3 Essential Lessons I Learned From People Who Live to Be 100 Years Old

Vincent Van Patten

Health is much more simple than we make it out to be.


Photo by Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash

I was in Greece with four best friends, fresh out of college with the next chapter of our lives ahead of us.

We were staying with my buddy’s grandfather Pappous, who grew up on the island of Samos in the eastern Aegean Sea.

In Samos, mornings consisted of exploring the dense pine forests covering the coasts, where the dry, crisp smell of cedar and pine, citrus, and olive trees coalesce to produce the delicious aroma of the earth.

Afternoons were spent relaxing in hilltop villages where the locals, many in old age, savored the time with loved ones under a shady tree’s falling leaves.

I knew I was experiencing something special. But at the time, I didn’t realize that this simple way of living leads to the longest, most fulfilling lives on earth.

This trip would be pivotal in transforming how I view health, happiness, and love for the planet itself.

The Blue Zones of the world

Over the years, I’ve realized that health means much more than how one looks, our first instinct when judging another person.

As I saw with practically all locals in Greece, health is when what truly matters — love for yourself, your friends, family, and the earth — takes precedence over what doesn’t, superficial aspirations.

About a year after the trip, I came across The Blue Zones, 9 Lessons For Living Longer.

In the book, author Dan Buettner travels the globe seeking out communities with the most centenarians, people living over a hundred-years-old, to learn their secrets.

The centenarians of these Blue Zone communities — Ikaria Greece, Sardinia Italy, Okinawa Japan, Loma Linda California, and Nicoya Costa Rica — don’t spend long hours in the gym or Sunday afternoons meal prepping.

Their overall behavior emulates our ancestor’s customs: to move, connect, and love more throughout the day.

After reading the book, I began reflecting on my time in Greece.

It all started making sense.

What do you truly want?

Samos lies about fifty miles from Ikaria, one of the World’s Blue Zones. What I experienced in Greece exemplifies the core pillars of the Blue Zones communities.

Moving outdoors, connecting with food and the planet, and sharing the love with our friends and family mean infinitely more than power, money, or perfect looks.

If you hope for these things like many, if not all of us do, go for them. But ask yourself, why do I truly want them?

Having a six-pack doesn’t mean you’re healthy, just as having a Ferrari doesn’t mean you’re happy.

One may be far from it if they suffer mentally by sacrificing their peace of mind.

If we prioritize status and prestige over the values that lead to healthy, fulfilling lives, maybe it’s time to ask: what are we doing it for?

Simplifying health

As part of a younger generation striving to get a foot in the door of this game called living, I know how it feels to want what others have.

But our health — not just our looks, but our mental, spiritual, and emotional health — takes a back seat to the struggle for perfection.

There’s so much noise telling us what we should be doing to be the best versions of ourselves. But I’ve learned that health can’t be paid for, and it isn’t found on social media.

It’s engaging your mind and moving in ways that make your body feel good.

It’s what connects your spirit with this planet and fills your heart with love.

It’s a balanced lifestyle focused on longevity like The Blue Zones epitomizes, instead of short-term goals and unsustainable pressure.

Move throughout the day

In the Blue Zone communities, the elders are just as active as the young. They often rise with the sun, tending to their livestock or vineyards, hiking in the local hills, planting food, and cultivating their gardens.

They act in the ways our ancestors did, not exercising just for the sake of exercise, but moving in ways that foster mindfulness and joy.

In that same spirit, I find my body feels the best not in the gym but out in the world, where my soul can connect with where I am.

Walking is one of the purest ways to do this.

It doesn’t only serve our body; walking feeds our overall wellbeing, as John Kaag and Susan Froderberg explain in their article on bluezones.com.

“Walking can be a brief respite in our otherwise frenetic lives, allowing us to detach so we might see life for ourselves again, not unlike a child does.” they write.

Walking is a time to disconnect from the screen and the artificial world to connect with the real world and your authentic self.

I’m not saying quit your gym membership and start walking twenty miles a day.

But try adding walking to your routine and allow yourself more freedom to move, explore, and get lost.

