Live to 100 – For Cheap!

When the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve, what will you toast to? Health? Long life?

Those are common toast themes, but simply clinking glasses and sipping champagne at the beginning of the year isn't likely to lead to health and longevity.

I recently read an article about Sardinia, the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea southwest of Italy, that has one of the highest rates of centenarians in the world. National Geographic refers to areas where people commonly live to be over 100 years old as Blue Zones. These are the five identified Blue Zones:

  • Sardinia, Italy
  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Loma Linda, California (specifically, a group of Seventh-day Adventists)
  • Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
  • Icaria, Greece

The article I read focused specifically on certain villages in Sardinia where inhabitants live to 100 years of age at a rate more than twice the average for the rest of Italy and are less likely to be afflicted with diseases that often kill people in other parts of the developed world. What is their secret to long life? Is there something in the water?

Lifestyles of the 100+
It turns out that the secret isn't in the water, but rather in the wine. National Geographic writer Dan Buetter, who explored three Blue Zones, found that in Sardinia wine is made from the Cannonau grape, which has the highest antioxidant levels of all grapes — 5 to 10% higher than in all other red wine grapes. The grape produces a full-bodied wine full of plum, blackberry, fig, and a dark chocolate finish. The dark wine is referred to as nero vino by Italians, which means black wine.

Another Sardinian secret to longevity is a Mediterranean diet, which consists of olive oil, legumes, vegetables, and very little meat. The centenarians Buetter studied ate the following foods:

  • Carta de musica — A thin, whole wheat bread that is high in vitamin D
  • Leavened bread — vitamins and lactic acid kills harmful bacteria in the digestive tract
  • Fava beans — High in fiber as well as folate
  • Pecorino — A cheese made from milk from grass-fed sheep that is high in omega-3 fatty acid
  • Nuts — Specifically hazelnuts and almonds

Buetter traveled to two other areas — Okinawa and Loma Linda — to study the diet and lifestyle of groups with high rates of centenarians. In Okinawa, he found that those who lived past 100 reported feeling little “time urgency,” and included turmeric in their diet. In Loma Linda, they had a healthy social circle and ate a lot of nuts.

All three Blue Zones he studied share the following diet and lifestyle characteristics among centenarians:

  • Family relationships and social ties are given high importance
  • Non-smoking
  • Diet is primarily plant-based and rich in legumes
  • Constant, moderate physical activity

So what does any of this have to do with personal finance? What struck me as I read the article is that the secret to health and longevity isn't very expensive. The pecorino can be bought for less than $2 for 3 ounces, and the wine, probably the most expensive food item on the list, runs about $14-$17 a bottle. Heck, quitting smoking saves you money — money you can spend on another bottle of Cannonau di Sardegna!

Part of reaching the ripe old age of 100+ might have to do with good genes, but you can always up your odds. Science backs much of what Buetter learned about the lifestyle of a centenarian. For example, TIME reported one study that showed the importance of a strong social network (in real life, not on Facebook!) when they pooled data on more than 300,000 men and women and found that those with poor social connections had 50% higher odds of death in the study's follow-up period. As for smoking, a diet rich in veggies, and moderate exercise, they're kind of no-brainers.

The fact of the matter is that you don't need to spend big bucks on the supplement-of-the-moment that promises a healthy, long life. If we can learn anything from Blue Zone centenarians, it's that a simple life of good company, moderate exercise, and eating a plant-based diet is a lot more effective. Add to that a bit of one of my favorite cheeses paired with a full-bodied red wine, and that's a recipe for long life that I can toast to!

More about...Food, Health & Fitness

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LifeAndMyFinances
LifeAndMyFinances
9 years ago

Thanks for the tips! Hopefully, I will be one of those centenarians!

However, if I take care of myself and live a long life, I’d better be prepared financially!

Time to start making some passive income!

retirebyforty
retirebyforty
9 years ago

Excellent! Why should I live this short stressful unhealthy lifestyle? Wine, cheese, less meat, more veggies, moderate activities, and good companies are definitely in the plan for me.
The poor social connection is a huge surprise for me. That’s good to know.

Andrea
Andrea
9 years ago

I don’t think I can start drinking wine- I take turmeric and ginger every day perhaps that will cover the anti-oxidants. I will also buy some pecorino- I don’t eat much cheese but I can certainly get pecorino and use it. I’ll let you know if I make it to 100(in about 40 years)

dotCOMreport
dotCOMreport
9 years ago

Good wine, Good food, Good friends (relationships) that is what life is about. Anyone who has been blessed with all three has something worth living for 🙂

JRR
JRR
9 years ago

Very interesting article! Hopefully other antioxidants work as well as the wine, because I’ve never been able to bear the taste of alcohol; it just tastes like some kind of industrial chemical to me.
I do love cheese though.

Wayne Mates
Wayne Mates
9 years ago

This is an eyeopener for me. The diet and moderate excercise is a no-brainer. But, a certain wine and specific foods is new.

