Most people don’t begin thinking about what they can do to live a long life until they’re already well down the road, but it merits consideration especially if you’re still young.
The standard question reporters ask when covering someone’s 100th birthday is, “What’s your advice for living to 100?” The typical answers include “stay active” and “eat wisely,” but occasionally you’ll hear something specific and perhaps amusing like “drink a Dr Pepper every morning” or “try not to die.”
An internet search brings up hundreds of articles whose writers all seem to have excellent advice on this ambitious goal. Their conclusions range from making wise choices about your lifestyle, to it all depends on your DNA. That last one makes it sound like there’s nothing you can do if your genetic codes are stacked against you, but that isn’t necessarily true.
One report by National Geographic Fellow and best-selling author Dan Buettner identifies “blue zones” — places around the globe where longevity is quite common. In case you’re not willing to relocate, his research pointed to nine key factors practiced by residents of these blue zones that contribute to long life. Those factors are bunched into two categories: maintaining a healthy lifestyle involving regular intense exercise, taking a break from stress, and eating and drinking alcohol moderately while emphasizing plant-based foods; and being a part of a group that shares such practices and having a reason to live.
Meanwhile, Julianne Holt-Lundstad, a researcher at Brigham Young University, studied tens of thousands of middle-aged adults. She tracked them for years, focusing on diet, exercise, and general health. Then, she and her team ranked the importance of several factors to see which of those traits were most, and which were least, important for the survival rate of individuals in the study. Her findings made their way into a “TED talk,” and excerpts of that presentation have been shared repeatedly on Facebook lately.
I don’t want to “bury the lead,” which has become too common on websites these days, so I will reveal the most important factor first. By far, it’s having close relationships.
The others, from second to last, are as follows: not smoking (or quitting smoking), not drinking excessively (or at all), getting a flu vaccine, keeping your heart and cardiac system healthy, regular exercise, not being overweight, keeping hypertension under control (with medication if necessary), and clean air. OK, I’m as surprised as anyone that getting a flu vaccine ranks higher than exercise, but there it is. And while not being overweight is lower on the list than I would have guessed, that could be because it is something that helps support several of the other factors ranked higher — like heart health.
Now, you’re probably thinking that living to age 100 is great, as long as your quality of life is great, too. The fact that having close relationships is so important in these and other longevity studies should prompt us to take notice. It seems to me that having close relationships is probably related to having a purpose in life, because if you have a purpose you probably will gravitate into a group of like-minded souls. If longevity studies tell us anything, it’s that the formula for living a long life is complex, with many factors creating something of a tapestry. And that word is an appropriate description of any long life that’s well-lived.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.