Connect with food and the planet

In each Blue Zone community, they generally cook for themselves, grow their produce, and shop locally.

Food means more than just a means to achieve results. It’s an integral part of each Blue Zone culture, a connection between us as human beings and the planet that nurtures our bodies and souls.

To eat like our ancestors, we should eat intuitively based on how we feel, not by what we’re told. Dan Buettner writes in The Blue Zones Kitchen:

“The Blue Zone centenarians don’t count calories, take vitamins, weigh protein grams, or even read labels.”

While the local foods they eat differ from culture to culture, the choices they make follow the same general guidelines.

“See that 95% of your food comes from a plant or a plant product. Limit animal protein in your diet to no more than one small serving per day. Favor beans, greens, yams and sweet potatoes, fruits, nuts, and seeds.”

Before this eye-opening trip and reading The Blue Zones, I hardly thought about long-term health.

I’m thankful to realize what we do now determines our future, no matter how old we are.

I will treat my body with the respect it deserves by feeding it what human beings have for thousands of years.

When we primarily eat natural whole foods and celebrate with food as the centenarians do, eating becomes what it should be, one of life’s greatest joys.

I still eat meat, eggs, and dairy because I’m a human being, one with an insatiable ice cream weakness.

We’re all unique, and one way of eating won’t produce the same results for all of us.

There is no perfect diet.

Eat what makes you feel good.

Eat what makes you happy.

Experience food as it’s meant to be by eating locally wherever you are in the world. Remain open to its magic.

Change, health, and happiness all come from an open mind.

Love with all of your heart

The Blue Zone diet and an active lifestyle undoubtedly play an integral role in why these communities comprise the world’s most centenarians. But without love, what is the point in living that long in the first place?

Love for our mind, body, and soul makes us take the steps to a healthier life.

Love for the planet motivates us to get outdoors, lost amongst the sweet-smelling trees, or listening to the gentle ocean waves.

Love for others is what gets us through difficult times, such as now. It’s what motivates us to be the best that we can be.

As the world has shut down for almost a year without gyms, restaurants, and constant contact with others, we’ve begun living as they do in the Blue Zone communities by taking the time to do what matters.

We’re cooking at home and enjoying long family meals outside and in parks, where people who thought they might never learn to cook are discovering it’s something they find genuine joy in doing.

All around the world, people are seen in walking flocks, where friends, families, and even strangers are spending more time together to get some movement and sunlight.

We’ve found ways to see our families and friends, through apps, but if we can in person.

That’s what has gotten us through this challenging time, and it’s what will bring a modern renaissance.

We walked through the silent streets of the old village for a final dinner with Pappous, his family, and friends.

We came across tables set up under dim lights, beautifully hung from one end of the small plaza to the other.

And so the feast began.

Local wine and charcoal-grilled meat and vegetables until we could barely see straight. Food as a celebration, as it’s meant to be.

We quickly became one big family, singing along with the acoustic guitar into the early morning.

Maybe it’s time to redefine health by shifting our priorities and living as the centenarians have been all along.

We may find that life is much more fun when we do.

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My name is Vincent Van Patten. This is my home, a place to share who I am and what lights my soul on fire. I’m a writer, media creator, and co-host of The Dare to Dream Podcast. Most importantly, I’m an inspired citizen of our ever-changing world. I strive to learn all that I can about how we’ve progressed to where we are today as individual cultures and as a planet. It’s my passion to fill every day with exploration and creativity no matter where I am, whether in California crafting my latest project or on my way to discover someplace new. By writing about my experiences, connecting with people and the earth, and remaining present, I always feel at home. I write to express my perspective of daily living, from the thoughts in my head to the relationships we share as human beings. I write about travel, culture, books, life, philosophy, spirituality, health, self-improvement, and history. I also write poetry and short stories  —  doing so soothes the soul. I believe we’re here to challenge ourselves by questioning all we think we know. When we do, we open our minds to a way of living we could never have imagined. This life is a journey with no finish line in sight. I hope to leave a positive impact with every step I take.

Del Mar, CA

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