Even though centenarians are a growing demographic, only 1 out of 5,000 people live to be 100. We aren’t programmed for longevity, but for something called procreative success. The effect of evolution dissipates after we pass our genome to the next generation and they pass it on to their children. Human body has 35 trillion cells and thus so many things can go wrong to cut our life short. Our cells turn themselves over every 8 years and every time that happens, damage is occurred. The damage builds up exponentially over time. That’s why a 65-year-old ages 5 times as fast as a 12-year-old. To live to be 100, you have to adopt a good lifestyle as well as win the genetic lottery.

So are we destined by our genes? ‘No so,’ says Dan Buettner, national geographic writer and explorer. Buettner assembled a team of researchers to seek out the “hotspots of human health and vitality,” which he calls Blue Zones, and to figure out what they do that helps them live so long. The capacity of a human body is about 90 years, a little longer for women, but the average life span in the U.S. is 78. This means we are leaving 12 good years on the able that is largely free from chronicle diseases.

Here are the common denominators Buettner and his team have identified among the residents of the Blue Zones: the Seventh-Day Adventists in California, the residents of Sardinia, Italy and the inhabitants of the islands of Okinawa, Japan:

1) Move naturally. None of these people exercise at least not in the way we think of workout. Instead their life is set up in such a way that is nudged into physical activities. The Okinawans sit on the floor and have to get up and down 30 to 40 times day. The Sardinians live in vertical houses and go up and down the stairs constantly. Nature walk is big with the Seventh-Day Adventists. All of them tend to walk a lot and they all have a garden.

2) Right Outlook. The Adventists pray, the Sardinians pray and the Okinawans have this ancestor veneration. The Adventists devote one day to focus on their God every week no matter how crazy life gets. When you are in a hurry and stressed out, it triggers an inflammatory response in your body that is associated with everything from Alzheimer’s to cardiovascular diseases. But if you manage to slow down 15 minutes a day, you turn that inflammatory state to a more anti-inflammatory state.

3) Eat wisely. They drink a little bit everyday. They tend to eat a plant-based diet. Meat isn’t excluded but lots of nuts and beans. They also have strategies to keep from overeating. Okinawans are disciplined to stop eating when their stomach feels 80% full.

4) Connect. They put their families first and take care of their children and aging parents. They all tend to belong to a faith-based community. They are either born into the right tribe or they proactively surround themselves with the right people. If you are lucky enough to be born in Okinawa, you automatically enter a system that offers you half a dozen friends who will travel through life with you.

How a society treats its older citizens has a huge influence on the quality and longevity of their lives. In Sardinia, the older you are, the more equity you have and the more you are celebrated for your wisdom. This turns out not only good for the aging parents but also beneficial for the children, the so called “Grandma effect.” There is no shortcut or magic pill for longevity. Physical activities, purpose and a healthy life style overarched by rich and strong connections enable a long life with vigor and happiness.

*Image credit: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0511/feature1/