There is something truly unique about Abkhazia, the Hunza Valley, Vilcabamba and Okinawa. These four disseminated regions have some of the highest concentrations of centenarians in the world.
But it's not so much about the inordinate number of 100 year olds living in these cultures that's important.
What's more significant about these people is the quality of their lives that they are able to maintain well into what we would call ‘old age’.
They don't suffer from the ‘normal’ age-related diseases that people living in more modern societies take for granted.
It's Still A Big Deal To Live To 100
Although it's not quite as rare as it once was to live to 100 years old, it's still an extraordinary accomplishment.
Back in 1960 (when I was a 12 year old kid) there were an estimated 3,600 centenarians, or 2 for every 100,000 people living in the US.
According to the 2010 US census, 53,364 citizens had made it to the century milestone, which works out to be just over 17 per 100,000 residents.
While 53,000 sounds like a lot of centenarians, it's still only .017% of the population as in… seventeen thousands of one percent.
By the end of 2013, there was an estimated 72,000 one hundred year olds running (or walking) around.
So the number of centenarians is certainly on the rise.
But, as the four isolated cultures mentioned above so clearly illustrate, it's one thing to live to 100 years old and quite another to do it ‘in style’.
What's the use of making it to the century mark if you don't have the health, energy and vitality to live an active life so you can really enjoy your later years?
Many people, as they grow older, find themselves suffering from age-related maladies such as hypertension (high blood pressure), arthritis, osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes, chronic lower respiratory disease (CLRD), cancer, stroke and Alzheimer's Disease.
Their years leading up to the century mark (if they make it that far) can be called anything but healthy.
Most people these days don't die of ‘old age’, rather they pass on because of the diseases mentioned above that are associated with growing older.
It's easy to buy-in to the idea that contracting these age-related maladies is normal. Maybe it's ‘normal’ for modern Western society, but that's not necessarrily the case for every place in the world.
For some good examples, you need look no further than the cultures mentioned above to find societies where the inhabitants not only live extremely long lives, but…they are able to retain their health, vitality and mental acuity right up to their dying days.
And often, those ‘dying days’ are well past 100 years!
Where are these places where the inhabitants have been able to tap into that ever elusive ‘fountain of youth’?
They are spread out all over the world, ranging from a group of islands in the South Pacific to a remote little town high up in the Andes.
They live in a fertile valley at the foot of the Himalayas and a small Asian country tucked in between the Black Sea and the Caucus Mountains.
Specifically these areas are:
- Abkhazia - An autonomous area situated between the eastern edge of the Black Sea and the western flank of the Caucus Mountains
- Vilcabamba - A small, remote Ecuadorian town located in the Vilcabamban Valley high up in the Andes, not far from Peru
- Hunza - A fertile valley found at the northernmost tip of Pakistan where it intersects with Russia and China
- Okinawa - An archipelago of 141 sub-tropical islands which constitutes the southernmost perfecture (state) of Japan
For the most part, these hidden away pockets of people don't go to doctors very often and typically have no health insurance.
It is rare for them to suffer from any of the diseases commonly associated with aging that are taken for granted in our western industrialized society.
For those of us that do live in a modern type of culture, these exceptionally healthy people serve as a roadmap so that we can redefine our reality as it pertains to retaining our health and youthfulness as we age.
Many of those who fall into the ‘older generation’ category are following suit, living healthier lifestyles and turning what was once thought to be the normal aging process, into something quite different.
I happen to be one of them!
It's usually sound advice to ignore what people say, and instead observe what they actually do
I prefer to show the way to living a long and healthy life by example.
Call it ‘walk the talk’ or ‘street-cred’ if you will.
At 69, I have absolutely no health issues nor experience any of the aches, pains or any of the issues normally associated with growing older.
My memory and mental capabilities appear to be as sharp as ever and sexually, I seem to be functioning just fine (-:
My body weight is the same as it was in high school and, overall, I think I look better now than I did in my 30's and 40's.
I take no medications except for over-the-counter ibubrofen occasionally and rarely go to the doctor, simply because there is no reason for me to.
When I first read about the Abkhazia, Vilcabamba, Hunza and Okinawa cultures, I could readily relate to them as my lifestyle preferences and behaviors are similar to theirs.
I share the preceding info about myself only to show you that I'm not just talking out of my ass when it comes to living a life that will enable me to reach the century milestone and beyond.
I'm proving to myself, on a daily basis, that it's not necessary to live in any special part of the world in order to practice the lost art of longevity!
I absolutely hate to see anyone buy into a ridiculously outdated paradigm of what growing old used to mean. Leaving this world in your 60's, 70's or 80's is slowly becoming an idea who's time has past.
Suffering from one of the common age-associated diseases is a problem that doesn't need to exist. The residents of Abkhazia, the Vilcabamban and Hunza Valleys and the archipelago of Okinawa are living proof of it. These people live their lives differently than the average Jane or Joe living in modern societies
What exactly are they doing to get those enviable results?
How are they living long lives, up to 100 years and more, without suffering from the age-related diseases so commonly associated with growing older?
All four of these cultures have three things in common with each other that give us clear clues as to the lifestyle factors that promote longevity.
Keep in mind that these societies are all somewhat isolated from the rest of the world so the way in which they live their daily lives have barely been influenced by outside forces.
1 – They Don't Eat Like Us
For the most part, they eat only unprocessed, one ingredient foods.
