Do you know the secret to living past 100 years old? And I’m not talking about living older in long term care. I’m talking about extending the length and quality of your life. The issue with most chronic diseases is that they kill you slowly. They will not only shorten your life by a few years, they might just make your final ones a living hell.
Did you know that most people with chronic diseases will live shorter lives and could spend the final 6 years as disabled, while relying on family and the healthcare system. And did you know that it’s fairly realistic to extend the length of your life, while maintaining the quality of it, through lifestyle modification? I mean, what's the point of living longer if the quality of those years suck? Chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, hypertension and high cholesterol usually appear in your forties or fifties, but only cause problems 10-20 years down the road, so slowly that you might not even realize it until it’s too late.
Adding years to your life
Imagine working like a dog your whole life, just to get a preventable illness weeks or months after retirement. This is a scenario doctors know all too well. Imagine being too weak or fragile to keep up with your kids or grand-kids. Imagine suffering for the last 10-20 years of your life. The amount of pain and suffering I see in a day is unbearable at times. Although most are victims of bad luck, some are victims of their lifestyle choices. Hindsight is 20/20 and I see way too many patients living with regrets. If you could predict the future and see yourself dependent on the health care system for the final 20 years of your life, would you change the way you live now? I’ve heard some say that they’d rather enjoy life now and deal with the consequences later, but in my experience, many of those living with chronic illnesses and their complications would have made different choices if they’d gotten a second crack at life. ”Everything in moderation“ is a catchy slogan, but bad lifestyle choices and poor nutrition in moderation will lead to disease in moderation.
The current life expectancy in Canada is 82.6 years. It's 78.8 in the US. Many regions around this planet live considerably longer lives than we do and almost 40 other countries have a longer life expectancy than we do. Now imagine that we could track down the top 5 places on earth where people live the longest lives. Imagine we could study them for decades and find out their secrets to longevity. What do they know that we don't? Drum roll…their secrets are awesome.
The Blue Zones
I present to you the "Blue Zones", five epic spots on earth that harbor the highest proportion of centenarians, aka people who make it past one hundred years of life. Dan Buettner has dedicated his life to studying these populations and along with the help of National Geographic and the National Institute On Aging, he has embarked on a life-long lesson in longevity. I read two of his books early in my plant-based transition, and they further consolidated my conviction that I was doing the right thing. In "The Blue Zones Of Longevity" and "The Blue Zones Of Happiness", he details how he studied, interviewed and lived with people from the Blue Zones, revealing their secrets to longer lives along the way. I strongly encourage you to consider reading these great books. We know that about 20% of your longevity is predicted by genetics, the rest being determined by your daily lifestyle choices. Remember that the people living in the Blue Zones are genetically equivalent to us. They don't have any superpowers or drink magic potions.
So how do they manage to live so long? Dan Buettner and his team circled the globe, and found 5 regions they coined "The Blue Zones", named after the blue pen that had circled these regions on a world map. Some of the people in these regions were living 10 years longer than their US counterparts and had the oldest people on Earth. The 5 regions were:
Loma Linda, California
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Adding life to your years
So what are their best kept secrets? There were 9 of them. The biggest contributor? A predominantly whole food plant-based diet. Just so happens that the longest living populations on Earth were eating more than 90% of their calories from whole plants. Some still consumed meat and processed foods, but minimal amounts when compared to the standard Canadian or American diet. It has been suggested that on average, people of middle age who adopt a whole food plant-based diet would add anything between 6-8 extra years to their life. "What's the use if these years are spent being sick?", you might ask. The thing is, people living in the Blue Zones don't have any genetic superiority, they simply do a better job at avoiding the chronic diseases that tend to kill us, like heart disease, cancer, dementia, diabetes, obesity and hypertension, just to name a few. In Okinawa, Japan, women have one sixth the amount of breast cancer than the rate we do, and a fifth the rate of heart disease. In Icaria, Greece, they have one tenth the risk of dementia that we have here. It seems that the secret to a long life is simply to not die from our most common killers. These chronic diseases are often completely manageable, even preventable through lifestyle choices. The main one being the way we eat.
