According to a famous Danish Twin study (Hum Genet 1996; 97: 319- 323):


The authors studied twins to determine the extent to which genetics impacts longevity. The study established that less than 25 percent of how long the average person lives is dictated by genes. In other words, most of how long and how well you live is up to you! By looking at human physiology, the average age expectancy should be about 90; however, current life expectancy is around 78. While this number continues to rise for women, the facts show that on average, we are leaving about 12 years on the table.


To garner a better understanding of this, an interesting project supported by the National Geographic Society and the National Institute on Aging is studying those populations with the greatest life expectancy. These areas are called “Blue Zones”, and include Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Sardinia, Italy.


As research has shown, people in Blue Zones share common characteristics that I believe to be significant. What’s most noteworthy is those who live to 90 and beyond aren’t necessarily those who run ultra-marathons, climb the corporate ladder or take artificial hormones. The nine “rules” that I believe contribute to a long life are:


1. Move naturally

Natural movement occurs when people live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving: they walk to the store, to their friends house or places of worship; their houses have stairs; they have gardens in their yards.


Consider making things a little inconvenient. Take an extra trip up or down the stairs instead of loading things at the top or bottom to take up later; avoid the moving walkway on your way to your airport gate; park far from the entrance; walk a dog; do your own yard and house work; get rid of those time-saving electronics and other equipment that has “simplified” your life.


2. Right outlook

Why do you wake up in the morning and what gets you out of bed? Look inside and do an internal inventory. Understand your sense of purpose through your values, passions, gifts and talents. In addition, eliminate stress. Stress leads to chronic inflammation which is associated with every major age-related disease.


Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors; Adventists pray; Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians have happy hour. Find a stress-reducing strategy that works for you and make it routine. In my opinion, the best way to reduce stress is to practice breathing exercises, yoga or meditation.


3. Eat wisely

I heard a great quote the other day, “If you really want to lose weight, cook what you eat.” Too often, especially when we’re busy, we don’t plan out meals and end up eating out, on-the-go and/or high dense caloric foods. There is also a great deal of confusion about food as there is a new diet coming out everyday.


4. Follow the 80/20 rule

“Hara hachi bu”, the 2500-year old Okianawan Confucian mantra said before meals, reminds people to stop eating when their stomach is 80 percent full. The 20 percent gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight and gaining it. Additionally, the Okinawans typically use smaller plates and serve their food at the counter. Placing an entire meal on the table in front of you encourages over-eating. Who hasn’t over-indulged at a Thanksgiving feast?


It’s also best to follow this advice: eat like a king at breakfast, a prince at lunch and a pauper at dinner. Your smallest meal of the day should be eaten in the late afternoon or evening, and night-time snacks should be avoided. Another great tip: remove TV’s from the kitchen.


5. Eat plant-based food

Meat in general is more expensive, higher in iron (see report on iron) and saturated fats (see fats). Eat lean meats less often and in less quantity. Try a few vegetarian meals a week and slowly decrease the amount by adding vegetables to your plate. Beans, including fava, black and soy and lentils are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Snacking on nuts – just a handful per day – has been associated with an extra two to three years of life expectancy.


6. Wine (a little)

Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers (this is true, I’m not making it up!). However, you should limit your consumption to one glass per day. Your liver’s capacity to detoxify alcohol is overwhelmed at more than one drink a day.


7. Connect = 4 additional years

Most centenarians (100+) belong to some faith-based community. It doesn’t matter if you’re Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish or some other religion that meets as a community. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add four to14 years of life expectancy. I would say that spirituality adds a sense of community and purpose to your life.


8. Put loved ones first

Put your family first. Keep aging parents and grandparents nearby or in your home; invest time and love in your children. A positive, committed relationship can add up to three years of life expectancy.


9. The right Social Network

I’m not talking about Facebook. Those with the greatest longevity choose – or are born into – social circles that support healthy behaviors. Research from the Framingham Studies show that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness is contagious. Assessing who you hang out with and proactively surrounding yourself with the right friends will do more to add years to your life than just about anything else.


Remember: baby steps. Change takes time and desire. But it’s worth it!