Longevity is one of man’s greatest dreams.
Today, many scientists argue that the fountain of youth lies hidden within the genes of a lucky few. But, sociologists have long known that good genes alone do not guarantee longevity.
Comprehensive studies of societies in which a large number of individuals reach and exceed the age of 100 have revealed the presence of a series of factors that are definitely not connected to the quality of one’s genes. Put plainly, how people live has a lot to do with how long they live.
The following is a short overview of the 4 places in the world where a majority of the population reach their centennial birthdays. The study of these societies can help us find the key to longevity by deciphering the genetic and lifestyle factors that are unique to these cultures.
The picturesque islands of Okinawa have over one million inhabitants. Of these one million inhabitants over 900 are currently over the age of 100. This number represents 5 times as many centennials as can be found in other parts of Japan and 4 times as many centenarians as are present in the United States and Great Britain.
What sets Okinawa’s centennials apart from those seen around the world is the quality of life that they enjoy in their golden years. The Okinawan people’s lifestyle has led them to discover the key to longevity along with the fountain of youth. Not only are the Okinawan people likely to live past the age of 100 they are also most likely to do so while maintaining perfect health. This phenomenon has earned Okinawa the nickname, “Home of The Happy Immortals”.
Researchers studying the lifestyle of the Okinawan people believe that the key to deciphering the secret behind these people’s longevity lies in their diet. The Okinawan people have traditionally maintained the habit of consuming a low-salt, low-fat, anti-oxidant rich diet which consists 20% of fish, tofu, soy products and seaweeds and 80% of fruits and vegetables. The wide range of healthy, all natural fruits and vegetables of the Okinawan diet include purple sweet potatoes, goya melons and sea grapes. Not to mention, the the fact that antioxidant rich green tea is a mainstay in all the meals consumed by the Okinawan people.
But what these people don’t eat may also shine a light on their secret to longevity. Hara hachibu is a distinct cultural practice of the Okinawan people in which they eat only until they are 80% full. On average adults consume only around 1,200 calories a day. Whether this practice helps contribute to the Okinawan people’s longevity is still under debate.
Other factors that are also believed to contribute to the Okinawan people’s longevity lie at the heart of their cultural and spiritual beliefs. The Okinawan people are a deeply spiritual people who respect their elders and celebrate the health and good fortune of the oldest living relative. Many sociologists believe that maintaining the respect of their family and friends contributes to the elders’ outlook, quality of life and willingness to live longer.
Loma Linda, California
Loma Linda, CA is mostly populated by a religious group known as The Seventh-Day Adventists. The followers of this faith adhere to the religious philosophy, “The body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and thus must be kept pure”. For this reason members of The Seventh-Day Adventist church strive to live a healthy lifestyle which includes such things as not smoking, drinking, or engaging in any other impure activities or thoughts that can place undue stress on the body or soul.
So as you can see, many locals believe that their faith contributes to the longevity so many of them enjoy. Though this may sound far fetched to many of us, the fact of the matter is that a number of studies have established a direct correlation between spirituality and longevity.
Researchers do not fully understand this phenomenon, yet. But, a number of studies have shown that people who attend places of worship, on a regular basis, regardless of their religion, live longer than those who do not engage in religious activities. Some claim that those who attend religious activities, on a regular basis, have considerably lower levels of stress, and perhaps, because of this, they enjoy longer healthier lives.
Another factor worth mentioning is that The Seventh-Day Adventist church encourages its followers to adhere to a primarily vegetarian diet which has long been linked to longevity. For this reason, Loma Linda houses one of the biggest vegetarian communities in America and the Loma Linda Baker’s Drive-Thru is famous for being the first fast food chain in America to feature a fully vegetarian menu.
Ovvoda, Sardinia is a curious case! This small town in Italy boasts as many as five centenarians among its 1,700 residents. But, most remarkable of all is the fact that as many men as women in Ovvado reach their 100th birthday. Many outsiders, looking in on this small community, attribute their strict adherence to the Mediterranean diet with the longevity so many of them enjoy. However, the people of Ovvoda attribute their longevity to their genes, specifically to the gene pool they have managed to create through centuries of inner marriage amongst themselves.
For centuries, the families in this place have lived in complete isolation from the rest of the world. As a result, they have been forced to marry only other Ovvodan. Genetic analysis of the Ovvodan people have shown that the majority of them descent from only a handful of original settlers. In other words, everyone is genetically related. Now in most cases, this is a serious cause for alarm. However, in the curious case of the people of Ovvoda, this in-breeding has managed to create a remarkable gene pool in which the genes for longevity are isolated and passed on from generation to generation.
Scientists are currently studying the genetic pool of the people of Ovvoda. So, far the only discovery that they have made is the presence of a faulty gene on the x chromosome which is responsible for the production of an enzyme known as G6PD. Now, scientists are studying the role G6PD plays in longevity.
This small village in southern Ecuador is nestled in an elevated valley known by two names: “The Playground of The Inca” and “Valley of Longevity”. Due to its remote location, Vilcabamba is mostly cut off from the influences of modern life. However, the fact that the people of Vilcabamba don’t enjoy many of the conveniences of modern life has not stopped them from living long healthy lives.
Scientists have been studying the people of Vilcabamba since the early 1950’s in an effort to discover their secret to longevity. What they have discovered is a near total lack of chronic illness amongst these people. Further studies have linked the longevity and remarkable health of the Vilcabamba people to their environment. These studies are best summarized through the words of Dr. Richard Laurence Millington Synge, a Nobel Chemistry Prize winner and the man who discovered amino acids. Dr. Synge claims that “there are remarkable medicinal qualities to be found in the plant-life in certain places near the Equator with the valley of Vilcabamba being one of these areas”. Scientific chemical assay techniques have confirmed Dr. Synge’s claim by showing that the fruit, roots and herbs of this particular Equatorial sub-area offer some of the strongest anti-oxidant protection in the world.
Another study, conducted in 1981 by Dr. Morton Walker determined that the mineral rich water that the Vilcabambans drink is the key to their longevity and remarkable health. Laboratory analysis of the Vilcabamba water determined that the unique balance of enriched colloidal minerals in their drinking water is ideal for promoting optimum human health.
These findings, coupled with the fact that the Vilcamba people consume a primarily vegetarian diet free of all types of pesticides and preservatives and engage in a substantial amount of daily physical activity can help explain their longevity and remarkably good health.