Is longevity a modern phenomenon?

I’m always hearing people say we live much longer nowadays but are we aging healthily and did we always die young ‘back in days of old’?

This evening I took a stroll through North Curry, a beautiful Somerset village and came across a graveyard situated next to a picturesque church. I find graveyards peaceful, contemplative places and I like to pause to ponder a while. What caught my eye this evening was the length of time some folk lived for.


One man was born in 1823 and died in 1914. His wife was born 1840 and died in 1937 and another lady died in her 99th year in 1976. That really is quite remarkable given the periods they lived in and what they lived through, which included one or two wars and less sophisticated sanitation and medication.

Our lives are now prolonged thanks to modern medicine and more people seem to be reaching ripe old ages – my Granny is an amazing 96. But are we actually well and thriving in our older years or are we just prolonging life? Unfortunately I think the latter generally applies. However there is promising evidence that we are perfectly capable of living healthy and long lives if we are open to learning from the infamous Blue Zones across the globe.

The blue zones are areas around the world where people do age healthily – Okinawa in Japan, Sardinia, Loma Linda in California, Icaria a Greek Island, Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica adding to this (but not Champagne in France as a GP recently tried to tell me!) What are the blue zone folk doing that everyone else in the world isn’t? You can find out more about the blue zones here

The great news is it isn’t rocket science and it’s actually a very recognisable formula not so far back in our own history consisting of;

  • Largely plant based diet
  • Whole foods – no processed or refined foods including sugar
  • Daily exercise
  • Reduced stress
  • Strong community and family networks
  • No retirement and increased respect in elder years
  • Sunshine seems to have a part to play in it too

There was argument that genetics were the main reason Okinawans lived longer, but the centenarian population are outliving some of the younger age groups who, thanks to Western dietary influences, are falling fate to diseases such as diabetes and CVD, so it’s clearly not down to genetics.

You can find out more about the Okinawans and the blue zones here and here

The fact that some people have managed to live long, healthy lives both in days gone by and today, against all odds and despite the challenges of the time, is testament to what is possible.

Again the answer seems to lie with prevention not treatment. Solutions might be best sought by learning from these gurus of health and leaving prescriptions in the computers of GP surgeries.



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