If you could wave a wand and get your wish, how long would you choose to live? Would it be 100, 150, maybe more? But did you think about how healthy you’d be at that age?

A long life is surely desirable, but a long and healthy life is more so. Now, science is finding that the answer to living both long and healthy is not just in our genes, but in how our genes interact with, and express themselves through, our individual lifestyles and environments.

According to 2017 Statistics Canada data, average life expectancy in Canada is just over 84 years. In 1900, life expectancy was just over 47 years.

The extra decades we enjoy today are the result of ad- vancements made in antibiotics, vaccines, sanitation, and improved detection and treatment of many diseases.

But now that we are living longer, how do we optimize our healthspan? How do we age well, delay the onset of

Longevity is the time you’re alive. Healthspan is the time you’re free of disease and enjoying your longevity. Together, longevity and healthspan partner, allowing us to age well and defy disease.

Aging well and defying disease is the genetic gift of some centenarians. They still die of the same chronic dis- eases as everyone else, but they develop these diseases 20 or 30 years later than their younger counterparts.

Why do some live longer and healthier? Studies suggest, it’s not a perfect genome that makes the dif- ference, instead it’s a combination of genes, lifestyle, and environment.

Still more research is suggesting that it may be the absence of bad genes that enables centenarians to exist.

We do know there are genes that slow aging, called longevity genes. The current hypothesis is that the pres- ence of these genes protects against disease and slows aging, therefore granting us longevity.

And by way of a complex interplay of variants in our genotype, combined with our lifestyle and environment, longevity genes can be expressed.

For instance, a Yale study of a group of 4,765 people with an average age of 72 found those who carried a gene variant linked to dementia, but had positive attitudes about aging, were 50% less likely to develop the disorder than people who carried the gene and faced aging with more pessimism or fear.


Blue Zones are five areas around the world where the world’s greatest number of healthy, happy centenarians live. Researchers found these areas to be:

  • Sardinia, Italy. The mountainous highlands of inner Sardinia have the world’s highest concentration of male centenarians.
  • Icaria, Greece. An Aegean island with one of the world’s lowest rates of middle-age mortality and the lowest rates of dementia.
  • Nicoya, Costa Rica. With the world’s lowest rates of middle-age mortality and the second highest concentration of male centenarians.
  • Okinawa, Japan. The world’s longest-lived popula- tion of women over 70.
  • Loma Linda, California. A concentration of faith, whose members live 10 years longer than their North American counterparts.

In researching these and other locations, scientists found nine common diet and lifestyle habits that provide evidence of their populations’ aging success.

1. Move your body

  • The world’s longest-lived people live in environ- ments that encourage movement without having to think about it.
  • They grow gardens and do their house and yard work without using technology.
  • Regular exercise is an integral part of preventing premature aging. Exercise stimulates lymphatic drainage, tones the muscles, eases stress, stimu- lates internal organs, relieves depression, pro- motes sleep, reduces cholesterol, and facilitates clear thinking. It also releases endorphins, which naturally lift your mood.
  • Moderate exercise, 3 to 4 times per week, is ideal to start. Regular movement is the single most import- ant thing you can do to support your longevity!

2. Find your purpose

  • The Okinawans call it “Ikigai,” and the Nicovans call it “plan de vida.” Both phrases refer to “why I wake up in the morning.”
  • Having a sense of your “purpose” may add up to 7 years’ extra life expectancy.
  • Tap into your inner artist! Art can inspire an aging body and mind. Diverse activities such as music, dance, painting, quilting, singing, poetry writing, and storytelling can add meaning, joy, and a vibrant sense of well-being to the lives of older people

3. Shed your stress

  • Even people in the Blue Zones experience stress, but the world’s longest-lived people have routines that help them shed their stress.
  • All major age-related disease is associated with stress because stress leads to chronic inflammation.
  • Managing stress levels is crucial to slow the aging process. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Loma Lindans pray, Ikarians take naps, and Sardinians do happy hour.
  • To keep stress levels low, allow yourself alone time every day to meditate or relax, and do something you enjoy.

