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Vital Signs. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired April 11, 2015 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:28] DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: How can we live longer? Well, if you're a woman, if your mother was 25 years or younger when you were born, or if you live on a mountain, you have a pretty good chance of making it to 100. But let's just say none of that applies to you. What do you do then?

I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and welcome to "Vital Signs". If you're like me, you want to know what is it about the people who live the longest, and how do we imitate that into our own lives? We decided to visit them where they live to try to learn. Some of the answers you're going to find quite simple, but others will surprise you.

DR. ELLSWORTH WAREHAM, RETIRED CARDIO SURGEON: To do bypass surgery is not sound unless you have a program you put them on.

GUPTA: Right.

WAREHAM: What's his name in New York, wrote the book --

GUPTA: Oh, yes, oh, I know -- I'm blanking on name.

WAREHAM: Campbell.

GUPTA: That's right. It's pretty impressive you remembered that and I forgot. Not that I'm patting myself on the back. You're 100 years old.

WAREHAM: Well, I'll have to say this. I have noticed no deterioration in my mental ability with my age.

GUPTA: That is remarkable. What do you attribute that to?

WAREHAM: Well, I think it goes along with your general health. And I have to say this, I'm a heavy promoter of the vegan approach.


Dr. Ellsworth Wareham follows an entirely plant-based diet, and it appears to have served him well. He's 100-years-old and in perfect health. In fact he was a practicing heart surgeon until only five years ago.

WAREHAM: I assisted until I Was 95. I could do open heart surgery right now. My hands are steady, my eyes are good. GUPTA: How does being a vegan do all these things, keep your hands

steady, make your memory still remain so sharp?

WAREHAM: What we concentrate is on the heart. See, you don't have heart attacks.

GUPTA: Dr. Wareham lives in Loma Linda, California. It's one of the original blue zones. These are hot spots around the globe where people live measurably longer lives -- Ikaria Greece, Sardinia, Italy, Okinawa, Japan, and Nicoya, Costa Rica, each of them selected because of customs and lifestyles that help create an environment where people can live healthier, longer. Dan Buettner led the team that first discovered the blue zones.

DAN BUETTNER, DISCOVERED BLUE ZONES: Loma Linda has the highest percentage of Seventh-Day Adventists in the world, and Seventh-Day Adventists are living longer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's over here.

BUETTNER: The national institutes on ageing had pointed me to the Adventist health study that showed that adherent Adventists will live about seven years longer than, seven to 10, actually, than their North American counterparts.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are what we call whole plant based diet vegetarians. It's a little different from Vegan, yes.

GUPTA: Seventh-Day Adventists practice a religion that promotes the principles of healthy living. Members follow a diet of no meat, no smoking, no alcohol. It made them the perfect control group for the Adventist health study.

Is there a tangible number you say you're going to live this much longer, you're going to have this much of a health benefit?

DR. RICHARD HART, PRESIDENT, LOMA LINDA UNIVERSITY: Well, in the Adventist health study, we add five simple habits together. So no smoking, keep to an ideal weight, plant-based diet, eating nuts regularly, and regular exercise. You add approximately eight to 10 years on your life. Now each one of those contributes about two years.

GUPTA: Adventists also observe a strict Saturday Sabbath. It's a time to unplug and unwind and share time with other like-minded people.

Someone listening to this and they say I want to adopt -- I don't live in Loma Linda, I'm not an Adventist, but I want to adopt some of those things in my own life. What would you tell them?

BUETTNER: I'd say the first thing to do is to assess your social network, who are you hanging out with? Are the people bellied up at a bar or sitting on the TV, sitting on the couch watching TV on the weekends, or are they -- belong to a gardening club, or do they bike, or walk? [14:05:01] HART: We all know we ought to eat better, what we

ought to do, we ought to exercise, we got to lose a few pounds. Most of us fail to do it because we don't have that inner drive, that purpose. And I think that comes from saying I'm part of something bigger. I have a purpose with my life.

I really believe the secret to longevity in the blue zone and everywhere else isn't so much eating a particular diet as it is having a purpose in what you're doing.

GUPTA: In addition to creating sense of belonging and purpose, Seventh-Day Adventists like Dr. Wareham say their religion also helps them deal with stress.

