Lessons in Longevity

By Jennifer Faherty, CFP®

Head of Coaching, Principal

October 13, 2022

Like many people, I’m coming out of the pandemic much more aware about how fragile life is and how important it is to stay on top of one’s health. Similar to investments, we don’t always know what’s on the horizon, but what we can do is focus on the things we can control.

I decided to do some research on longevity and discovered a study, conducted by journalist Dan Buettner and a team from National Geographic, that looked into factors that contributed to an extended, vibrant life. The study focused on five regions around the world where there was a significant proportion of people reaching the age of 100.  Named “The Blue Zones,” those places were: Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece, the Nicoya region of Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; and Loma Linda, California.

From the research, the team identified specific habits that the populations of these areas seemed to share. While the findings are not surprising, they remind us that it is often the simple things in life that can matter the most to one’s health and prosperity.

Here are nine habits that people from these regions have in common that seem to have an impact on their longevity:

1. Move Naturally

You’ll be less inclined to see people in these regions lifting weights or hopping on a Peloton. Of course, any activity is better than being sedentary for a long life, but these populations are more inclined to incorporate their activity in an organic manner. Instead of going to the gym, movement and exercise centers around daily activities, such as growing gardens, doing yardwork, or walking to where they need to go.

2. Purpose

Generally speaking, these communities seem to place a high regard on purpose and meaning. In Okinawa, it’s called “Ikigai,” in Costa Rica, they refer to it as “plan de vida.” Research shows that having a sense of purpose can positively impact life expectancy, as well as life quality. While a sense of purpose certainly can be derived from one’s career, there are a myriad of sources where purpose can be found, including hobbies, lifelong learning, and volunteering.

3. Down Shift

Stress is everywhere; even those living in these areas cannot escape it. When faced with stress, however, people in these communities tend to regularly incorporate strategies to mitigate the effects of chronic stress, such as taking breaks, meditation, or spending time in nature.

4. 80% Rule

Diet is an important contributor to longevity, not just what you eat but how much and when. The team’s research confirmed the findings of other studies that have been done, such as the benefits of smaller meals in general and being careful about avoiding big meals close to bedtime. In Okinawa specifically, they recite a Confucian mantra before every meal, “hara hachi bu,” to remind them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full.

5. Plant-based

Speaking of diet, plant-based seems to be a common dominator is most of these regions enjoying longer lives and healthier populations. Though not all of these populations are vegetarian or vegan, there is less consumption of meat versus the standard U.S. diet. Vegetables, fruit, grains, and beans are the cornerstones of their culinary traditions.

6. Wine

Good news for some! Research from this study identified moderate drinking of wine, typically 1-2 glasses, is a common practice in many of these communities and helped contributed to longevity,. It’s worth noting that this ritual involved social gatherings that included friends or family and a meal, which may have also contributed to the positive effects.

7. Belonging

According to the research, belonging to a faith-based community or participating in regular traditions/services can be a factor impacting longevity. Creed or denomination did not seem to matter as much as finding opportunities to increase your sense of belonging, being a part of something beyond oneself, and tradition.

8. Loved Ones First

Each of the communities seemed to place a high importance on life partners, generational connections, and familial bonds, however defined. In many of these populations, it is common practice to have extended family living nearby or have some kind of regular interaction with loved ones.

9. Right Tribe

Importantly, there are benefits from having strong social networks in general – expanding one’s definition of family beyond a more traditional concept. For example, in Okinawa, each person traditionally is assigned a ”moai,” which is group of five or so friends that are committed to each other for life. One of the recommendations coming out of the research is to find a person or small group of people who you can interact with often– for example, a walking or fishing buddy, or a few friends who meet regularly around an activity, such as a potluck, book group, or knitting circle.

In times like these, when we are bombarded by negative news at every turn, the common-sense lessons gleaned from the study may be just as important to your well-being as having a diversified allocation and a long-term investment strategy. Here at Modera, while your financial health is our primary focus, we also want you to flourish in all aspects of your life. Good habits – whether the habits of being a disciplined investor or the habits around your mental or physical health – are the key to a long, vibrant, and prosperous life.

We are here for you at any time.

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