A Christmas gift — the secret to longer life

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In spite of the hardships of this life, you and I and many other humanoids still want to prolong the experience as much as we can.

It’s a mystery that no one can unravel. People simply want to live longer. Even if they spend a vast majority of that life complaining about how tough life is. Go figure!

So I thought that as it is Christmas I would gather a bit of information to help us all learn and understand what people around the world believe is the secret of long life.

My interest in the subject was roused by an article I read in Men’s Health (my other favourite magazine).

I sometimes get odd looks when I rave about this magazine, but what’s not to love about a publication in which men share health and nutrition information, write about their wives respectfully, appreciate just about everything about women and review exciting gadgets and gizmos? And the fact that it is ostensibly for men! Well what better way to get into the psyche of the species?

Anyway back to the matter at hand. Scientists have identified some places on earth where people live the longest.

They call them blue zones and these include Okinawa, a remote Japanese island; a small mountain town in Sardinia, Italy; and a Californian town called Loma Linda in the United States. So what can we learn from these peoples?

Well, the Japanese attribute the secret of their long life to diet; they eat more tofu and soya products than any other population in the world.

They also eat a wide variety of vegetables and fruit rich in anti-oxidants, particularly sweet potatoes. What they don’t eat may be even more significant.

No, it’s not about cutting out red meat or chocolate; it’s that they believe you should only eat until you are 80% full, a tradition they call hara hachi bu. Scientists believe that this habit makes a significant contribution to keeping the Okinawans young.

Oddly enough the Sardinian secret to long life does not include tofu or soya, or even restriction of calories.

The healthy Mediterranean diet is no doubt a major contributor to being healthy, but the strange factor here is that interbreeding is rife and limiting the gene pool seems to have helped the community isolate specific genes associated with long life.

Add to this a lifestyle that includes several glasses of flavonoid-rich red wine per day to benefit your heart, and . . . who wouldn’t want to be Sardinian!

The American community of long lifers attributes its good health to matters of faith. The town has a large population of Seventh Day Adventists, and it is believed their lifestyle is significant in prolonging life.

Adventists don’t drink or smoke and many prefer a caffeine-free vegetarian diet. But even those in the community who don’t follow the dietary regulations seem to live longer than the average American.

One researcher studying the community says, “. . . one interesting fact that’s been known for 20 to 30 years is that people who go to church regularly — whatever faith they have — live longer . . .” Now there is some food for thought.

Interestingly the link between religious and spiritual beliefs and practices and an individual’s physical and psychological health is one that comes up over and over again in material about prolonging life.

The Journal of Gerantology: Medical Sciences, published a study in which it was concluded people who attend religious services at least once a week were 46% less likely to die during the six-year period of the study.

Apparently people who feel they are spiritual, experience lower levels of depression and anxiety, they have lower attacks of high blood pressure and strokes and they say they generally feel healthier.

It is also possible that churchgoers benefit from the social networks formed in such communities and these help with caring for the sick and elderly, (www.webmd.com)
One thing that seems consistent in all studies surrounding long life is the aspect of community engagement.

In each of the places where the life expectancy is higher, the individual is a part of a bigger picture.

The ancient Japanese formed moais which were groups of four or five friends who loaned each other food or money, and this practice still persists in Okinawa, where the modern day moais meet just to bond.

In Africa, we have ubuntu, and what better time than Christmas to tap into our trusted tradition of caring for one another. And what better reward than the promise of longer life! Merry Christmas fellow Africans.

Thembe Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity. Readers’ comments can be sent to localdrummer@newsday.co.zw. Follow Thembe on www.twitter/localdrummer