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Living Longer through Diet and Exercise? Which Important Steps you Should Take Now

Updated on April 19, 2012

If someone asked you if regular exercise could help you live longer, what would you say?

The first answer that probably came to your mind was 'yes,' and why not? We are bombarded by messages from the health and fitness industry that insist we need to have a p90x beach body to be worthy of society. However, according to a study by Dan Buettner, author of "The Blue Zones," a regular exercise program is not a major contributor to longevity.

For those unfamiliar with this study, it appeared in the November 2005 issue of National Geographic, and later in Dan's book "The Blue Zones." It tracked pockets of society across the globe who had the highest percentage of centenarians; that's people who are 100 years of age or older, and studied their lifestyles, eating and exercise habits.

After scrutinizing the results, Dan's opinion is that positive social relations and a strong purpose for living, more than any other factor, are what contribute to a long life span.

So does this mean that exercise is not important? That we can eat whatever we want and still live long, healthy lives? Absolutely not! On the contrary, this study demonstrated the importance of diet and exercise.

Those societies with the longest living men and women ate a high percentage of vegetables and whole grains, drank red wine in moderation (or avoided alcohol altogether,) and always shared meals with family or loved ones. Meat was absent from, or a small percentage of the daily calories consumed.

Exercise was also important, but not in the way it is packaged today. These centenarians engaged in activities they enjoyed, or that were part of their daily lives. Rather than being a laborious burden, tending gardens, tending a flock, or fishing with traditional nets are part of what gives these people a sense of purpose.

Exercise outside of daily chores doubles as fun downtime. One man over 100 years old was still hopping on waterskis, while another is an avid yoga practitioner. All in all, the centenarians who participated in Mr. Buettner's study lived robust, active lives.

So what lessons can a non-centenarian take away from a study like this? Should we stop grinding out 45 minute treadmill or eliptical sessions at the gym? Not if you look forward to the social aspect of this activity; and if you tend to workout solo, consider getting a small group together.

Is your typical workout is an hour in front of the TV sweating to a p90x video? When this starts to become a chore, forget about it and do something crazy and fun. (Buy a sledgehammer and pound a tire, head to the batting cages, put a heavy backpack on and go on a beautiful hike.)

You can stay on track with your dvd workouts if you want, but consider getting someone to join you. Again, the social aspect of longevity is considered the most important. Even the act of getting out and taking what the Seventh Day Adventists in the study called "nature walks" (hiking)can contribute to long term health.

Take a look at your own life and habits. Like many people, you probably have some excellent, some good and some not so good habits. What can you change to give this life a boost? Don't take anything for granted-small changes make a noticeable difference.

Among the bad habits every expert recommends avoiding are smoking, excessive drinking, and engaging in activities which trigger powerful stress reactions. Since trying to avoid stress is impractical, be sure to have a positive, healthy outlet for releasing it.

Whatever points The Blue Zones author makes in his book, there is one dominant theme: 'Enjoy a Healthy, Happy Life.' Enjoy, as in have fun and do meaningful things which are rewarding. Healthy, as in eat nutritious, natural foods, and get the body moving everyday in a way that you enjoy it. Happy, meaning seek and accept joy in all these activities and especially in the company of others.

In the end, what else really matters?

Charting Okinawans age expectancy against other groups. Okinawa is in red, the US is in yellow.
Charting Okinawans age expectancy against other groups. Okinawa is in red, the US is in yellow. | Source
An amazing painting, Pablo Picasso, "The Old Guitarist"
An amazing painting, Pablo Picasso, "The Old Guitarist"
The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade S tudy
The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade S tudy
The Longevity Project covers 80 years of research which follows the lives of 1500 people, starting when they were kids. The book addresses the questions of why do people stay healthy? Why do some people live longer than others? This book dispels many myths about living a long life as well.

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