Thanks for sharing!

Joe DeGiorgio
Joe DeGiorgio
9 years ago

Nice article April—

I’m surprised by the number of people that still are unaware of the benefits related to an Italian/Mediterranean style diet. Especially the wine part! I always thought it was common knowledge.

I guess growing up that way, I probably took it for granted. Thanks for passing along this valuable information!

Lily (capital L)
Lily (capital L)
9 years ago

I guess in Sardegna – Sardinia for you – they also eat a lot of fish, giusto?

Too bad I can’t drink wine. It disgusts me.

Tip: if you want to eat pecorino, or any kind of Italian cheese (which is all great), make sure it’s the real thing and not some imitation (like Parmesan instead of Parmigiano). Italian specialty foods are marked “DOP”.

Happy new year 🙂

Jorge
Jorge
9 years ago

HA! I live in Nicoya, Costa Rica.

Thanks to JD and the staff for providing the knowledge to make it not only a long one but a financially prosper one

evelyn
evelyn
9 years ago

wine rocks, except when it doesn’t. as a breast cancer survivor and former wine lover, i was surprised to learn that even one 5-oz glass of wine a day raises a woman’s chances of getting breast cancer. that risk is raised by 10% if a woman drinks two glasses a day. wine drinking for women is highly discouraged by medical professionals. as this link indicates, it’s the flavonoids and antioxidants that protect our heart, not the alcohol, so women should drink alcohol-free red wine or even grape juice, for that matter.

http://breastcancer.about.com/od/riskfactorsindetail/a/alcohol_risk.htm

Elsbeth
Elsbeth
9 years ago

I am still amazed at all the talk of the “Mediterranean diet”. Anyone who has ever been to Italy or Greece will see that meat and pasta are eaten in large quantities, and most people in Greece these days are overweight!

The secret to a long, healthy life is everything in moderation.

Katelyn
Katelyn
9 years ago

I have to admit that I am torn over this post. Some of these tips are just plain common sense. But I disagree fundamentally with the concept of “copy this group of people and you can live to be 100 too!” Taking the Mediterranean diet out of the Mediterranean is not a guarantee of a longer life. Italians have a strikingly different lifestyle than Americans, beyond just what they eat and drink. Italians tend to dedicate more time to eating the meal than Americans. There is no rush. It is common for a meal to last several hours. Its common… Read more »

Laura
Laura
9 years ago

My grandmother just turned 100. How did she do it? Moderate daily exercise (she was taking water aerobics 3 times a week and walking to the store almost everyday) Balanced diet that was not too high in calories. She’s always cooked with butter and cream just never ate a lot of what she cooked. Strong family and social ties — she has family nearby who look in on her everyday or so plus a circle of elderly girlfriends. Moderate use of alcohol and caffeine — every meal is completed with a cup of coffee and she enjoys a glass of… Read more »

Jason
Jason
9 years ago

Not to rain on this parade, but the traditional Okinawan diet consists of significant amounts of pork and yams. Not so much on the legumes. The Sardinians also eat a fair amount of meat (read some *wild meat at nearly every meal) and tend to eat the entire animal. We Americans eat only the lean meats and miss out on the benefits of the organs and bones, not to mention how much healthier wild meat is to farmed meat. If people are interested in further following this discussion Mark Sisson at Mark’s Daily Apple recently did a series of articles… Read more »

Adrian
Adrian
9 years ago

Great article, April!

I personally studied the blue zones a few months ago and did notice the striking contrast between our common North American lifestyle and that of their own.

What truly stood out to me was that very-same fact: their diets, forms of physical activity, and mediums of socializing are quite cheap-to-free, shattering much of our ill-conceived notions about having to be of “wealth” in order to live a lifestyle that is TRULY rich! 😉

Steve
Steve
9 years ago

$2 for 3 ounces doesn’t seem particularly cheap to me – that’s over $10 per pound. You can get mass market cheese for $2 for 16 ounces on sale; you can get broccoli for $1 per pound. Even Salmon (here in Seattle) is less than $10/lb…

Lily (capital L)
Lily (capital L)
9 years ago

We don’t eat pasta and pizza every day, contrary to popular belief. Katelyn: Italians tend to dedicate more time to eating the meal than Americans. There is no rush. It is common for a meal to last several hours. At marriages or reunions maybe!! We spend maybe half an hour for dinners and lunch breaks are one hour max. Its common practice to take walks with your family and friends to the main town square in the evenings in Italy, instead of watching the new episode of Glee. No, not Glee. Worse programmes. Walks to the town square? In the… Read more »

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
9 years ago

More magical thinking! What you eat and drink may or may not mean you live a long life. There is so much we have no control over — who decides to drink and drive; whose Christmas tree goes up in flames with whom trapped inside; get some of that healthy and frugal exercise with your bike, hit a slick spot and break your neck, etc., etc., etc. The notion that eating right and exercising conveys some protection against disease is equally magical thinking. Autoimmune disease strikes in many families, and often in families without known autoimmune disease. Infections with a… Read more »

Annemarie
Annemarie
9 years ago

These studies are mildly interesting but I always wonder how much of what creates these long lifespans is actually genetic.