WAREHAM: If your life is God-directed, you see, you don't interfere with him. He's a pretty big person. Let him do it and accept what he gives you.

GUPTA: How big a role does stress play, how big a role did it play in your life?

WAREHAM: You asked the wrong person. I don't go for the stress theory.


WAREHAM: No. I never had stress. I have a philosophy you do the best you can and the things you can't do anything about, don't give any thought to them. As far as I'm concerned, stress is a manufactured thing.

GUPTA: Dr. Wareham's positive take on life was inspiring. It reminded me that so much of what affects our health and maybe even how long we live is mental.

I'm a surgeon. Like you. Because of that similar background you may know someone like me better than most. What sort of advice do you give someone like me?

WAREHAM: You have to realize that it's a choice. You get up in the morning and you choose to be happy, you just choose it. You know what Abraham Lincoln said? Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

GUPTA: I like that.

WAREHAM: Well, here we are. We're intelligent people, make up our minds to be happy. That's all there is to it.

GUPTA: Next, we visit another blue zone to meet some centenarians making you rethink what it means to live long and healthy.


[14:10:50] GUPTA: In the 20th century life expectancy shot up by 30 years. It was the greatest gain made in more than 5,000 years of human history. And centenarians, people who live 100 years or more, are no longer an exclusive club. In fact, by the year 2050 it's expected there will be 3.2 million of them all over the world. While we all can't all live to 100, we can all learn how to live longer, and centenarians may be some of our greatest teachers.

JOSE GUEVARA: I wake up at 6:00 a.m. Then I will get some corn and go feed the chickens or the pig. That's the first thing I do.

GUPTA: Jose Guevara lives with his family on a small farm in Costa Rica. He spent most of his life riding horses and working in the fields. Today he gets around on the back of his grandson's four- wheeler. Jose is 105 years old. He lives in the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica along the Pacific coast. It is another one of the original blue zones, those longevity hot spots on the world where people are found to have live longer than the rest of us. Author Dan Buettner first visited the Nicoya peninsula in 2006.

BUETTNER: Nicoya, specifically they have water that percolates through the limestone and it's very high in calcium and magnesium. So quite literally it might be a little bit in the water there. They tend to have fewer fatal broken hips at older age. Their bones tend to be stronger. They eat mostly a plant-based diet. They live in villages where every time they go to work, every time they go to a friend's house, to church, or go out to eat on occasion, they'll walk. So every 15 minutes or so, they are nudged into some physical activity which keeps their metabolism at a higher rate.

They tend to be people of faith. We know people who belong to a faith-based organization, doesn't matter which one it is, they are living four to 14 years longer than people who don't have that faith.

GUPTA: Buettner found the Nicoya Peninsula thanks to the work of demographers from the University of Costa Rica. Relying on the country's accurate birth records, they pinpointed what appeared to be an island of longevity. An extensive door-to-door survey which included blood samples found lower cardiovascular disease and revealed something remarkable about the genetic biomarker that's considered a good indicator of ageing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Longer the life, and specifically Nicoyans have longer years than the rest of the Costa Ricans, especially centenarians.

GUPTA: Surprisingly, Costa Rica spends a 10th on what the United States spends son health care. Yet more than twice as many men here will reach the healthy age of 90.

BUETTNER: But interestingly you see longevity phenomena as mostly among the poorest people. This notion that you have to be rich to be healthy is completely wrong.

GUPTA: This 108-year-old lady is Maria Francisco Castillo, affectionately known as Conchita. She is the oldest resident in Nicoya. Like Jose, she lives in a humble home and seems to share that same spark.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I saw a young lady, so beautiful and so gracious.

[14:15:00] GUPTA: Conchita's sight and hearing have diminished, but she can remember things, like the song that her first boyfriend sang to her when she was only 15.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would ride horses. I would grind corn, make tortillas. I would do everything. I worked with the machete. I would sharpen it. I learned it. My father taught me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She looks like a lady of 70 or less than 70. She doesn't have many drugs, yes, a few for some pains, joint pains.

GUPTA: Conchita had four children, and they have stayed close to her. Her oldest son, Pablo, is 92-years-old.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Back in the day we ate meat from wild animals, animals from nature, and not injected with anything. Now almost everything you eat has been injected. That is why everyone is so lazy today.


GUPTA: Laughter, it's another important element in blue zone longevity and a big part of what Costa Ricans call "pure life."

Ahead, some lessons for all of us on how to live longer from those who live the longest.


[14:20:34] GUPTA: We met some pretty incredible centenarians on our blue zone journey, each one with their own wisdom and advice for living long and healthy lives. Taken together, there's definitely some common themes and common sense. Call them longevity takeaways.

You talk about these four principles, which I love, because they make perfect sense, and I want to break them down for a second. Move naturally. Eat wisely. Belong. And connect with people.

BUETTNER: We also call that purpose. In blue zones, people actually have terminology for it. In Okinawa, the word is "the reason I wake up in the morning." Interesting, they do not even have a word for "retirement," but they can articulate their sense of purpose.

GUPTA: Finding that purpose may actually keep you alive. As part of the new book, looking at how we can apply blue zone situations to our lives, Buettner came across some startling statistics that show your chances of having a heart attack or dying can increase dramatically after you retire.

BUETTNER: So at middle age, to take the time to get clear with what is my purpose and how can I put that to work? That is what's going to get you out of the house in the morning. That's what's going to keep you taking your meds. That's what's keep your wellbeing and your zest for life. GUPTA: You're not saying that the purpose has to be something that's

changing the world, but it could be a hobby? It could be something you're passionate about?

BUETTNER: The easiest mix and stir way to live out your purpose is to volunteer.

GUPTA: Buettner has taken what he's learned from the world's demographers and scientists and condensed that into an easy how-to list. He calls it "The Power Nine." Number one on the list, move naturally. The world's longest live people don't go to gyms. They move without thinking about it.

Next, have that sense of purpose. Knowing what gets you out of the bed in the morning can add up to seven years to your life. He also says to downshift, find a way to shed the stress and make it part of your routine.

Follow the 80 percent rule. In other words, don't stuff yourself. Stop eating when your stomach is 80 percent full. Plant slant, eat less read meat and more plants. Wine at five -- share a glass with friends. Moderate drinkers outlive nondrinkers. Belong -- attending faith based services add years to your life.

Put loved ones first. Invest in family time and reap the rewards.

And finally, find your tribe. Remember, you can't choose your family, but you can choose your friends. Find ones that support healthy behaviors.

SUSAN BURDEN, CEO, BEACH CITIES HEALTH DISTRICT: These are time tested principles about how to be healthy, and they are so understandable to the layperson.

GUPTA: The blue zone formula is now being tested on entire communities.

So this is beach cities. This is a place that invited you to come to try to help them change how they do things here.

BUETTNER: Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, about 125,000 people, and even though it looks healthy, they are no healthier than the rest of America. In fact they are more stressed out, more worried than even Detroit and New Orleans after hurricane Katrina.

GUPTA: By the way, what you're talking about is this, right? You see the beach. You see volleyball. But then you turn, literally, and go down the block, and it's a different world down there.

BUETTNER: Right. Four blocks in it looks like Middle America when it comes to obesity rates and smoking rates.

GUPTA: Here in the beach cities district just south of Los Angeles, California, citizens and city officials are embracing the blue zone secrets and now exploring ways to make them work in their neighborhoods. BUETTNER: If you want to get people to permanently change their

behaviors, you have to change their environment. You have to make the healthy choice not only the easy choice, but you have to make it unavoidable.

GUPTA: The walking school bus was one way to get kids started off on the right foot. It's a community wide effort to leave cars at home and get kids walking to school.

And it's not all about getting people moving here in southern California. They are also finding new ways to slow down.

[14:25:04] Healthy eating and stress relief combined with the right tribe, all ingredients for living longer. After four years, many of these little nudges to make better lifestyle choices and create a healthier environment already have begun to show results. Officials report that fewer people are smoking, obesity rates are down, and more people are feeling better about their chances of living longer.

Do you spend time thinking that I want to live to 100 years? I want to be a centenarian that I spend so much time with?

BUETTNER: Right now in America to live to 100 you have to have won the genetic lottery. The reality is the ceiling, and you probably know this, is about 92 or 93. Do I want to live to a healthy 90 and die in my sleep, preferably after sex? Yes.


BUETTNER: No, I think I want to feel better this year. And if you focus on feeling better this year, the decades will take care of themselves.