Living longer


While aging is inevitable, a significant proportion of Asia’s population that is living longer and well into their later years has never been greater. China’s Bapan Village is also known as Longevity Village and boats of many residents who live past 100 years.

Most people think it’s the genes, but the data don’t support it. Longevity Village menus include vegetables in all three meals, even breakfast. Their food groups are fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, and fish, maintained a healthy diet, were active, and didn’t smoke.

Legumes include beans, peas, and lentils are a central part of the Bapan diet. The longest-living cultures have used beans as a regular part of their diet. In Okinawa, Japan, which is among the countries with the highest longevity rates, legumes are a regular part of the diet. Average life expectancy for people born today in Japan is the highest in the world, currently 84 years, according to the World Health Organization. In the United States, it's 81 years for women and 76 for men, according to an October 2014 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The rural area of Bapan has no exercise culture. In fact, in Longevity Village, the elders laughed at him when he asked if they exercised, as they were all outside, moving their bodies all day.On his visits to the area, most recently in 2013, he found people of all ages engaged in physical activities like farming. Everything was done by hand because this remote area had no access to mechanical equipment like power tools until very recently and by the way, there absolutely no televisions or computers.

Research data also show that people who stay physically active get extra years of life. In a Taiwan study of more than 400,000 people, researchers found active people enjoyed an extra three years of life. They needed only a bare minimum of physical activity to prolong life — 15 minutes each day. The reason relates, in part, to heart health.

The health benefits of leisure-time physical activity are well known, but whether less exercise than the recommended 150 min a week can have life expectancy benefits is unclear. We assessed the health benefits of a range of volumes of physical activity in a Taiwanese population.
In this prospective cohort study, 416 175 individuals (199 265 men and 216 910 women) participated in a standard medical screening programme in Taiwan between 1996 and 2008, with an average follow-up of 8·05 years (SD 4·21). On the basis of the amount of weekly exercise indicated in a self-administered questionnaire, participants were placed into one of five categories of exercise volumes: inactive, or low, medium, high, or very high activity. We calculated hazard ratios (HR) for mortality risks for every group compared with the inactive group, and calculated life expectancy for every group.
Compared with individuals in the inactive group, those in the low-volume activity group, who exercised for an average of 92 min per week (95% CI 71—112) or 15 min a day (SD 1·8), had a 14% reduced risk of all-cause mortality (0·86, 0·81—0·91), and had a 3 year longer life expectancy. Every additional 15 min of daily exercise beyond the minimum amount of 15 min a day further reduced all-cause mortality by 4% (95% CI 2·5—7·0) and all-cancer mortality by 1% (0·3—4·5). These benefits were applicable to all age groups and both sexes, and to those with cardiovascular disease risks. Individuals who were inactive had a 17% (HR 1·17, 95% CI 1·10—1·24) increased risk of mortality compared with individuals in the low-volume group.
15 min a day or 90 min a week of moderate-intensity exercise might be of benefit, even for individuals at risk of cardiovascular disease.

When we look at countries where people live longest, most are places where elders are revered. In Longevity Village, 74 percent of the centenarians in the county lived in four- to five-generation homes, all under the same roof. They always ask the oldest person for advice; always serve them first at every meal. Grandparents are very involved with the family and especially with child rearing. This social support has tremendous health benefits.

Study after study shows the more social support, the longer people live. People have better survival when they are socially connected. Having a sense of purpose can significantly increase your longevity. Research shows that men and women with stronger social relationships have a 50 percent higher likelihood of surviving longer, according to a review of studies including 308,000 participants.

Stress is becoming increasingly challenging in our society. Eighty percent of emergency room visits are stress triggered. Life is stressful, but it’s how you deal with it that matters. Too often we live isolated lives, and even our diet causes a buildup of stress we need to diffuse, he explains.

Connection matters. In Longevity Village he found a connection to nature, to the earth, to family and friends, community, and food. Even their food was connected and in a natural state. The fish they caught in the stream they ate later that same day; the vegetables they harvested in their garden they ate that day.

The people living in Longevity Village are a five-hour bus ride away from the rest of civilization, so air pollution is not a problem there, at least not yet. But even here, you can take steps to ensure your air is as clean as possible. If you smoke, stop. And invest in an air filter if you need to. We cannot overstate the importance of breathing clean air.