“Not like it’s the Nobel Prize” was what the world's oldest man, Alexander Imich, told the New York Times a few months before he died this week at 111 years of age. Imich may have made light of super-centenarianism, but the secret to a longer life is one of humanity’s oldest desires, cropping up in philosophy and literature throughout history. The average American male’s life expectancy is 76, while females are expected to live to 81. Although this earned the United States 26th place in a 2013 ranking of 36 countries three remote communities in the world far outshine us, with many people living well past a century.
So where are they and what are their secrets?
1. Okinawa, Japan
The remote island of Okinawa, 360 miles off the coast of Japan, has the world’s greatest prevalence of centarians. More importantly, they have the highest health expectancy, remaining active and vigorous well into old age. Their longevity has been chalked up to a few different causes, one of which is thought to be a particular hormone whose levels decline at a much slower rate among this community. Thankfully, the other factor is one you can actually influence: diet. Although they eat a “rainbow diet” involving a range of fruits, veggies, and soy products, it's what they don’t eat that has the greatest affect. Light years from America’s all-you-can-eat attitude, the Okinawese consume less than 1,200 calories per day, with a tradition of eating only until they are 80 percent full. It seems the old sheep of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web had it right when he advised the gorging rat to eat less for a longer life.
2. Sardinia, Italy
The Oviddians, who live 120 miles off the coast of Italy, are also known for their long lives. A testament to the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet, they eat lots of seafood, fruits, vegetables, and use olive oil rather than butter. Unfortunately for us, it’s not that simple: inbreeding may also play a role. The Oviddians are just lucky this worked out for them, as that incestuous family in remote Australia weren’t quite so fortunate.
3. Loma Linda, California
Unlike the Japanese and the Italians, these Californians seem to have led longer lives without special genes. All Seventh Day Adventists, this community maintains strong faith, along with a strict vegetarian diet and abstinence from alcohol. They also place great value in their families and in community involvement.
Basically, there's no elixir of life, and there's nothing you can do about your genes. However, if you eat your fruits and veggies like your mother undoubtedly told you, you may just tack a few more years onto your life span. Oh, and if you run away to live in a remote community away from the hustle and bustle of city life, that might help, too.