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Features » International

Can we live to 90 or 100 and be happy too?

New study shows that practicing a faith is a key component

Can we live to 90 or 100 and be happy too?

Picture: Shutterstock

Tom Gallagher for National Catholic Reporter International

September 16, 2013

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This past February in Riverside, Conn., Msgr. Alan Detscher, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena, my parish, stepped to the microphone at the end of Mass to make a few announcements . His final announcement was to ask Caroline Dulcibella, who was sitting in the middle of the church, to stand and accept the community's applause: Dulcibella turned 97 years old that day. She beamed and waived. We applauded and were amazed.

As surprising as it was to see a petite but strong nonagenarian at church that day, the fact is that we are living longer, some into their 100s. In 1900, the life expectancy was just 46-48 years. Between 1980 and 2010, life expectancy at birth in the United States increased from 70 to 76 years for males and from 77 to 81 years for females, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Can people live well into their 90s and 100s and be happy too?

Yes, says Dan Buettner, a New York Times best-selling author, and founder and CEO of Blue Zones. For 10 years, Buettner has studied and written about people who have lived long and measurably happy lives in the "blue zone."

Buettner collaborated with the National Geographic to find and study the world's longest-lived people. With the help of demographers, he found pockets of people around the world with the highest life expectancy or the most people who reach age 100. Five places fit the criteria: Barbagia region of Sardinia; Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Seventh Day Adventists believers around Loma Linda, Calif.; and Okinawa, Japan.

With the help of a diverse group of experts, Buettner identified nine common characteristics found in people with the highest life expectancy (see below). Buettner discovered that such long-lived people have a strong sense of purpose, stay active, eat healthy foods and practice a faith tradition, among other key traits. 

'Power 9' tips for longer life

With the help of medical researchers, anthropologists, demographers and epidemiologists, Dan Buettner identified nine characteristics commonly found among the world's longest-lived people. What he calls the "Power 9" list includes:

Move naturally: The world's longest-lived live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it. For example, they grow gardens and don't have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work.

Purpose: They know "why I wake up in the morning" and this adds seven years of extra life expectancy.

Down shift: Blue Zone people experience stress like the rest of us, but have routines to shed that stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians do happy hour.

Eighty percent rule: They stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full.

Plant slant: Long-lived people have diets centered on beans and eat meat only five times per month.

Wine at 5: Blue Zone people (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers.

Belong: All but five of the 263 centenarians Buettner interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. Denomination doesn't seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times a month will add four to 14 years of life expectancy.

Loved ones first: Successful Blue Zone centenarians put their families first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home. (It lowers disease and mortality rates of children in the home too.) They commit to a life partner (which can add up to three years of life expectancy) and invest in their children with time and love.

Right tribe: The world's longest-lived people chose -- or were born into -- social circles that supported healthy behaviors. Good and bad habits are contagious. So social networks have favorably shaped long-lived people's health behaviors.

Full Story: Can people live well into their 90s and be happy, too? 

Source: National Catholic Reporter

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