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The eight secrets of people who live to 100 – from the ten-minute exercise to give you purpose after retirement to the ‘1,000 vs 100’ rule


Want to extend your time on earth? Take a leaf out of DAN BUETTNER’s book. He’s spent decades discovering the secrets of healthy living among the world’s oldest folk.

Pick pickleball over personal training

You heard it here first – exercise is a bad idea. Or at least, the huffing-away-in-the-gym type of exercise, which according to Buettner ‘doesn’t work for a significant percentage of the population’. Why? ‘They’re all excited about it, it gets hard and then they run out of gas.’ Instead, Buettner takes inspiration from blue-zones folk who, like the nonagenarians striding up hills every day in the mountainous villages of Sardinia, ‘just live their lives and move naturally.

‘I make a point of living in walkable communities,’ Buettner, 63, says, ‘so that every time I go to work, to the grocery store or to pick up coffee, I’m walking. I live in Miami Beach, and I can go weeks without using my car.’ Fitness works best when it’s fun – take Singapore, where the National Steps Challenge turns logging your 10,000 steps into a game. ‘I love biking, so I have seven bicycles, including a trail bike, road bike and a beach bike,’ says Buettner. ‘I also enjoy paddleboarding and pickleball.’

Want to extend your time on earth? Take a leaf out of DAN BUETTNER’s book. He’s spent decades discovering the secrets of healthy living among the world’s oldest folk

Want to extend your time on earth? Take a leaf out of DAN BUETTNER’s book. He’s spent decades discovering the secrets of healthy living among the world’s oldest folk

Lose lazy mates 

‘Friendships last decades and they can have a measurable impact on how active we are,’ says Buettner. ‘I’ve reshaped my social network – I don’t spend much time with my sedentary friends who just want to sit around at the bar. I’m really into pickleball and love to hang out with pickleball people – when we get together we’re always moving.’ In Loma Linda, a blue zone in California, the Seventh-day Adventist community focuses much of its socialising around sport, encouraging all ages to stay active. ‘Make friends with somebody whose idea of recreation is biking, squash or playing golf,’ says Buettner.

Perfect recipes you love

As the backlash against ultra-processed food mounts, it’s no surprise that Buettner is a fan of cooking from scratch.

His advice? ‘Get your hands on a wholefood, plant-based cookbook’, then ‘flick through to find perhaps a dozen recipes that appeal to you and cook those until you’ve nailed down five that you absolutely love.’ This is important because you have to adore these recipes enough to make them on repeat for decades. Buettner is particularly enamoured of minestrone soup: ‘I eat that perhaps three or four times a week because I love it. And it’s a de facto longevity cocktail.’ Why? Because it contains ‘several helpings of vegetables’ and ‘a full daily dose of beans’ – staples of the famous Mediterranean diet. Buettner adds, ‘I’ve cut out all meat, almost all dairy, and my doctor says I’m the fittest 63-year-old he knows.’

Adopt the ‘1,000 V 100’ rule

Although he advocates a plant-based diet, Buettner doesn’t believe in blanket rules or hardcore bans. ‘If you tell people to restrict a certain food for the rest of their life, only a handful of them will manage it,’ he says. ‘In blue zones they might slaughter a pig and eat a ton of it, but only once a month.’ For Buettner that means, ‘every once in a while, if I crave something, I’ll just eat it’.

Bearing in mind we eat about 1,100 meals a year, Buettner recommends adopting a 1,000 versus 100 approach: ‘Try to make 1,000 of the meals the sort that will power you through the day – wholefood, plant-based meals – and then, if you want to celebrate on a Friday or a Saturday night, you have about 100 meals to play with.’

Blue zones 

Singapore

The newest blue zone, where life expectancy is 84.9 years, four years more than the UK

Nicoya, Costa Rica

Men are three times more likely to reach 90 than their US counterparts

Ikaria, Greece

One in three residents makes it to their 90s

Loma Linda, California

 Here they live on average a decade longer than their fellow Americans

Okinawa, Japan

Women have the longest life expectancy in the world, at 87.4 years

Sardinia

There are 33.6 centenarians per 100,000 people (versus 23 in the UK)

Beware the year after you retire

Many of us dream of retirement for decades but, says Buettner, ‘The year after you retire is the most dangerous year of your adult life.’ There is a ‘huge mortality spike’, resulting from a sudden loss of purpose.

