Many are looking for the key to longevity, but there are few in this world who find it: centenarians. While there is no magic pill, and a long life depends on a combination of a healthy diet, knowing how to handle stress, keeping active, and your genetics, there are many things we can learn from some of the world’s oldest living people.
In the United States, only 0.02% of people live to be 100 years old, so when a person reaches the centenarian status, everyone wants to know their secrets.
When Dr. Ellsworth Wareham, a retired heart surgeon reached 100 years, many news sources rushed to interview him and were impressed by his state of health, and surprisingly active lifestyle for that matter. Dr. Wareham, who is going to be 103 soon, still does a lot of his yard work and takes regular walks. He still drives his car.
He also kept his sharp mind and perfect memory, which helped him work until the age of 95, still assisting heart surgeries.
He, himself, describes his health as “superb.”
“I haven’t got an ache or a pain,” he said in an interview.
Dr. Wareham believes that his long and perfectly healthy life is due to his plant-based diet. It was in his thirties, when performing heart surgeries, that he first noticed that patients who were vegetarian had cleaner arteries than those who ate meat. That’s when he made a choice to at a plant-based diet, and recommended all of his patients to do the same.
“I’m dealing in an area which I understand,” he said.
His health expertise brought him to a conclusion that a healthy heart is the best investment and the best bet for a long life. And nothing can be better for cardiovascular health than vegetarianism, or at least, limiting the meat products intake.
“If your blood cholesterol is under 150, your chances of having a heart attack are pretty small,” Dr. Wareham explained.
His blood cholesterol is just 117, which to him means he has essentially zero chance of having a heart attack.
“We have a lot of information in this country that is not being applied, which would greatly reduce the incidence we have of coronary disease,” he said.
Not all meat is created equal, and eating a small amount of free-range grass fed beef once a week is significantly different than, say, eating farm raised full-of-antibiotics chicken at every dinner. Still, there is a lot of new research coming out pointing to the fact that meat consumption, especially processed meats, is linked to disease and a shorter life.
Research: Plant-Based Diet and a Longer Life
Multiple studies show that a plant-based diet is associated with a longer life with fewer chronic illnesses.
A 2017 study linked plant-based diets to lower coronary disease risk, which Dr. Wareham finds to be the most important key to a long life. The study found that higher intake of plant-based meals in strongly correlated with a lower risk for coronary disease.
Besides preventing coronary disease, a plant-based diet helps lower overall mortality risk.
A study from Massachusetts General Hospital discovered that substituting just 10% of animal protein intake, decreased a chance of death from all causes by 2%. Just substituting eggs with plant protein led to a 19% reduction in death risk; eliminating red meat had a 12% reduction in death risk.
Research from Loma Linda University School of Public Health also concluded that: plant based diet improves longevity and that vegetarians have a 20% lower mortality rate than non-vegetarians.
Are there other factors at play besides the diet?
The Loma Linda University study analyzed nutritional practices of Seventh-day Adventists throughout the United States and Canada. Dr. Wareham is also a Seventh-day Adventist. It is also possible that some of other lifestyle choices are at play: not smoking, not drinking alcohol, and a more powerful way of dealing with stress.
It may not be the denomination or type of religion per se, but the hope it provides that everything is going to be alright, which may provide a less stressful life.
Dr. Ellsworth Wareham’s Other Health Tips: Stress and Motivation
Dr. Wareham other second secret to a long life is not letting any type of stress affect him.
“I have a philosophy. You do the best you can, and the things you can’t do anything about, don’t give any thought to them,” he said.
Stress is the leading cause of the majority of diseases, and even when it does not cause the illness, it often triggers it. Acquiring a mindset that protects you from negatively reacting to stressful situation in life might be one of the best things to do for a long and healthy life.
Something else that benefited Dr. Wareham’s long life is motivation, having a driving force that motivates one to keep going, a mission in life. Dr.Wareham’s motivation until the age of 95 was performing and assisting heart surgeries. Today what motivates him is speaking and spreading awareness about preventative medicine and “showing what 100 years old can look like.”
Another big contributor to his health is that he happens to live in one of the Blue Zones, places on Earth where the number of people reaching 100 years old is significantly higher.
Blue Zone: Loma Linda, California
Blue Zones are places in the world where people have a 10 times higher chance of living to be at least 100 years old. These places have been studied and documented by Dan Buettner, and how these people live, eat, and age are described in The Blue Zones Solution and his other books.
There are only five documented Blue Zones found in the world right now, and they are: Okinawa (Japan), Sardinia (Italy), Nicoya (Costa Rica), Icaria (Greece), and Loma Linda, California – where Dr. Wareham lives.
These zones have a combination of environmental and lifestyle factors that aid in longevity. However, a lot of it comes down to basics — starting with a plant-based diet.
The other values that Blue Zones bring are natural movement throughout the day, and having a strong purpose in life – both of which Dr. Wareham follows.