Rick Tra
Rick Tra
9 years ago

People are always looking to live longer. Seek quality instead – which you have a greater chance of achieving and it’s much more predictable then a longer life.

Then… a longer life is not as important since you’ve done what you need to do on this earth before your is time is over. To leave in peace and with a purposeful life should be enough as a human being.

beth2
beth2
9 years ago

Cool. However, I spent a month on the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica and I’d say they don’t eat very much in terms of vegetables at all. They also don’t drink much wine. They really don’t have all that much money. What they do have is a lot of really happy people, a good climate, and a lot of fruit that is free (just pick it from the trees!).

Lily (capital L)
Lily (capital L)
9 years ago

(Oops, I realized I wrote “marriages” instead of “weddings”, sorry.)

Sarah Smith
Sarah Smith
9 years ago

Hmmm… interesting enough to comment about: my grandfather, a retired Army Colonel who exercises everyday, received prostate cancer treatment in Loma Linda. It was by far the healthiest he’s ever eaten – vegetarian, high in good fats, lots of veggies, etc. Probably very similar to the Mediterranean diet! I wonder if this is a community thing?

chacha1
chacha1
9 years ago

@SLCCOM #18, it is not at all “magical thinking” to accept that a healthy diet and moderate exercise can help prevent disease. Most diseases occur with greater frequency in overweight, inactive people whose diets are heavy in trans-fats, starches, and sugars. @Andrea #3, antioxidant supplements may interact with each other and with other medications in ways that you don’t anticipate. It’s much better, according to the latest recommendations, to get antioxidants from food. And pecorino, I would bet, just happens to be the cheese most commonly made in Sardinia. Its virtues are not unique. and @Steve #16, you wouldn’t sit… Read more »

Fat Bob
Fat Bob
9 years ago

This is absolutely “supplement of the week” thinking. A National Geographic writer “exploring” blue zones is _no_substitute_ for large longitudinal studies which control for as many variables as possible.

That’s how we actually know that smoking causes lung cancer, for example.

It’s a good point that good health can be cheap though.

mike crosby
mike crosby
9 years ago

There’s so much that you “can do” to extend your life. Ah, tumeric, wine, veggies, ad infinitum.

The best science I’ve read is the opposite, do nothing–i.e. Caloric restriction. Eat less, no matter what it is, and science seems to say that you’ll live longer.

http://www.calorierestriction.org/

Revertive
Revertive
9 years ago

You might point out that people in Japan aren’t necessarily living longer. It’s just that their government doesn’t keep track of deaths very well.

I heard it on NPR: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129992827

Adrianne
Adrianne
9 years ago

I dont think you can lump Sardinia with all of Italy. Sardinia is and considers themselves very different than mainland Italy. My husband is Sardinian and we are living in Sardinia at the moment. There is even a small seperatist movement that exists in Sardinia. The lifestyle here is different – but it also depends on the job you have. If you work for a large company you are likely working 9-5/6, normal business hours. If you have your own store/business, you work from 9-1/130, close from 2-5 and reopen from 5-9. This is why people the conception of Italy… Read more »

First Gen American
First Gen American
9 years ago

I’m wondering how much genetics play a role. The people who I knew who lived to their late 90’s were all very short. Your heart doesn’t have to work as hard if you’re petite. I’m afraid I’m doomed being my height.

I also agree with Katelyn that stress plays a significant role. Although modern day Italians (like Lily) may think they are just as stressed as Americans, those are most likely the city dwellers not the country folk.

Dan Blakely
Dan Blakely
9 years ago

I like the topic here and have spent a good deal of my time looking at these Blue Zone regions. To me these folks live a simple life, focusing on relationships and really taking care of their bodies. Much different than the average American who is focused on acquiring things and getting ahead. It boils down to a different way of living. One that may get you a second look or accused of not being “normal” – whatever the hell normal is today! Anyway, at our house we’ve been trying to slowly adopt as much of these learnings as we… Read more »

nick
nick
9 years ago

I have to get to that island! great post!

Charlie F
Charlie F
9 years ago

Another good reason for me to stick with vegetarianism!

K. Painter
K. Painter
9 years ago

I’m so glad to read on this site that alcohol consumption raises a woman’s risk for cancer. I’m not glad to know it’s true, just glad that the information is finally sinking in with the public. My mom died of breast cancer at age 47; she and my dad would have a cocktail or two or three every night. Then tempers would get short. Wasn’t good for their relationship or her health. This was before the era of genetic testing. I have no idea what a BRCA genetic test would have revealed. We lived on Okinawa for a while during… Read more »

Amee Shouse
Amee Shouse
7 years ago

My biggest weakness in losing weight is pasta! It is an every day fight for me!

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