The Health Secrets of the Healthiest People on the Planet
The world's Blue Zones are five regions with the world's highest concentrations of people who've lived to age 100 and beyond. They are Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; and Okinawa, Japan. Their residents don't only live longer, they're in excellent health. For years, scientists have studied these populations, analyzing their habits in detail to glean the secrets to health, happiness, and longevity. Here are five key discoveries. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs COVID is Hurting You—Even After a Negative Test.
Stress is one of the leading causes of chronic inflammation. It also has direct links to major age-related health issues, from dementia to Alzheimer's disease. Okinawa, Japan, is home to some of the longest-living people in the world. According to the Blue Zones website, that's partly because they have a number of habits that reduce stress: They get outside and into the sunshine year-round; they're highly sociable; they take time to pray or meditate daily; and they garden regularly. Studies show all those activities reduce stress.
In Nicoya, Costa Rica, a high percentage of people live into their 100s and are in excellent health. One factor: They're highly social. The cities are set up so people encounter each other frequently, and they walk to their errands, where they converse with each other. Multiple generations of family live together, and neighbors are considered extended family, always welcome for socializing.
Extensive research has found that social isolation increases your risk of heart disease, cancer, dementia, and early death. Why? Loneliness is another form of stress, which taxes the heart, brain and immune system. It can also encourage unhealthy habits.
Eat a Mediterranean Diet
On the Greek isle of Ikaria, people live eight to 10 years longer than Americans and have half the rate of heart disease, significantly less cancer, and almost no cases of dementia. They also eat the most rigorous version of the Mediterranean diet in the world, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes and olive oil. Lean protein is a part of the Mediterranean Diet, but Ikarians eat much less meat and fish—and a lot more vegetables—than other regions. Another key: They cook at home, as do many centenarians in blue zones. When you cook for yourself, you control how healthy your ingredients are. Cooking can also provide exercise.
Have More Sex
In Ikaria, more than 80 percent of people between ages 65 and 100 have sex regularly. It's not just anecdotal that sex enhances longevity: A study of 1,000 45- to 59-year-old Welsh men found that men who experienced frequent orgasms had half the risk of death from coronary heart disease as men who had less frequent orgasms.
Another trait the world's oldest people share: They get regular physical activity. Ikaria is a hilly region where hiking is a way of life. Okinawans walk and bike to get from place to place more often than using cars, and they do it regularly from a young age. (Centenarians in Okinawa also garden regularly—an activity the American Heart Association counts as moderate-intensity exercise.) And to live your healthiest life, don't miss this life-saving advice I'm a Doctor and Here's the #1 Sign You Have Cancer.