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There are seven noteworthy subcultures or communities where not only is the average lifespan significantly longer than in other parts of the world, but where more individuals live into old age than other places. Let’s see what they do right. We will focus on four.
Okinawa boasts the highest number of centenarians per capita in the world! Gardening, as a widespread and common activity, brings older citizens the benefits of sunshine, exercise, and nutritious plant-based foods. Okinawans adhere to a philosophy that promotes eating in moderation, and never gorging. They consume a lot of seaweed. They also have a sense of purpose, a positive outlook on life, and close social support groups called moais.
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
The prevalent mindset in this population encourages a lifestyle that is physically active, with plenty of time in nature as well as time spent on family and spirituality. They sleep 8 hours. And their diet includes not only nutrient-rich local fruits, beans, rice and corn, but also water that’s naturally high in energy.
Home to mineral hot springs, Ikaria has been a health destination for decades. Its residents stay active through walking, farming, and boating, but they also take time out to nap and socialize. They supplement their Mediterranean diet with lots of wild greens and drink a local nutrient-rich herbal tea. The community as a whole encourages good health habits and promotes regular social engagement.
Loma Linda, California, USA
Loma Linda, about sixty miles east of LA, is a community of 23,000 that includes about 9,000 Seventh-Day Adventists – a group that is significantly longer-lived than the average American. Adventist culture focuses on healthful habits such as vegetarianism, and excludes alcohol, caffeine, and smoking. Adventists drink plenty of water, exercise regularly, and tend to maintain a healthy weight. They nurture emotional and spiritual health, value their family relationships, and prize volunteering.
Here are some common ingredients of these particular communities:
1. A cultural environment that reinforces healthy lifestyle habits like diet and exercise
2. Strong social networks
3. Lots of gardening!
4. A cooperative community spirit
5. Public health care that is easily accessible
6. Seniors are valued as members of family and the community
7. A limited or zero consumption of refined sugar and other processed foods
8. Extremely low-stress lifestyles. (The American Medical Association has noted that stress is the basic cause of more than 60% of all human illness and disease.)
OK, those are some community and lifestyle factors in longevity. What about the personal, inner life traits or habits of people who live a long life?
The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study, by Friedman and Martin, (Hudson Street Press, March 2011) provides some surprising findings:
1. The strongest predictor of long life was conscientiousness, which is another word for self-responsibility. Conscientious people are less likely to smoke, engage in risky behavior, and have accidents; and they are more likely to focus on the big picture, and make good health choices moment to moment.
2. Avoiding stress alone doesn’t add up to longevity, but being engaged with meaningful work does. A sense of purpose far outweighs the absence of hassles. In fact, service to others ranked high in Friedman and Martin’s study – even greater than feeling loved by others! Go figure.
3. Being part of something bigger than yourself: selfish people die younger than people who belong to a group or to a movement. That can be a church or a religion, a healthy lifestyle, or the peace corp. People who volunteer for something live longer than those who don’t, but it has to be selfless. (The science shows that people who volunteer only for their own personal satisfaction don’t live any longer than people who don’t volunteer at all.)
4. Humming and singing. Yes, humming and singing. The healthiest people in the world seem to intuitively know the value of oxygen and regularly practice deep breathing in some form or other. Rigorous daily exercise is one way; humming or singing, another. (I bet the happiness factor plays into that).
5. Last, but not least, the authors found that people over 100 years old laugh a lot. In fact, easy to laugh and laughing often, are two of the traits high on the longevity list. Norman Cousins, author of Anatomy of an Illness, who cured himself of a serious autoimmune disease, through laughter (Marx Brothers films were his thing) believed that human emotions controlled the biology of our body and led to health or sickness.
I have only two things (my two cents) to add to all these findings:
Express yourself! People who are in touch with and show their emotions tend to feel more connected with others and with life itself. They tend to feel more at home in their skin and carry less tension overall. It’s the best way to stay mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy.
Focus on and fill your world with beauty and gratitude.
Those, to me, are the strongest, most natural normalizers in life. They keep the heart open and the will to live strong. They deepen our sense of appreciation and heighten our sense of acceptance. They feed the most real part of us.
Isn’t it beautiful that the things that extend life also improve its quality, and that the things that improve the quality of life also extend it? The goal, after all, is not just more time, but feeling wonderful all the time.
