This month, the world’s oldest human passed away. Italian Emma Morano was the last surviving person from the 1800s and her life spanned across 3 centuries. She died aged 117, peacefully asleep in her armchair at home. Our Nutritional Therapist, Catherine Jeans looks into what we can do today, to help us live longer and healthier.
I’ve been doing a lot of research recently into why some people live so much longer than others, and a large part of it comes down to our lifestyle and the food we eat. In fact, genetics plays a small role in how healthy we are and how long we live. It’s the environment around us, how happy we are, how we spend each day, how much we move and what we eat that makes the most significant impact on whether we’ll live to 100 (and be healthy along the way).
As a nutritional therapist, I am fascinated by what we can do today, to help us live longer and healthier. And as a parent, when I feed my children and encourage them to exercise, I tell them about my desire to help them reach 100 and have a fulfilling and healthy life. Just like Emma Morano, I want them to be some of the oldest and healthiest living people on the planet.
What do we know about what makes us live longer?
There are several places around the world that have the highest concentration of centenarians. Researchers have spent many years trying to discover what makes these people live longer. From Okinawa in Japan to Sardinia and the Greek islands, despite their different cultures there are key characteristics of people who reach 100 and beyond.
In some ways, Italian Emma Morano was an exception. According to her doctor, she never ate many fruit or vegetables, but researchers have found that most centenarians do eat a predominately plant based diet. This usually includes beans and rice, with lots of fresh greens and antioxidant rich vegetables. So there’s no better excuse to eat your 7… or even 10 a day.
Spending time with family and friends is also a key characteristic, and something Emma Morano did on a regular basis. Surprisingly, what researchers have found is that when centenarians socialize, it usually involves some kind of alcohol. 5 o’clock is certainly wine o’clock in their world… enjoyed with friends, chatting, playing games and having a healthy snack.
Growing your own fruit and vegetables is also very common among centenarians, with many of them still cultivating their land well into their 80s, 90s and beyond. Not only does this provide a source of healthy, organically grown fresh fruit and veg, but also provides much needed exercise to strengthen their bodies and keep them moving. It’s worrying how sedentary our lifestyles have become, and one of the main reasons why we are putting on more and more weight. Did you know that if you moved more, did more gardening, walked the school run, took the stairs not the lift and avoided sitting at a desk, you could burn an extra 3000 calories per week. That’s without ever going to the gym! In fact, most centenarians don’t have a history of intense workouts at the gym! They just move every day, climb hills, plant seeds, make their own food and walk to see their friends regularly.
So as I write my new course, which is designed to help parents learn how to help their children live to 100, I’m planning on raising a glass to centenarians like Emma Morano. Red wine anyone? It’s nearly 5 o’clock! But remember it’s just the one!
If you’re interested in learning more about Catherine’s approach to healthy eating through a vegetarian or vegan diet, sign up to her How to be a Healthy Vegetarian or Vegan Workshop.