Centenarians. People who live to 100-years-old and beyond. These people are fascinating to us because we want to know what they do differently that sets them apart from the rest of us who die before that coveted 100th birthday.
Is it genetics?
Is it what they eat?
Does exercising play a role?
Generally speaking, how can we emulate their behavior so that we too have the chance to live very long lives?
Lucky for us young, yet aspiring centenarians (seriously, who doesn’t want to live for 100 years?), these old folks have quite a few behaviors in common and their longevity is not due to any stellar set of genes. Even better, their behaviors can be emulated with ease and will actually make the time we are on the planet that much sweeter, more fulfilling and filled with vibrant health.
Interestingly, strong social relationships are the most influential factor in whether or not centenarian status will be obtained. One intensive study conducted by researchers at Harvard found that people who were disconnected from others were roughly three times more likely to die than people with strong social ties. What astounded the researchers most was that those with close social bonds and unhealthful lifestyles (such as smoking, obesity, and lack of exercise) actually lived longer than those with poor social ties but more healthful living habits. Needless to say, people with both healthful lifestyles and close social ties lived the longest of all.
Wondering if that study was an anomaly? Nope. Other studies on our social bonds and living long show similar results. And the type of social relationship or whom it is with doesn’t matter; it’s the closeness of the relationship that counts. Even people with pets live longer than those who are have no furry friends. One compelling study found that, in patients hospitalized with coronary heart disease, those who had a cat or dog around to cuddle and love were six times less likely to die than those without an animal companion. Aw, this statistic makes me want to go to my local animal shelter and visit some furry friends!
So, after loving social relationships, what is the second biggest piece of the longevity pie? No surprise here: it’s what we put in our mouths. All of the longest-lived societies consumed diets that shared certain commonalities. They all ate plenty of veggies and fruits, whole grains over processed white flour, and consumed little meat, dairy, sugar or added fats.
The Okinawans of Japan, once known for having the most people live to 100 and beyond, ate an average of seven servings of vegetables, seven servings of whole grains, and two servings of soy products every day. Their consumption of meat, dairy, added fats and sugar was nearly nonexistent. Those statistics, however, were from fifty years ago. Today, Okinawa has become “Americanized” and people can be seen eating McDonald’s, ice cream, chips and other junk foods. As a result, their phenomenal life expectancy statistics remain noteworthy no more. But if you eat more like the Okinawans of today (as I’m assuming most people reading this do), don’t fret. Improving the quality of your diet can be as simple as piling more vegetables on your dinner plate or choosing whole wheat bread over white.
Other than relationships and diet, being optimistic, exercising in moderation, and not smoking were factors shown to increase longevity. Maintaining a positive outlook helps us overcome setbacks at a faster rate, keeps us moving forward and is important for our emotional well-being. And that’s important as study after study shows that our emotional well-being is intrinsically tied to our physical health.
So, when hard knocks come your way, for instance, a relationship breakup, a bad grade on an exam, or getting fired from a job, make sure to seek comfort in friendships, seek out laughter and find your most optimistic, positive self. Making the time to exercise and taking care to eat healthy (and delicious) foods will undoubtedly help too. Who knows, you just might live to be 100.
And if that’s not your goal, well, at least you’ll feel great in the present.