Average life expectancy in Australia has improved dramatically over the past 150 years, rising from as low as 47 years to 80! This marks a staggering increase of 70% to the average lifespan of Aussie boys, and a 68% increase for girls.
Whilst there’s no doubting the impact of modern medicine behind this achievement (thank you penicillin), lifestyle behaviours have also played an important role and continue to do so. And there’s no easier way to spot this trend than to compare lifestyles from across the world.
Read on to find out about the healthy habits of the world’s longest living people, and perhaps a few lessons you can learn from them.
Ever heard of Blue Zones? They’re worth knowing about
‘Blue Zones’, a concept coined by international researcher David Buettner, describes the world’s locations where people are recognised as living longer lives and having lower rates of chronic disease.
While Australia boasts a relatively high life expectancy, people in these areas are said to be three times more likely to live to 100 than Australians.
So, where are these mystical Blue Zones? Anthropologists and demographers have identified the following five places:
- Okinawa, Japan, whose residents boast the longest disability-free life expectancy in the world
- Sardinia, Italy, home to the world’s highest number of male centenarians
- Loma Linda, California, where members live on average 9-11 years longer than that of other Americans
- Nicoya Peninsula, Cosa Rica, where middle-age mortality is lowest than anywhere else
- Icaria, Greece, home to the highest percentage of 90-year-olds on the planet
So what’s the secret? It’s important to note that a person’s lifespan may be influenced by several factors, including genetics and their susceptibility to disease. Looking at these communities from the outside in, however, some clear patterns emerge in their daily habits. Here are the big ones that are worth exploring:
- A diet rich in plant-based foods
People in the Blue Zones share a dietary pattern that is largely made up of plant-based foods and low in processed foods. Vegetables, legumes, grains and seeds tend to make up most of their calorie intake, while meat and dairy tends to be consumed less regularly than other parts of the world.
Okinawa, a small island off Japan’s mainland, is a good example of how a healthy diet may shape a population’s overall health. Communities living on this island are known for their traditional recipes largely made up nutrient-dense vegetables and soy products, such as sweet potato, seaweed and tofu.
Research has identified the possible health benefits of this low protein and high-carbohydrate diet - specifically it’s low calories and glycaemic load - and its potential to stall chronic disease and boost immunity.
A separate Blue Zone example is Loma Linda in California, home to a large community of Seventh-Day Adventists, where locals follow a vegetarian diet, largely made up of beans, soy milk, tomatoes and nuts. It’s thought that this diet, and the avoidance of red meat, may contribute to the community’s low rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease.