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Longevity experts who have met over 1,000 centenarians share 3 key differences between the world's oldest people

Fabrizio Villatoro and Ben Meyers with María Branyas Morera, the oldest living person in the world.
Fabrizio Villatoro (left) and Ben Meyers (right) with María Branyas Morera, the oldest living person.Thomas Williams, LongeviQuest
  • The world's oldest people have lots in common, including healthy diets and a sense of community.

  • But there are some notable differences between cultures, showing there are many ways to hit 100.

  • Longevity experts who have spoken to many supercentenarians shared these differences with BI.

The world's oldest people tend to have certain habits in common, such as eating well, having a good work-life balance, and keeping active. But there are also some notable differences, according to longevity researchers.

Ben Meyers, the CEO of LongeviQuest, an organization that verifies the ages of the world's oldest people and collects their stories, and Fabrizio Villatoro, its Latin America research president, have between them spoken to over 1,000 centenarians and supercentenarians, who are 110 or older.

Meyers said that the supercentenarians they've spoken to across the world "universally tend to be really positive." Keeping positive was one of the surprising tips for healthy aging he and Villatoro previously shared with Business Insider.

However, Fabrizio said there are also plenty of "different customs, different cultures, and different things" that they've noticed and "there's not one strict formula that centenarians all have." There are many ways to reach 100, it seems.

In Japan, supercentenarians have strict diets, while they're more indulgent in Latin American countries

Villatoro said that in Japan, supercentenarians are generally strict about eating everything in moderation. This chimes with the observations of Yumi Yamamoto, LongeviQuest's research president for Japan, which has a culture of following "hara hachi bu" rule, or eating until you are 80% full. Japanese supercentenarians have occasional treats but tend not to binge.

In Villatoro's experience, people in other regions, such as Latin America, aren't nearly as rigorous about their diets and indulge in treats such as wine and chocolate more often. They have this in common with people in Ikaria, Greece, one of the world's Blue Zones — where people tend to live longer on average — where residents regularly enjoy wine.

If you're left wondering which diet to aim for, the Mediterranean diet is widely considered one of the healthiest ways to eat, featuring lots of whole foods, the occasional glass of red wine, and plenty of olive oil.

Supercentenarians are more religious in Latin American countries than in Japan

Villatoro said that Latin American supercentenarians tend to be very religious, mostly Catholic. Many of them are very devout, which is a source of positivity, he said. Research suggests being positive may help us live longer, with one 2019 study finding people with higher levels of optimism were more likely to live to 85 and beyond.

The lifestyle encouraged by certain religions may also play a role in longevity, as is the case for Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda, the US' only Blue Zone, who largely follow a plant-based diet and regularly exercise.

However, Villatoro said that he's noticed supercentenarians from Japan typically aren't as religious as their Latin American counterparts. Yet Japan has of the most rapidly aging populations in the world, with a much higher percentage of centenarians than other countries.

Supercentenarians tend to live with their families in Brazil and Colombia, a tradition that seems to be changing in Argentina and Japan

Villatoro said that in most Latin American countries where he's visited supercentenarians, there's a cultural expectation that younger generations will look after their elders.

"In Brazil, everybody recognizes that older people have worked hard, so when people become elderly, basically every need is taken care of by their families. Then, in Colombia, many live in rural areas and spend their lives working in the fields with their huge families, who all look after each other," he said.

Research suggests there is a link between strong relationships and longevity, with one 2023 study finding that living alone and being isolated from family and friends was associated with a 77% higher risk of death.

But more of the older people Villatoro has met in Argentina live in retirement homes than in other countries. Although 77% of older people are looked after by their families, this is not as high as in Brazil, where the figure is 94.1%, according to 2023 data from the Pan American Health Organisation and Inter-American Development Bank.

Yamamoto has noticed a similar trend in Japan, where she said more and more older people are moving into care homes, whereas traditionally, their children and grandchildren would have looked after them.

Correction: January 15, 2024 — An earlier version of this story misspelled Colombia as Columbia.

Read the original article on Business Insider