Live like a centenarian

Susan Dawson-Cook

The Blue Zones, 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest highlights locales worldwide where high concentrations of people live to the ripe old age of 100 and beyond. Many live independently, are mentally agile and some even walk miles to the grocery or tend to crops or backyard gardens.

Longevity expert and National Geographic Explorer Dan Buettner shares secrets he’s learned from individuals living in these life-preserving communities. Although genetics play a large role in the longevity and health of many of these unusual people, lifestyle also plays an important component.

Although most aren’t prepared to pack up and move to Okinawa, Japan, a remote Greek island or the Costa Rican Rain Forest, all of us can employ health improving lifestyle changes. In addition to a supportive social network, Buettner’s investigations suggest that high daily activity level and a vegetable based diet prolongs life.

Ready to add some years to your life? Here’re a few suggestions:

1. Circulate blood throughout the day. Incorporate at least thirty days of continuous movement activity daily (walking, swimming, aerobics or bicycling, elliptical) and avoid sitting for long periods of time.

2. Keep muscles strong and functional. Do at least two strength workouts weekly to keep muscles strong so you can perform all activities of daily living (ADL) with ease. Prevent falls by working in balance activities. One 105 year old woman in Okinawa reported that she usually gets up and down off the floor up to thirty times a day. If you’re not sure how to begin a functional strength program, a certified personal trainer can get you started.

3. Go back to basics when it comes to diet. Fill most of your plate with fruits and vegetables. Sweet potatoes are a favorite in Okinawa. Fill the remaining space with lean meats, dairy and whole grains. Choose grains instead of starchy white flour products and avoid products rich in preservatives, saturated fat and sugar. Fat, sugar and preservative loaded foods cause inflammation. Chronic inflammation of the body not only leads to pain and discomfort, but also heart disease, obesity and other disabilities and illnesses.

4. Season foods with herbs. Salt is artery clogging whereas many herbs including garlic, turmeric and ginger have anti-inflammatory properties while adding flavor to food. Some women interviewed in Buettner’s books grew herbs in their backyards. A woman from Okinawa, when asked how many Cokes and hamburgers she had eaten during her life, shook her head and said she didn’t know what those were. She could say sweet potato in multiple languages though. Tucson weather is fortuitous for growing herbs and many fresh vegetables. Consider creating your own garden today and using it to enrich the meals you prepare.

By implementing some of the practices of the centenarians, we can improve the quality of our lives and potentially live longer.

Susan is an author, fitness and sports writer and a personal trainer with Vital Moves (850-4089).