4. Live the 80/20 Rule

  • “Hara hachi bu,” an ancient mantra, is said before meals and reminds the Okinawans to stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full.
  • The 20% gap between feeling satisfied and feeling completely full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it. It sometimes takes 15 to 20 meals to reset the muscle memory of the stomach, so it becomes accustomed to less food.
  • People in the Blue Zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening, and they don’t eat the rest of the night. This puts less stress on their digestive systems and allows the body to focus on regeneration.
  • Eat mostly plants! You can also include beans, like fava, black, soy, and lentils, which are the corner- stone of most centenarian diets.
  • Eat a variety of colours! Add dark-coloured fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries, cherries, spin- ach, and kale, to your diet. They are loaded with nutrients, fibre, and carotenoids.
  • Eat less meat! Centenarians eat meat only an aver- age of 5 times per month. The serving sizes are 3 to 4 oz., about the size of a deck of cards. There is data showing that seniors—adults over 65 years of age—benefit from increasing animal protein consumption, and it does not increase their cancer risk. The benefits are reduced frailty and sarcopenia (loss of muscle tissue), which are threats to mobil- ity and loss of function each year after 65.

5. Limit your alcohol

  • The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) now recommends no more than 2 drinks per week for both women and men.
  • The CCSA says even 3 to 6 drinks a week can increase the risk of developing certain cancers, such as breast cancer or colon cancer, while more than 7 drinks per week can increase the risk of developing heart disease and stroke.

6. Belong

  • All but 5 of the 263 centenarians interviewed belonged to some faith-based community; de- nomination didn’t seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services 4 times per month will add 4 to 14 years of life expectancy.
  • Faith-based communities provide many poten- tial health advantages, including promotion of a healthier lifestyle, improved stress management, and better social support, which all lead to more robust immune systems, lower blood pressure, and better recovery times after operations.

7. Put loved ones first

  • Successful centenarians in the Blue Zones put their families first; they invest time and love in their family. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home. This lowers disease and mortality rates of children in the home.
  • A recent study published in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour looked at survival data for more than 500 people between age 70 to 103. Among these people were grandparents who were not the primary caregivers for their grandchildren but cared for them occasionally. The researchers also looked at childless people, who cared for other people in their social circle. The people in the study were followed for almost 20 years. Researchers found that grandparents who watched their grand- children, and older adults who helped their adult children, were more likely to be alive 10 years after their first study interview. Among the people who did not provide this type of care, half had died within 5 years after the study began.

8. Find your tribe

  • The world’s longest-lived people were surrounded by others who supported and shaped healthy be- haviours. The Okinawans created “moais,” groups of five friends that committed to each other for life. Research from the Framingham Studies shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious.
  • Social connection is key to healthy aging. Strong relationships offer the experience of feeling sup- ported and assist in an overall sense of being loved, esteemed, and cared for. Plan daily and weekly activities with friends and family, take classes, and make efforts to meet and speak with new people.
  • Friendships can get you through the inevitable health setbacks that occur with aging. A study of 2,320 men who survived heart attacks found that those with strong personal connections were far more likely to remain alive over the next 3 years of follow-up. Several other studies have shown the same trend.

9. Cultivate your happiness

Don’t wait! Cultivate your happiness with these three daily habits:

  1. Do something for someone else without being asked.
  2. Practice gratitude: be grateful about something or someone daily.
  3. Cultivate a handful of strong personal connections and friendships.

Do you wish to live a good, long life? It’s all about genes, lifestyle, and environment.

Embrace the best aging evidence found in the Blue Zones, and your genes may just grant your wish! — LP

Dr. Bryn Hyndman, MD, is an Integrative Medical Doctor.
Bryn supports on-the-go women and families to reclaim their energy using lifestyle medicine.

Featured in LIVEPURE ISSUE 16