The Turners decided to study the two eating styles side by side over a 12-week fitness training regime from January to March this year. They were inspired by the growing popularity (and sometimes controversy) of vegan diets for athletes, following documentaries like “The Game Changers,” according to Ross.
“We wanted to take bias and opinion out of it and take down to the genetic level. We can get science involved because we’re twins and genetically identical, so we can compare ourselves in extreme environments,” Ross told Insider.
The pair monitored how they felt during the course of the experiment and were followed by researchers from King’s College, who tracked basic health metrics like weight, cholesterol, and muscle mass.
Both twins did endurance training at the gym five to six times a week, using a program designed by Ross, a personal trainer. They also ate an almost identical number of calories in meals prepared by the Mindful Chef delivery service.
By the end, they noticed some big differences in terms of muscle gains, fat loss, and digestive health.
Hugo had higher energy and lost fat on a vegan diet
Before giving up animal products for the experiment, Hugo weighed in about 185 pounds and 13% body fat. After about a month on the vegan diet, he said he had dropped nearly nine pounds. By the end of the experiment, he measured in at 181 pounds. Nearly all the weight lost was fat mass, with his overall body-fat composition dipping by a full percentage point, to 12%. His cholesterol levels also dropped.
Even more striking were his energy levels. Hugo said he felt significantly more alert during his lunchtime gym sessions, compared with his typical routine.
“On a vegan diet my mental focus was much better, I didn’t have the mid-afternoon energy dips, and felt a bit more charged,” he told Insider.
He said one explanation could be how the vegan diet changing his snacking habits. Since biscuits and chips aren’t vegan, he’d switched to mainly fruit and nuts.
Hugo noticed one exception to his higher energy levels — his libido, which he said dropped off sharply.
“I just lost it — I really don’t know what happened,” he said, adding that his experience may not be true for everyone.
The twins did not conduct blood tests during the experiment, but said they would do so if they tried something similar in the future. They could measure testosterone, for example, to see if it explains some of the changes.
Ross gained more mass overall
Ross has always been the slightly bigger of the brothers, and this was exacerbated by the experiment. From starting around 13% body fat, he put on 10 pounds of muscle, in addition to just over four pounds of fat. That brought his overall body fat percentage up slightly, to 15%, and his final weigh-in to 189 pounds.
His cholesterol levels stayed consistent throughout the 12-week duration.
Ross said the meal plan for this experiment was slightly more varied than his typical diet, and extremely balanced in terms of macronutrients, with array of chicken, fish, red meat, veggies, dairy, and grains.
Before this, a typical day of eating for the twins would include toast or porridge for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and some version of chicken, veggies, or pasta for dinner.
The vegan diet also caused big changes in the gut microbiome
For Hugo, the dietary change was even more significant, since his usual animal-based protein was swapped out for things like tofu, tempeh (fermented soybeans), and jackfruit.
“Eating a vegan diet, you almost have to overcompensate with variety, so I was eating foods I wasn’t really used to,” Hugo said.
As a result, his gut microbiome — the populations of beneficial bacteria that live in the human digestive system — also changed in some interesting ways, based on fecal samples analyzed by Atlas Biomed before and after the experiment.
Although Ross’ microbiome changed slightly, it remained much more consistent than his brother’s.
It’s not clear why those changes occurred, although the Turners hypothesized that the abrupt change to a vegan diet, and the relatively short duration of the experiment, might have been factors.
The Turners said they plan to incorporate more vegan foods — especially snacks — into their regular diet
One caveat of the experiment, the Turners said, was that 12 weeks wasn’t a long time for a typical dietary study. If they could do it over, the brothers said they’re prefer to trial the diets for six months to a year for better data.
But the brothers said they’ve learned a lot and plan to incorporate more plant-based eating in their lifestyle. The brothers are known for their endurance expeditions and want to test how vegan eating might benefits them on their treks.
“You lose about half a kilo of weight a day on an endurance trip, more than that if you’re carrying extra weight, so we like to be lean and mean nothing in between on the trip,” Hugo said.
He added that being forced to find vegan alternatives also greatly expanded his world of food options.
“One thing to come out of this is we don’t eat nearly enough variety of foods. Often, we kind of just disguise the same foods in different forms,” Hugo said. “But variety is the spice of life.”
