In 1995, the Danish Twin Registry studied 2,872 Danish twin pairs born between 1870 and 1900 to understand the nature of longevity. It found that longevity is moderately heritable; only 15% to 30% of influence came from genes. Around the world there are nine acknowledged longevity hot spots: Okinawa, Japan; Bama, China; Hunza, Pakistan; Campodimele, Italy; Symi, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; Montacute, England; Nicoya, Costa Rica, and Loma Linda, USA.
In Okinawa the way food is eaten is as important as the type of food they eat. Okinawans apply various concepts to keep from over eating: anything from serving on smaller plates to the Hara Hachi bu Confucian method that instructs people to eat until they are 80% full. In the highlands of Sardinia, people eat a plant-based diet, a wine rich in polyphenols called Cannonau, and a cheese high in Omega-3 fatty acids from grass feed sheep called pecorino sardo. Sardinian elders are venerated for their age and wisdom, and are loved and embraced in their social structure. All this adds six years to their life expectancy.
Beach of Okinawa.
For humans the inevitable duplication of cells that occurs every 8 years produces aging. Every time this duplication occurs some degree of damage is carried over into the next generation. This damage continues to accumulate over a lifetime; however, within this paradigm, our body has the capacity to live until the age of ninety. About twelve years are being lost that can be recovered. Ruben Campbell from AKEA, a community based wellness organization, says, “the standard American diet is deficient in numerous nutrients. Without these nutrients, the body loses the ability to heal itself. This is the paramount reason 75% of Americans are dying from chronic diseases, diseases the body was designed to heal from. How do we know this? People living in longevity hot spots don’t get these illnesses.”
“We are designed to self-correct, and at the cellular level what best helps the body perform is fermented foods. People in longevity hot spots eat a great deal of fermented foods. Fermentation makes nutrients much more bioavailable to the body on a cellular level. What we put in our mouths is important, but it is even more important what makes it to our cells,” Campbell says.
In the United States a community of longevous people are the Seventh Day Adventist. The Adventists of Loma Linda, California are a heterogeneous group of people from all ethnicities that share a common lifestyle. In 1985, the results of a 12-year study on 34,000 Adventists created a flurry of interest in the media. On average Adventist men lived 7.3 years longer than other Californian men, and Adventist vegetarian men lived 9.5 years longer.
Loma Linda Diet.
About 35 percent of Adventists are vegetarians, and half rarely eat meat. An ideal Adventist diet includes lots of whole grains, seeds, legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables. They abstain from substances such as tobacco, caffeine and alcohol. The Seventh Day Adventists also structure their week around a day of rest, where all work and secular affairs cease. On the Sabbath they worship God, study the Bible and have an opportunity to strengthen their social ties.
In the Mediterranean, the small island of Symi is known for its many centenarians. Symiots keep busy throughout their lives despite their age; multifarious activities such as fishing, gardening, and looking after goats and sheep are part of their daily routine. They stay fit by walking up and down the hillside, or the 387 stone steps leading to the village. In Symi meals are accompanied by salads and wine, and extra virgin oil is used with everything. Symiots eat fresh-caught fish two or three times weekly, all other meat they eat only once a week–often stewed with the fat removed–and in small amounts to flavor vegetable-based dishes. They enjoy festivals and carnivals, as well as attending local churches to strengthen their bonds with family and friends.
Other common factors found in these healthy populations is that they live in an environment that binds them to physical activity; they have purpose in their lives, which gives them a positive outlook, they eat wisely and belong to a social group.
When it comes to longevity there is no quick fix, it is a process that takes a lifetime. So taking this into consideration, the habits of friends and people that surround you are the most important factor in adding a few extra years to your life. ■