Looking for Answers in Places Where People Live the Longest


They also have a sense of purpose called "ikigai," that Buettner describes in "The Blue Zone" as a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Researchers have studied if "ikigai" can affect health and a 2008 study found that simply having this sense of purpose could help lower a person's mortality risk.

America has its own "Blue Zone" in the small town of Loma Linda, Calif., outside of Los Angeles. With a population of approximately 23,600, Loma Linda is home to the largest population of Seventh Day Adventists in the U.S. People who are Seventh Day Adventists also happen to be some of the healthiest Americans.

In 1958 researchers realized the town had a significantly lower mortality rate than other areas and started to investigate why. In subsequent studies researchers from Loma Linda University found that Seventh Day Adventists tend to live four to seven years longer than their non-Adventist counterparts.

Annie Bennet, a researcher on a current study looking at the health of Seventh Day Adventists nationwide says there is no trick to leading a healthy life.

"Seventh day Adventists live a healthy life style," said Bennet. "They don't drink alcohol. They don't smoke, and to a large extent abstain from eating meat."

The Seventh Day Adventists also eat whole grains, fruit, nuts, vegetables and abstain from caffeine and foods high in saturated fat. Additionally they remain focused on the religious community and reserve Saturday as a day of rest to be spent with family.

Last year, according to the San Bernadino County Sun, the Loma Linda Chamber of Commerce honored nine new centenarians last fall with a "Seniors in the Blue Zone" themed parade.

Mario Garrett, a professor of gerontology at San Diego State University, says there is one common thread among these locations in that they all offer a sense of community and belonging.

"That's why they're living longer as a cluster," said Garrett. "If there was no social [environment] we would find is [centenarians] scattered across the world."

Garrett says one additional key element is that the elderly are not excluded from activities.

"In most other societies, we find once you reach a certain age people discount you," said Garrett. "Even in Corsica [where people are not outgoing] they belong to each other. That promotes the longevity."

Buettner, who has taken lessons he learned in various "Blue Zones" and attempted to implement them in different U.S. cities through his Blue Zone company, says there is no one thing people can do to replicate the health of Blue Zone residents. Instead people can do lots of little things which can add up to a longer and healthier life.

However, Buettner says there is one trait that people over 100 tend to share: they're usually pretty agreeable.

"Every main principle investigator [of a centenarian study] will say it's hard to measure likability, but the grumps seem to die out," said Buettner.

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