In the Blue Zones, the last years of life are mostly without disability, whereas in North America, most of our healthcare dollars are spent caring for the elderly and the many years of morbidity they will suffer through before their passing. People with chronic disease dying in their sixties will have gone through an average of 8 years of suffering and morbidity. Many people might say that they don't want to live to sixty, especially if they have bad health to start with. People in the Blue Zones make it to 100, but compress this morbidity into an average of less than one year.
So what do people from the Blue Zones eat? Nothing exceptional. Whole grains (not refined or processed like ours), beans, unprocessed rice (not white rice), whole corn, greens, sweet potatoes and nuts. Beans were the cornerstone of every single Blue Zone population around the world. Those who eat a handful of nuts regularly tend to live about 2 years longer than those who didn't. Those who eat a cup of beans on most days have an average increase of life expectancy of 4 years, while North Americans consume hundreds of pounds of meat, dairy, cheese and ultra-processed crap, filled with artificial flavors and colors, emulsifiers, added fats and sugars.
Eat foods we evolved with... and make them tasty
The most important ingredient in a whole food and life prolonging plant-based diet is taste. That's right, people eat crap because it was scientifically engineered to hijack our reward centers, and Mother Nature can't even compete with that. If you can make healthy foods taste great, almost anyone would eat them! That's why it's funny how we can spend our time, our energy and our dollars studying longevity diets, just to conclude: eat foods we evolved with, and make them tasty. I have so much pathophysiological knowledge in my mind dying to get out, but I still find it awesome that the most important information people want to learn is what recipe books I recommend, what to eat and how to make it tasty. My first attempt at answering this is a free eBook that you can download right on plantbaseddrjules.com. It contains over 20 of my family's favorite plant-based recipes that we eat regularly.
The 8 other secrets
Nutrition plays a pivotal role in the health of centenarians. Studying the 5 Blue Zones have also singled out other common denominators and I've listed them in the illustration below. Basically, significant value is given to practices of socializing with loved ones, of down shifting with meditation and having a sense of purpose and belonging.
My Blue Zones Conclusion
In summary, people who live the longest are not drinking magic potions or taking expensive supplements. They aren't doing liver detox or colon cleanses. They're actually taking less medications and aren't keeping any special secrets from us. They eat whole foods which account for more than 90% of their calories. They limit animal products and processed foods and in return, they get a dramatic decrease in the rates of almost all chronic diseases and cancers that kill us here. This is 100% what many other large scale cohort studies, like the EPIC-OXFORD studies or the ADVENTIST HEALTH studies, have concluded a long time ago. Proof is rapidly accumulating and we now know for sure that a whole food plant-based diet is the way to reduce disease burden, to add more years of life and to lessen suffering before dying. The only question that remains is "could you make the transition?". If you'd like to, but aren't confident on how, check out my free website and past blogs on www.plantbaseddrjules.com, where I detail my journey and how I managed to transition completely to a whole food plant-based diet in a shade under two years. It's a slow process, but it's completely life changing.
Check out my website plantbaseddrjules.com and look for the “How To” section in the menu. There, you’ll find tips and tricks that helped me on my journey towards a plant-predominant diet. Everything there is completely free, no catches!
Look for me on the socials, @plantbased_dr_jules on Instagram and go like my Facebook Page, Plant-based Dr. Jules. If you’re looking for some fitness motivation and are curious to see what a plant-based athlete can accomplish, follow me, @maritimeninja, on my fitness account on Instagram or check out my fitness group on Facebook, called Maritime Ninja Warrior. I'm a two-time world championship qualified athlete and you can follow my fitness journey there! You can even access the resources section by becoming a member. It's free and there, you can download free resources like my plant-based recipe eBook!
You also check out my YouTube channel here for more tips and tricks on how to embark on a plant-based journey!
Thanks so much for reading!
Plant-Based Dr. Jules 💚🌱