‘You really need something to replace the activity and the social network you had at work or death ensues quickly.’

If you’re lacking purpose, try this ten-minute exercise, says Buettner: ‘Get a blank piece of paper and divide it into four columns. In the first column, write down your values – just quick phrases such as conservative, liberal, Christian, Muslim or something like “I put family first”. In the second column, list your passions, such as “I love sports”,

“I love children”, “I love playing games”, “I love helping people” or “I love fixing things”. Then in the third column write down the things you’re good at, such as “I’m good at resolving conflicts”, “I’m good at nurturing” and so on. By the fourth column, you can look for common patterns from your answers and try to find an outlet for these things.

So, let’s say, you’ve written that you love dogs and you’re good at walking – an idea might be to help walk the animals at a local dog shelter.’ Volunteering not only gives you purpose – according to Buettner it can also be ‘a very powerful longevity strategy’ because ‘in every country in the world volunteers have a lower BMI, lower levels of cardiovascular disease and report high levels of satisfaction.’

You heard it here first – exercise is a bad idea. Or at least, the huffing-away-in-the-gym type of exercise, which according to Dan Buettner (pictured) ‘doesn’t work for a significant percentage of the population’. Why?

You heard it here first – exercise is a bad idea. Or at least, the huffing-away-in-the-gym type of exercise, which according to Dan Buettner (pictured) ‘doesn’t work for a significant percentage of the population’. Why?

Create a cave

In the blue zones, most centenarians go to bed shortly after sunset and wake at daybreak, which gives them eight hours of sleep. In the UK, we’re averaging six hours and 24 minutes of sleep a night, despite the NHS recommending seven to nine hours. ‘People who don’t sleep enough lose years off their life expectancy,’ says Buettner. He has several tips for improving sleep, including limiting booze and creating a cave-like bedroom. ‘

I don’t drink alcohol after 7pm, and the room has to be completely dark and cool – about 18 degrees.’

Host your own ‘Dan camp’

In Okinawa, Japan, where people are three times as likely to reach 100 as in the US, friends form moai – committed social circles that support each other in various ways, from financial to emotional. ‘I used to work too much, and now I’ve realised how important friendships are,’ says Buettner. ‘I have a circle of 15 friends with whom I put in a lot of effort, hosting dinner parties and pickleball tournaments. I have a big house by the lake that I call “Dan Camp” and I’ll take all 15 friends for an overnighter, cooking and playing games.’

I CONSUME MINESTRONE SOUP FOUR TIMES A WEEK – IT’S A DE-FACTO LONGEVITY COCKTAIL 

Family time is important to longevity, too; Buettner recommends taking inspiration from the people of Nicoya in Costa Rica and establishing regular family rituals, whether that’s dinner all together on the same night every week or an annual family holiday.

‘If it’s a quick fix, it’s not a quick fix’

Buettner is sceptical of anything advertised as a superfood; the truly beneficial foods are things like the purple sweet potatoes of Okinawa, which don’t come with big promotional campaigns. As for supplements, Buettner points out that ‘as a population, supplement-takers actually have a higher mortality risk than people who never go near them. So the only time you need a supplement is when your doctor tells you that you’re deficient in something, which is rare’, though he cites vitamin B12 for vegans as an exception. In general, though, Buettner’s mantra is simple: ‘If it’s a quick fix, it’s not a fix’. A long life can only be achieved through long-term commitment to the cause.

The Blue Zones: Secrets for Living Longer by Dan Buettner is published by National Geographic, £16.99*

*TO ORDER A COPY FOR £17 UNTIL 12 NOVEMBER, GO TO MAILSHOP.CO.UK/BOOKS OR CALL 020 3176 2937. FREE UK DELIVERY ON ORDERS OVER £25.



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