Longevity tips from my 91-yr old neighbour

I’ve become absolutely fascinated (and maybe a little obsessed) with the Blue Zones recently. Scientists have pinpointed 5 places in the world, dubbed Blue Zones, where people live the longest and are the healthiest: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece and Loma Linda, California. Researchers found all Blue Zone areas share 9 specific lifestyle habits that they call the Power 9. I urge you to read about the habits but, in summary, it’s what they eat (they eat lots of beans), how they de-stress, the importance of drinking wine (I like this habit!), put loved ones first, have a sense of purpose and more.

The Blue Zones concept grew out of demographic work which identified Sardinia as the region of the world with the highest concentration of male centenarians. I don’t know anyone aged over 100 but I do live next door to a sprightly 91-year old called Derek who is still gigging in a band and cycles off to the gym five mornings a week. He seems to have more energy than me so what is his secret? I just had to find out. I popped over one morning for a chat, armed with a list of questions for him.

Q1. How much exercise do you do a week?

I go to the gym four mornings per week and swim once a week. I’m always busy in the garden, planting, weeding, digging, harvesting, watering etc.

Q2. Do you eat 5-A-Day?

Yes, in fact I never eat less than 10 portions of fruit and veg a day. I grow my own fruit and vegetables but some crops haven’t been that successful this year. Everyday I eat an apple, banana and grapes and lots of vegetables.

Q3. What’s your favourite meal?

A veg stew made in a pressure cooker. I eat meat once a week and fish twice a week. I make my own muesli containing nuts, seeds and fruits and I drink red grape juice and goats milk. I drink coffee when I’m doing a gig just to keep me awake!

Q4. Do you ever eat fast food?

Never. Back in the 1950s I was based in American camps. It was the first time I’d seen a burger. I did eat burgers then but I got into healthy eating whilst in my late 40s so haven’t eaten anything like that since.

Q5. What do you think is the secret to a long and healthy life?

Some of it is down to luck, my mother made it to 99. A good diet helps. I don’t mix protein with carbs. I read a book a long time ago called “The Hay Diet, Don’t Eat Foods That Fight”. I’ve been doing this since I was about 50 years old. It suits me. I don’t rush food, I chew it well. I gave up drinking alcohol in 1952. My Wife didn’t like me drinking so I stopped and I’ve never smoked.

I play the saxophone (3 different types – soprano, alto & tenor) and the clarinet. I practice everyday. I’ve been playing now for 76 years. It’s so therapeutic; you can forget about all your troubles. I didn’t retire at 65 like most people. Life and work pretty much carried on as usual from the age of 65-85. I’ve slowed down a bit now. At 84 I went to Go Ape and loved it!

Derek is a great example of someone who has taken charge of his health and actively seeks ways to improve his chances of enjoying a long and healthy life. If you read the Power 9 you’ll see that his habits reflect those of the Blue Zone people. He’s an absolute delight to listen to and I came away from our conversation feeling really inspired. To make it to age 100, you have to have won the genetic lottery (that’s me out!). For the rest of us we could make a few small changes to our lifestyle to improve our chances of making it into our 90’s. Maybe we could all create a little Blue Zone in our own homes. I know I’ve already started.

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