldest surviving veteran of World War I. What’s more, doctors who performed the autopsy said that his body was like that of a 50 year-old, and here’s the catch: His diet was largely sausages and waffles! Hmmm… does that mean that sausages and waffles will give you the body of someone half your age, and help you live to an amazingly ripe old age too?

Well, no. As any good scientist will tell you, data taken from the life of one person doesn’t prove anything, no matter how interesting it may be. But if an entire region lived to amazingly old age, well, that would be something to pay attention to.

And in fact, there are a few remote locations where not just a few people but most of the population lives well into their 90s and beyond. Studies show that people in Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; and the Caucasus Mountains in Russia all live exceptionally long, healthy lives. A surprising number of them live to be not just 100, but 110, or even older. So, what is it about these people? And what can we learn from them that could help us live longer, healthier lives too?

Ducking the Golden Handshake
These three geographically diverse cultures share similar attitudes about work. For example, Okinawan octogenarian Zenei Nakamura is still working as a fisherman, as he has done all his life. He says, “My children tell me to stop fishing, but it is fun, and I feel more powerful doing it.” A cultural profile of the Caucasian people points up a similar attitude toward physical labor: researchers comment that these people work “like beasts,” eat little, and spend most of their leisure time sleeping.

All three communities depend on farming, fishing, and game. They spend a most of their time in the open air, which some have claimed is the secret to their longevity. But in fact, the single most common factor among these various people groups is physical activity.
Researchers have suggests that limited food quantities, daily exercise, and the lack of stress may all be factors that lead to long life. Hmmm… so that calorie-restricted diet may add on years as well subtracting pounds!

Reach Out and Touch Someone
All three of these long-lived communities boast strong social networks. And sexuality plays a role as well. The Okinawan Study that brought attention to the long lives of these people discovered that Okinawan elders have higher levels of sex hormones than their contemporaries in other parts of the world.

Other studies suggest that friendship, love, and social connections may hold clues to longevity and health for all of us. Men may benefit more than women, however.

You Are What You Eat
The agrarian lifestyle leads to diets that many have claimed are responsible for these groups’ longevity. Bradley Willcox, a physician associated with the University of Hawaii and author of The Okinawa Diet Plan and The Okinawa Way claims that the Okinawans’ longevity and health is at least partially due to a diet rich in soy and sweet potatoes. These foods contain flavonoids that stimulate what Willcox calls “the sirtuin pathway,” causing the body to focus on preservation rather than reproduction.

Wilcox has an official web site to help people follow the program. For a nominal fee this web site provides information, a meal planner that generates a shopping list and recipes, and interactive tools for tracking your progress. But even if you don’t join, there’s a good outline of the Okinawa program right here on the site, including a useful food pyramid for those who want to not only live longer but get slimmer.

John Robbins, author of Healthy at 100 also thinks diet is key. He notes that all statistically long-lived societies “eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and other natural foods that are lower in calories, protein, sugar and fat” than packaged and processed foods we are so used to. Omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats are more common in the diets of all three groups. You can get these health-promoting fats come from fish, seeds, and olives.

There is still much to be learned about why these particular diets might be so important. It’s clear that while there are some similarities, there are also many differences in the diets of these three groups: while the Okinawans eat fish, sweet potatoes and soy products, the Caucasians subsist on greens, mulberries, garlic and yogurt, and Sardinian favorites include fish, olives, red wine, and vegetable soups.

Doctor, Tell Me “Why?”
Diet is only one of many factors that will determine how long a person will live. Lifestyle is another. And genetics is a third. One researcher is even attempting to prove that in certain populations predisposed to long lives, inbreeding might actually be a good thing.
The next twenty years will likely see some very interesting medical breakthroughs in regard to aging in general, as well as in understanding the Okinawans, Sardinians, and Caucasians in particular. While all three groups are well documented, research on Sardinia has turned up some especially interesting theories to explain these phenomena.
One theory is that there might be a longevity gene, called the J haplogroup by geneticists Giovanna De Benedictis and L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza. De Benedictis reports encouraging preliminary findings that the frequency of the J haplogroup “was notably higher in centenarians than in younger individuals.”

Another interesting theory posits that in some individuals the immune system may adapt to aging. It will likely be years, however, before researchers unpack the significance of these early findings.

Never Say Die
Attitude may also play a role in the quest for longevity. In the Caucasus Mountains, for example, there is no word for “elderly” or “aged.” The closest they get is a Russian word that means “long-centuried,” but even that is a borrowed term not found in local dialects.
The island communities on Sardinia offer a slightly different slant, yet you definitely won’t find any large-print “Over the Hill” birthday cards here either. Instead, the custom is a special birthday greeting for centenarians for which they’ve coined a word, “akentannos,” meaning something like “congratulations for living to a century.” And each centenarian gets a special visit from the village elder, who presents him or her with a single red rose. Like the Caucasions, Sardinians’ expectations revolve around exceptionally long life, rather than frailty and decline.

One thing about health and longevity is clear. Whether on the coast of Japan, in the mountains of Russia, or on the island of Sardinia, these amazingly long-lived people are enjoying life. And that’s a lesson we can all take to heart.

Kathleen Bowers and Allison Pedrazzi

About the Author: Kathleen Bowers wrote Scarless Surgery, What’s in store in the Future and Who in the World Lives the Longest and Why. You can find her articles in www.body-philosophy.net. She has a passion for clear, compelling communication in the service of initiatives, programs, organizations, and collaborative that make a difference in our communities and our world. Much of her work is focused on poverty, literacy, patient advocacy, mental health, education and children.

This article was printed from: http://www.easyarticles.com/article-90291.htm

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