How to Raise a Future Centenarian
When you welcome a baby into the world, the last thing on your mind is what they'll be like when they're 80. How we raise them from the start, however, plays a role in dictating their future quality of life, as well as how long that life lasts.
Back in 2004, journalist and explorer Dan Buettner discovered several regions of the world in which an extraordinary percentage of the population lived until the age of 100. He dubbed these regions "blue zones" and set out to uncover what each of these regions had in common. While transforming your own city into a blue zone is a daunting undertaking, you can easily apply the themes of his research to your own family.
There's no need to reinvent the secret to longevity. Apply these 12 life lessons from centenarians across the globe and you'll be well on your way to giving your kids the best shot at hitting the triple digit mark.
Don't Automate Everything
One of the most common habits shared by inhabitants of blue zones is the practice of completing tasks by hand. In this day and age, especially in Western countries, automation is pretty automatic. We use electric toothbrushes, have our groceries delivered by Instacart and order dinner via Doordash. Even our attempts to move more are somewhat eclipsed by automation. Why do kids need electric scooters instead of using their own two legs?
In the blue zones, most people perform everyday tasks by hand instead of relying on convenient services and electronics to simplify them. Doing things by hand is more time consuming, but it helps longevity in a few ways. Firstly, it keeps you moving both mentally and physically. The simple act of walking through the grocery store and picking out items by hand is a more social, interactive experience than having bags dropped off on your doorstep. Secondly, it helps you to live in the present.
Walk or Bike More
It should come as no surprise that exercise helps longevity, but the type of exercise is worth noting. Most centenarians in blue zones weren't avid gym enthusiasts. They weren't triathletes or marathon runners either. They just move a lot in their everyday life. Typically, blue zones are walkable areas where residents walk or bike to work, school and the store instead of driving.
In addition to cooking, cleaning and doing other tasks by hand, reducing driving time as much as you can is an excellent habit to pass on to your kids. Living in a safe, walkable neighborhood is a privilege many of us don't have, so just do your best. If you can swing it, consider getting an electric cargo bike to pick up groceries or take the kids to school. Whatever helps you use your car less is fair game.
Cultivate Their Green Thumbs
Farming and backyard gardening are commonplace in blue zones. If you don't have much space, don't worry about it! You can still grow herbs and fresh produce in pots if you have good lighting or with the help of artificial lighting.
An even better option is to participate in a community garden. Some cities allow residents to plant crops in community gardens for free, while others require renting a plot. It's usually affordable, fortunately. Gardening gives families a chance to get outside, learn about sustainable food production, find new appreciation for the food they eat and spend time together all at once.
Practice Healthy Relaxation
Healthy relaxation is the key word here. Whether they live in Okinawa, Japan or Loma Linda, California, centenarians in blue zones don't relax by doom scrolling on Instagram or binge-watching a new Netflix series. As you've probably noticed, those activities rarely leave us feeling refreshed and calm. In blue zones, people engage in activities that are genuinely restorative and beneficial, not just mindlessly dissociative.
Activities could include taking walks together, spending time at the park, hanging out in the yard and enjoying an afternoon siesta in a hammock. You could also share a cup of tea with a friend, journal or read a good book. Any calming activity will do, as long as you experience it mindfully. With kids, playing board games, drawing and playing outside together are easy, crowd-pleasing options.
Find Your Faith
Spirituality is a common theme among centenarians. The longevity boost doesn't have much to do with a specific religion, but rather the traditions, habits and mentality that are usually baked into faith. Going to church or temple weekly, for example, provides an ongoing connection with and support from a local community.
Being part of something larger than yourself seems to be key to living to a ripe old age. Faith itself also seems to help, as it helps people maintain a positive mindset even in hard times. Again, you don't necessarily have to be religious to reap the benefits. Consistent involvement in a tight-knit community and making gratitude a way of life will do the trick, too.
Help Kids Find Purpose
How does one help a seven-year-old find purpose? By teaching them how to help, of course! In the blue zones, helping others is a way of life. Everyone takes care of each other. Being a helper, whether you're helping siblings and friends, cooking for elderly relatives or volunteering, makes you feel valued.
When you help someone else, you know you're doing something that matters. That mood boost is great for promoting mental health and reducing stress, both of which improve longevity.
Eat More Plants
Eating a diet rich in plants is another recurrent theme in blue zones. In Loma Linda, most residents are vegetarian, vegan or flexitarian. On average, vegetarian men lived for a decade longer than non-vegetarians. Women gained an extra six years of life.
You don't have to become a strict vegetarian to get many of the benefits of eating more legumes and greens, fortunately. The Mediterranean diet is also tied to longevity thanks to the abundance of antioxidants and nutrients found in whole grains, olives, beans, legumes, nuts, veggies and spices. As a rule of thumb, try to make your plate as colorful as possible. Nutrition is more complex than that, but adding a wide variety of different plant-based foods to your diet is an excellent place to start.
Visit a blue zone, and you'll quickly notice that none of the residents are on a diet. There is no keto craze or Jenny Craig membership in sight. The exact diet and daily routine of blue zone residents depends on the zone, but few foods or activities are completely ruled out.
Few centenarians are terrified of carbs. In Sardinia, they eat tons of pasta and homemade sourdough bread. In Okinawa, they eat plenty of purple sweet potatoes, soba noodles, stewed pork and seafood. It's all about balance, not restriction. In other words, don't completely banish bread, pastries or any other food you love. Just eat them in moderation, preferably as part of a shared meal, and savor the experience.
Demonstrate Healthy Drinking Habits
Drinking in excess indisputably damages health, but moderate drinking habits appear to be beneficial. If you don't already enjoy a glass of wine at dinner, there's no need to start. It appears to be the social element of sharing a glass of wine with a meal that delivers most of the longevity boost, although the antioxidants in red wine may also be a factor.
To set a good example for kids, normalize adults having an occasional drink in social settings or a glass of wine with dinner at home. Removing the taboo of moderate alcohol consumption will reduce the likelihood of overuse when they're old enough to imbibe themselves and they'll have a solid model of how to indulge in a healthy way.
Prioritize Family Time
Family is everything, and centenarians know that better than anyone. In every blue zone, the young and old are respected and cared for. Family is a big deal. In blue zone communities, doing things with family is a regular occurrence, not something that happens once or twice a year during the holidays.
We don't all live in multigenerational households or have grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins right down the street, but we can all prioritize spending as much time as we can with whatever family we do have nearby.
Invest in Your Partner
As a continuation of family time, strong marriages and relationships are central to the philosophy of many long-lived individuals. Healthy family ties are at the center of most communities. To cultivate that yourself, prioritize quality time with your partner. Pay attention to them. Care for them. Grow with them. Stand by them through thick and thin.
Having a healthy relationship and demonstrating unconditional love and support provides kids with a sense of stability and sends the message that, no matter what happens in life, family has each other's back. Knowing that will help them build their own healthy relationships, which will, in turn, help them live a long, fulfilling life of their own.
Build a Village That Feels Right
No blue zone is exactly the same, but each has a strong sense of community. At every stage of life, residents of blue zones participate in a village — and you can do the same. Whether you were lucky enough to be born into one or need to start from scratch, make a point of cultivating a network of people who look out for each other.
There's no secret potion that'll guarantee a long life, but knowing you matter to others is a good reason to stick around.