In the News: Want to Live Longer?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

Ever wonder why some people live longer?

So did researcher Dan Buettner, whose recent book is "The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest." With help from National Geographic and the National Institute on Aging, Buettner found four areas of the world where people reach age 100 at higher-than-normal rates and live longer.

We can stop blaming our family for our life span. As it turns out, life expectancy is only 6 percent based on gene and 94 percent based on environment.

So where are these places that are seemingly equipped with Fountains of Youth?
They're in Southern Okinawa in Japan, the mountain highlands of Sardinia off the Italian coast, the Nicoya peninsula of Costa Rica and Loma Linda, Calif., (specifically the Seventh-Day Adventists who live there, not the general population). [Many Seventh-Day Adventists adhere to a vegetarian diet rich in whole grains and nuts, and they abstain from alcohol and smoking.]

Buettner says food is about 25-30 percent of the reason why these people are living longer.

Most of them eat a plant-based diet with minimal processed foods and plenty of built-in cultural mores to keep from eating too much.

The Japanese, for example, follow a principle called "hari hachi bu," which means eat until you're 80 percent full. (Because by the time your brain catches up with your stomach, you will be full.)

Here are more tips, from people who live the longest:
  • They eat off smaller plates.
  • They never have a TV in the kitchen, and families eat together.
  • Good food is on display and easy to eat.
  • They have very active lifestyles, with plenty of walking and gardening.

While you can't pick up and move to rural Central America, there are some things we can all do to help extend our lives (and maybe even shrink our waistlines).

Eat from a smaller plate or bowl. A standard 3-ounce serving of protein (the size of a deck of cards) is dwarfed by our 12-inch plates. A half-cup of pasta (the size of a billiard ball) barely covers the bottom of our oversized "pasta" bowls. Use a small bowl (or even a coffee mug!) and a salad plate for your meals, and you won't feel deprived. (Do this even if you're eating takeout. It's much easier to portion control when you're not eating out of a box or a styrofoam tray.)

Use silverware. When I worked second shift on the copy desk of a major metropolitan newspaper, we frequently ordered pizza on busy nights. We'd eat at our desks because deadlines beckoned, but I'd always eat my pizza with a knife and fork. (Plastic ones and a paper plate, I'm ashamed to say.) Why? Well, I didn't want to get my keyboard greasy, but mostly because cutting my pizza into bites slowed me down. It's really easy to wolf down a slice of pizza. Cut it in fork-sized bites, and you're almost certainly going to eat less. Try it. Also, make sure you use the proper size silverware.

Eat less meat. You don't have to swear off meat completely. Just forgo the beef, chicken or pork one or two nights a week. You'll save money and likely consume less fat and cholesterol. (See my previous blog post for more tips on eating less meat.)

Keep healthy food around and ready to eat. Wash and chop up veggies, display fruit on the counter in a bowl, and cook healthy whole grains in batches so they're ready to eat. Keep dips and salsas on hand for guilt-free dipping. Veggies and low-fat dip or hummus are suddenly more appealing when you can just grab them and go.

Clear off the table. If your house is like mine, the dining room table becomes a resting place for everything from mail to computers. Clear it off, step away from the TV and eat dinner at the table. When I lived alone in Korea, I found it rather depressing to eat by myself, until I switched off the TV and actually sat at my dining room table. From then on, I'd get out a real plate and chopsticks no matter what I was eating, and I'd spend 20 minutes really savoring my food. I enjoyed my food more, and I stopped overeating.

Eat whole food. Sure, processed foods are tasty and easy to prepare, but think about what you're eating. A good rule of thumb: The closer a food is to its original state, the better it will be for you. You can make pasta with a fresh tomato sauce in the time it takes to make a box of macaroni and cheese, but you'll feel much better after you eat it.

With a few small changes, we can all add years to our lives. Sounds like a great idea to me!
*Photo by me of Japanese wedding at Meiji Jingu temple in Tokyo, February 2006.

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  • KLILLY89
    Going along with what HEATLW said, you never really understand how your body acclimates itself to what you eat until you give up a type of food and then experience the after pain of eating it on a special occation. When I simply stopped eating fast food not only did I feel and look fantastic, but I was surprised at how awful I felt when would occationally drive-through with my friends. Unforchenetly I have gotten back into bad habbits just because of the convience, but it is a simple change worth spending the extra time on. Even if I dont live longer, at least I will live better and hopefully advoid food related health issues. - 1/31/2011   10:20:54 PM
  • 26
    Along with using smaller plates and using mugs and cups for serving, I have found that measuring cups and measuring spoons have become an integral part of food preparation and serving. I have several of each in plastic, glass and metal. I wouldn't be without them! Thanks for the great article. - 8/3/2009   10:11:34 AM
    great article. seems like common sense. Dont over eat, stay away from processed food. eat with family, keep healthy snacks around! the article just stresses things we should already be doing!! - 7/23/2009   10:45:54 AM
  • 24
    great blog - 3/15/2009   12:08:22 PM
  • 23
    Wonderful article. Great info to know. - 2/1/2009   5:30:15 AM
  • 22
    We have lived in various countries and have been asked many times - "Why do you have all you can eat resturants, can you really eat more than one plate?"

    Struggling, but decidely I am going to eat for my health and no other reason. Thank goodness for every article, blog, and email that comes and reminds us to rethink why we eat. These ongoing conversations are going to be a HUGE help in the rest of my weight loss success.

    Thanks - 10/26/2008   7:27:36 AM
  • 21
  • 20
    Since joining SP; reading all these types of articles; and logging everything I consume has really opened my eyes AND changed the way my body also reacts to food. Last night we heated up a frozen no-name lasagne, and I must have drank 3 bottles of water since. I am so de-hydrated. This thing had 38% of my daily sodium intake in one 1/8 of a pan serving, NOT taking leftovers for lunch today that's for sure. Also, I ate at the Keg a few weeks ago, it had been years, so I order the sirloin oscar(has a bernaise, scallop, and shrimp sauce on the steak) stomach was upset for a couple of days due to the richness of the food I had consumed there. Mind you it was too die for, and like a 2000 calorie meal, but I won't do that again for a very long time. When I stick with natural foods my body WORKS better for me. - 9/23/2008   7:02:10 AM
  • 19
    This is great. Calorie restriction is the only proven factor known to increase longevity. There are some great (and interesting) groups who practice the CRON methodology (calorie restriction with optimal nutrition.) - 9/22/2008   9:54:39 AM
    this is a good reminder of things we're all likely been told or read before. But out of 94% of life expectancy based on environment, if food determines 25-30% of life expectancy, what about the other 64%??!?? - 9/18/2008   4:20:03 PM
  • 17
    Thanks for the great article! Just reaffirms what I have already been doing.... - 9/18/2008   8:49:15 AM
    Most of the suggestions are common sense. If you prepare your own food from scratch (80% atleast) by yourself , you know what you put in rather tahn buying from store and stuff in Microwave or stove and eat. Also avoid frequesnt trips to restaurant and fast food joints because they provide too much food and that adds on much faster on body than useful. Good article. - 9/17/2008   1:02:07 PM
  • 15
    Know it need to practice it.That is the struggle!! - 9/15/2008   10:44:59 AM
    People have forgotten to eat to live. Too many eat for entertainment and no longer listen, nor can they hear what their bodies are saying, because of all the chemicals in their bodies from the faux foods.
    Great article! - 9/5/2008   10:06:58 AM
  • 13
    Great article. - 9/4/2008   1:39:00 AM
  • 12
    Using smaller dishes defninitely helps! Mom started us with smaller plates a long time ago. Even with seconds, we ate less overall than we did with regular plates.

    Another trick is to learn to artfully plate food. Think about the way food is served in some of the finer restaurants: on large plates but with assorted small garnishes and limited amounts of sauce drizzled around. Beautiful isn't it? And how much did you think about the (generally) smaller portion size because it was both sad and fun to carefully disassemble the artwork as you savored it? In other words, use lots of "white space" for decorating and setting off items. - 9/4/2008   12:37:10 AM
  • 11
    I wish I had a dining room table... heck I wish I had a dining room to put a dining table in. What I have is a tiny flat with a tiny kitchen, a living room (with no room for table) and two bedrooms. *sighs* - 9/1/2008   7:07:08 PM
  • 10
    People always want to tell me that I'm not going to live any longer than they do just because I eat healthy and take good care of myself. Thanks for helping me to validate my belief system and my commitment to those chuckleheads;-). Besides, even if I don't live longer, at least my quality of life will make the time that I'm here well worth the time and effort!!! - 8/28/2008   6:49:20 AM
  • 9
    We have quite a few people in our area that are in their 100-s or close to it. One lady just turned 106. Her dentist told her when she turned 100 that he would give her dental services for free (She still has all her own teeth). After 6 years he told her if she makes it to 110 that they'll have to renegotiate. - 8/25/2008   2:13:52 PM
  • 8
    Jack LaLanne, the Godfather of Fitness is 93 now and still works out two hours every single morning of his life. He is in wonderful health. He says "I don't care how long I live, I just want to be LIVING while I'm alive." - 8/24/2008   2:22:21 AM
  • 7
    I grew up in Okinawa and lived in a small village. They also have a relaxed attitude toward life, not rushing or being exactly on time for anything which they call Okinawa time. The 90-year-olds are still working in fields, and very rarely would you ever see anyone that is even slightly overweight. Many of these elderly people weighed about 80 lbs and were still strong and healthy. - 8/22/2008   6:17:27 PM
  • 6
    Most of these we've learned at Spark already but its always good to reiterate that over & over again until we know it by heart! - 8/22/2008   8:18:22 AM
  • 5
    Thanks for the article. Good to know. - 8/21/2008   6:36:51 AM
    Great article! - 8/19/2008   7:07:44 PM
  • 3
    I have been eating pretty clean for the past 5 months now and already feel so much better. I ask myself if this food I am about to eat was available to my great grandparents? If it wasn't I am probably not going to eat it. I am guilty of eating at the computer tho.. we had to remove the kitchen table to get the birds cage into the house.. - 8/16/2008   11:34:46 AM
    I am going to print this and hang in the kitchen...thanks for sharing. - 8/16/2008   10:02:21 AM
  • 1
    Great information that we all 'know' but must apply! - 8/16/2008   9:03:35 AM

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