Ross said that there tends to be a reluctance for meat eaters to try vegan foods, and he hopes this experiment will encourage dedicated omnivores to branch out, since many plant-based substitutes like vegan burgers are similar in taste and texture to the classics.
If you’re curious about trying veganism, he added, you don’t to go “cold tofu” and jump in all at once. Based on his experience, Hugo recommends starting with your snacking habits, and swapping out between-meal treats with vegan options.
The twins concluded that their optimal diet is a mix of plant- and animal-based foods.
“Having a vegan diet has benefits and so does eating meat. I don’t think either outshone the other here,” he said. “We’ll be doing a mix of both, having non-meat days and adding more vegan foods into our diet, eating better-quality meat and less of it. We’ve taken away the best of both worlds.”
Unleashing the Power of Plant-Based Diets by Brenda Davis, R.D.
Brenda Davis offers fresh insights on the treatment of animals in food production and other industries, the latest findings on the health benefits of a vegan diet and expanded the information on phytochemicals, Brenda’s information is extensive in scope, yet manageable for anyone who wants to easily understand how to construct a nutritionally balanced plant-based diet.
Here are the latest findings on: using plant foods to protect against cancer, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses; obtaining essential protein without meat, eggs, or dairy products; discovering “”good”” fats and where to find them; meeting dietary needs for calcium without dairy products; understanding the importance of vitamin B12; designing balanced vegan diets for infants, children, and seniors; and making the most of vegan pregnancy and breastfeeding.
This is a sound blueprint to follow for better health for yourself and the planet.
Many years ago, I was a 253 blob of a man with a cholesterol of 420. My best friend was a doctor who told me to just watch what I eat. That was the problem—everything I saw, I ate!
Realizing I had to take accountability for myself, I began the task of getting healthy. How I never had a heart attack was a miracle in itself. I followed many diets to no avail. Eventually, I read Nathan Pritikin’s books and started eating a diet consisting of nothing with a mother or father and lots of vegetables and fresh fruit. I did well on the program but felt too restricted and for one reason or another I was back to a bad diet. Fast forward 30 years and my weight was fluctuating from 220 to 240 while on a number of cholesterol drugs, niacin and whatever else would help. I was confused and frustrated. A life of deprivation is just no fun.
At age 60, I won the right to have an ablation for atrial flutter. That was the wakeup call. I studied and researched and got rid of as much stress as I could. I even divorced my wife of 42 years – lots of stress there! Biking and working out became an obsession, but you can’t outwork a bad diet. So, I read and researched again. I found the work of T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Ornish, Dr. Esselstyn, Dr. Barnard and all those who believe in a plant based whole food diet. I even read How Not To Die by Dr. Gregor. I sucked the information in like a sponge.
Somehow while searching YouTube, I discovered Dr. McDougall. How lucky for me because The Starch Solution was my solution! So easy, so tasty, no limitations on volume and all comfort food…heaven at last! And the weight melted off of me. I won’t bore you with the journey as I’m still on it, but I had to actually put on 10 pounds because even my doctor said 160 pounds at 6’2” was looking too lean. I think the best part of your program is that a little ketchup or sugar is okay, but just watch it. That in itself makes for no deprivation. I still laugh when people ask me how I lost all the weight and I tell them to just eat carbs! They don’t get it.
In short, because of you I have gone from 256 pounds down to a low of 160 pounds and back up to a healthy 170 pounds. A waist from 48 to 30 inches. I work out 3-4 times per week with weights, some cardio and I have completed four 100-mile bike rides for charity. My life partner is 15 years younger than me (I’m 73), so it’s important for me to slow the aging process down as much as possible.
Here are my current labs:
Total Cholesterol: 85 – Yes, not 185 but 85!
My preventive cardiologist says I have the lowest numbers he has ever seen. He kind of got me on the right track because he only eats fish and vegetables. I told him to cut out the fish but he says I’m just too disciplined. It makes me laugh. Yes, I’m really disciplined—when I get hungry I have a re-baked potato for a snack and never count calories or volumes.
Thank you so much for all of your tenacity and dedication. Don’t give up—the animals, this earth and people like me greatly appreciate all you have, and continue, to do for people and not for big Pharma. I just signed up for your mailings and am looking forward to one of your future programs. Thanks again for giving me my life back. When I finally get to meet you, I can thank you in person and I am looking forward to it.