By default, these types of foods have a high nutrient-to-caloric ratio; a lot of nutritional bang for their ‘calorie buck’.
They also eat these healthy foods in moderation. Compared to their counterparts in Western industrial societies, they consume less total calories than we do… 25 to 30% less!
This collaborates with scientific research and experiments using both rats and humans which has shown that reducing food intake increases life-span by one-third while reducing incidences of heart disease, cancer and stroke.
Eat Less And Live Longer
Admittedly, this is much more of a challenge for those of us that must deal with a fast food restaurant on almost every street corner. There is soooo much great tasting food we have available to eat.
One trick that works for me is to just keep the food that is associated with age-related diseases and early death out of the house.
Amazingly, once you start to eat less, your stomach and feelings of hunger will gradually adjust accordingly and your appetite will begin to naturally subside.
I prefer eating Paleo/primal style but the basic idea is to focus on one ingredient foods and forsake processed carbohydrates that are typical of the Standard American Diet or SAD.
Another technique that seems to work well is to have what is called a ‘cheat day’ once a week. This is where you can eat as much as you want of anything you like during a 24 hour period. This tactic will help you avoid feeling deprived.
This one-day-a-week of decadence and indulgence won't make much of a difference to your overall health and longevity in the big scheme of things.
Psychologically, when you know you have your cheat day available and you can eat whatever you want, if you really wanted to, the obsession with ‘pigging out’ tends to naturally fade away.
In other words, a subtle shift begins to take place with your relationship towards food. It still tastes as good and eating remains an enjoyable experience, but it becomes more of a preference rather an addiction.
Your focus begins to change from ‘living to eat’ to ‘eating to live’.
2 – They Move More Than We Do
No, they aren't all going to the gym, but their lifestyles require that they walk, hike, bike, carry, lift, garden and farm as part of their everyday life.
There are no sedentary, cushy office jobs. No commuting back and forth in an air-conditioned auto. No computers to sit in front of all day long.
When they're done working for the day there is typically no TV to turn on so they hang out with friends and family, singing, dancing and laughing.
Because they are physically active and eat in moderation, being overweight is not part of their reality.
Neither is obesity, arthritis, sickness, disease, doctors or hospitals. Of course there are exceptions, but for the most part, this is how they live.
In these four cultures, sickness and disease are not considered normal or natural.
3 – No Rush, No Fuss, No Deadlines
Neither the Abkhazians, Vilcabambans, Hunzans nor the Okinawans live hustle-and-bustle lifestyles. There is typically no special place for them to be at any specific time.
There are no time clocks to punch, no schedules to follow, no bosses to please and no rush-hour traffic to contend with. There are few, if any, quarrels, fights, disputes or crime.
These cultures don't separate themselves into age groups so there is not a premium placed on youth. To the contrary, you are honored and respected as you grow older.
There is an inter-connectedness that runs through the entire fabric of each of these societies.
Instead of being pre-occupied with acquiring material things, these people appear to live by the philosophy that ‘they become all that they give away’.
Now that's a novel concept that would be a challenge for most of us Westerners to wrap our heads around.
But as a result of their philosophical outlook, they have little, if any, stress in their lives!
For someone living in a Western society, stress is an integral part of life. Stress is something ‘real’ that must be managed.
Just as a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy eating habits will rob years from your life, so too will stress.
Too much stress can affect your immune system to the point of causing a sickness that can morph into a disease.
These isolated societies have little to be stressed about compared to their more civilized counterparts. And it shows, in healthy minds and bodies that don't flinch even a little bit as they grow older.
In the spirit of fairness, it would be appropriate to acknowledge that a more modern culture such as ours has many more potentially stress inducing components to it.
We don't live in such an uncomplicated and simplistic society as they do. It requires less effort, or more aptly, no effort, for these people to live a life-lengthening lifestyle.
It's the only lifestyle they have ever been exposed to. They don't know any different. It's natural for them to eat less, move more and experience little, if any, stress.
You Don't Have To Move To Another Part Of The World
But very few of us are going to take off and move to Abkhazia, the Vilcabamban or Hunza Valleys nor the islands of Okinawa, much less even want to.
We can begin to eat healthier, become more physically active and substantially reduce our stress levels right where we are, right now.
What's the best way to get rid of life shortening stress?
You could have one of those ‘Ah-Ha’ moments and suddenly realize that, in the big scheme of it all, things that tend to such a pain-in-the-ass, really don't matter so much after all.
All of a sudden, you ‘get’ that if you could somehow stop mentally transporting worrisome thoughts concerning the future back to the present, there would be absolutely nothing to worry about.
You can also distract yourself from troublesome past and future thoughts by:
- going for a walk or run
- practicing yoga
- weeding the garden
- listening to music
- reading a good book
- watching a movie or TV series
- heading out for a hike
- getting drunk
Even losing yourself in fulfilling work that you love can be stress relieving. My preferred ways of eliminating stress is practicing Yoga, walking, meditating, and reading. Do whatever works for you.
So… if you want to live to 100, just live how the inhabitants of Abkhazia, the Vilcabamban and Hunza Valleys and the archipelago of Okinawa are living.
- Eat healthier food (and less of it)
- Move around more
- Stop worrying about the future
Living a longer and disease-free life is really pretty simple. Being immersed in a complicated, stressful society—of our own making—can hide that simple truth.