Healthy Lifestyles Around the World

Try these proven anti-aging foods and habits enjoyed by centenarians around the globe.

| September/ October 2017

  • Make mealtimes special by sharing them with friends and family.
    Photo by iStock/shironosov
  • A walking commute to work through the steep terrain of Sardinia, Italy helps keep locals healthy.
    Photo by Getty Images/alxpin
  • The Sardinian diet is full of vegetables, especially tomatoes and fennels, with no shortage of herbs.
    Photo by Getty Images/brittak
  • Ikarians stick to ancient traditions of eating mostly beans and cheese from goats and sheep.
    Photo by Getty Images/J_Kilou
  • Wild-foraged mushrooms and greens are favored on Ikarian plates.
    Photo by Getty Images/Foxys_forest_manufacture
  • Japan's Okinawa Islands have the longest-living women on Earth, who eat fish every day.
    Photo by Getty Images/SeanPavonePhoto
  • Okinawan people like a little of everything: tofu, brown rice, seaweed, and plenty of garlic.
    Photo by Getty Images/GI15702993
  • The Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica keeps active while eating fiber- and protein-rich foods.
    Photo by Getty Images/ManuelVelasco
  • Chewy, nutty barley is so nutritious that it's the food most strongly linked with living to be 100!
    Photo by Getty Images/nata_vkusidey
  • The Nicoyan diet gives fresh foods their due, consisting largely of squash, yams, black beans, bananas and papayas.
    Photo by GettyImages/nata_vkusidey
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    Loma Linda, California residents are mostly vegetarians in a strong community, who drink lots of water.
    Photo by Loma Linda University Health
  • Alongside lots of water, Loma Lindans consume avocados, legumes and nuts.
    Photo by Getty Images/OksanaKiian
  • Fresh herbs should be consumed liberally and often, and an easy way to incoporate them is in tea.
    Photo by Getty Images/tycoon751
  • Any fermented or sprouted whole grain makes a nutritious addition to your daily diet.
    Photo by Getty Images/Alexcrab
  • Stay active with friends and family.
    Photo by Getty Images/monkeybusinessimages

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According to the people whose job it is to work toward preventing chronic disease in the United States — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — most of the conditions that cause us to age rapidly and die early are preventable. These conditions, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity and arthritis, also are among the most expensive health problems. Not only can we prevent much of this, but it may be possible to reverse illness — at any age.

All over the planet, we find groups of people who tend to suffer these debilitating afflictions far less than others, and who enjoy much longer-than-average life spans. Celebrated National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner and his team of researchers have spent more than 10 years documenting the world’s longest-living and healthiest people. The five spots they’ve found with the highest concentration of people who live to be 100 years old — and do so free of chronic disease — are dubbed “Blue Zones.” Collectively, they represent a diversity of cuisines.

Perhaps we can learn from these groups, who enjoy happy, healthy, extraordinarily long lives filled with energy, people and purpose. What are they doing right?

Around the World in 6 Amazing Diets

When it comes to longevity, the specific foods these people eat do play a role, according to Buettner’s investigations, but that may matter less than the state in which foods are consumed — fresh, organic, close to the source, unprocessed, additive-free. Some of the longest-living people on Earth have coffee, bread and cheese every day, and hardly ever eat fish. But then, some eat fish every week. Others never, ever skip happy hour. These centenarian populations do share some common threads, however. We’ll look at these first through the lens of food choices, then eating habits, and finally, additional lifestyle factors that contribute to longevity.

In places where many people live to be 100 years old and do so without contracting heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity, food choices are not driven by “diet.” They’re just part of life — what seems, to these centenarians, to be the natural way of eating. Mountains of nutrition research support their apparently effortless wisdom. Let’s check them out.

Sardinia, Italy

The active, long-living people of the mountainous highlands of Sardinia eat lots of bread to fuel all their strenuous walking. The steeper the terrain from their homes to their work, the longer Sardinians live. The beloved Sardinian flatbread is made from whole-grain, high-protein durum wheat, and other sourdough breads are made from wheat, rye and barley. Barley is also popular here as a cooked grain in soups and salads. In Buettner’s research, barley was found to be the food most associated with living to be 100 years old. Or maybe it’s the red wine we should credit for Sardinian longevity? Sardinians have the enviable habit of drinking a few ounces of red wine three or four times a day, starting in the morning. They also get together in the village by late afternoon for a social happy hour.

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