You are here

How To Live As Long As Possible

According to Dr. James Vaupel of the Laboratory of Survival and Longevity in Rostock, Germany, a person's life span has very little to do with genetics.

Dr. Vaupel explains that while certain physical traits like height are determined in large part by one's genetics, "only 3 percent of how long you will live compared to the average person can be explained by how long your parents lived."

To support this position, Dr. Vaupel points to studies that have tabulated the life spans of identical twins. The data shows that even identical twins die, on average, more than 10 years apart.

So what are the key factors that determine the average person's life span?

In November of 2005, the National Geographic published an article that profiled the dietary and lifestyle traits of the following groups of people who have traditionally enjoyed long, healthy, and productive lives:

  • Okinawans in Japan
  • Sardinians in Italy
  • Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, California

What follows are brief summaries of each group's dietary and lifestyle habits.

Okinawans in Japan

Traditional diet: locally-grown fruits, vegetables, tofu, miso soup, rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, seaweed, sesame seeds, and small portions of fish or other flesh meats.

Other observations: many older Okinawans grow a lot of their own food. Their land is typically used to grow Chinese radishes, garlic, green onions, cabbage, turmeric, tomatoes, and a variety of fruits.

Okinawans are known to embrace a philosophy of eating that says to eat until your stomach is 80 percent full.

Sardinians in Italy

Traditional diet: homegrown fruits and vegetables like zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, and fava beans, milk and pecorino cheese made with milk from their own grass-fed sheep, wine that they make from locally grown Cannonau grapes, and paper-thin flat bread called "carta da musica."

Other observations: most older Sardinians are known to do physical work all day long in their homes or on their land. It is not uncommon for both men and women to remain physically active into their 8th and 9th decades.

Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, California

Traditional diet: beans, nuts, a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole wheat bread, oatmeal, dairy products, eggs, and several glasses of water per day. Members are encouraged to avoid caffeinated drinks, alcohol, smoking, condiments and spices, and meat, especially pork and shellfish.

Other observations: Devout Seventh-day Adventists strive to observe the Sabbath and put their spiritual practices above other facets of their lives.

Clearly, we can enjoy long, healthy, and productive lives following our own unique diets and lifestyles. However, in considering all that we know about long-lived populations, we can say that the following traits are common to almost all of these groups:

  1. They eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
  2. They eat small amounts of clean animal foods such as fish, eggs, or dairy.
  3. They eat foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
  4. They are physically active throughout the day.
  5. They give their bodies regular sleep and rest.
  6. They spend a lot of their time outdoors in the presence of fresh air and natural sunlight.
  7. They do not smoke.
  8. They tend to put family first and have unconditional respect for their elders.
  9. They are genuinely close to their family members and/or a group of friends - the kind of closeness that goes way beyond superficial schmoozing.
  10. They have a sense of purpose, a strong reason to get up each day and make it a good one.

To adopt some or all of the traits listed above certainly cannot hurt our chances of staying healthy for a long time. Interestingly, all of these traits are strongly associated with reducing our risk of developing almost all types of cancer, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and multiple sclerosis.

On a slightly different note, it is worth noting that certain occupations can increase the probability of shortening our lives via a fatal accident.

According to a 2005 national census of fatal occupational injuries conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the United States, the 10 most dangerous jobs by fatality rate are:

  1. Logging workers
  2. Aircraft pilots
  3. Fishers and fishing workers
  4. Structural iron and steel workers
  5. Refuse and recyclable material collectors
  6. Farmers and ranchers
  7. Roofers
  8. Electrical power line installers/repairers
  9. Driver/sales workers and truck drivers
  10. Taxi drivers and chauffeurs

It is truly unfortunate that all of the professions listed above are needed for our world to go round.

Perhaps the most important point for all of us to embrace is that while we can be hopeful of living long, healthy, and productive lives by making sensible daily choices, we must always strive to be grateful for every moment that we are given.


Join more than 80,000 readers worldwide who receive Dr. Ben Kim's free newsletter

Receive simple suggestions to measurably improve your health and mobility, plus alerts on specials and giveaways at our catalogue

Please Rate This

Your rating: None Average: 4.4 (11 votes)
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.


Thanks for this great article, Dr. Kim! As an Adventist, I am proud of the Adventist heritage of a typically longer, healthier life than the norm. The how-to's are certainly no secret; it's simply about a NEWSTART! That's Nutrition, Exercise, Water, Sunshine, Temperance, Air, Rest, and Trust in Divine Power. These are all things I know that you espouse, and I thank you for your continued efforts to make sound health principles accessible to all. Happy New Year to you and your lovely family!

Bev Edwards-Miller, Registered Dietitian
Ontario, Canada

SDAs are in more places than loma linda, ca. I'm one who lives in north carolina. I just thought that localizing us to just that area was a bit narrow. But everything else was very true and usefull. Great article.