Healthy at 100: The Scientifically Proven Secrets of the World’s Healthiest and Longest-Lived Peoples
By: John Robbins
Where in the world do people often live to be over 100? That is the question that begins this interesting and well-referenced book. The answer is intricately described by John Robbins, heir to the Baskin-Robbins ice cream corporation, though ironically, a firm advocator of healthy lifestyles. In search for answers, he takes the reader on a tour of four diverse and isolated regions: Abkhasia in the Caucasus region of Russia, the Hunza region of Pakistan, Vilcabamba in Ecuador, and the island of Okinawa in Japan. These dispersed and unconnected regions have one thing in common: some of the healthiest and oldest living people on the planet. During the readers’ literary journey from place to place, Robbins illustrates that it is a complex aggregate of factors that enable these populations to have more centenarians than in the Western world.
Firstly, while geographically, ethnically, and culturally distinct, these populations have similar plant-based and meat-less diets. And of course, they are free of processed-food. Equally important, exercise is incorporated into their daily life, allowing these populations to stay lean and active in late life. Secondly, these communities are socially healthy; they foster a strong sense of spirituality and social support. Elders are highly respected in these communities, and as individuals age, they gain more stature and become revered for their wisdom and knowledge. This is in stark contrast to the common mentality in Western societies where older citizens can be seen as a burden.
Striking, as well, is the longevity of these populations compared to the mental and physical deterioration that occurs in Western societies, and in particular, the high incidence of old-age diseases. Communities in these regions remain vibrant, healthy, and free of disease; remarkably, they do not have an abundance of cancers, neurological diseases, and the host of cardiovascular diseases that plague our society. A doctor would be unneeded there!
Robbins is thorough in his analysis of the literature. He considers the similarities and differences between these populations and our culture carefully, down to the level of genes and hormones. He emphasizes the link between animal-based foods – dairy, meat and eggs – and cancers, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, with strong primary research articles. Moreover, he investigates the link between white foods – sugars, rice, and breads – with health abnormalities, including dental deformations and decay.
Finally, the third section of his book is the “how to”: how to adopt and learn skills and lifestyles from these populations while balancing the realities and demands of our society (sounds too good to be true). He delves into the research of the mind and body and the benefits of regular exercise, and interestingly, designates an entire chapter to love and healthcare – the benefits of being in healthy and loving relationships (and the negative effects of ‘toxic’ relationships).
Overall, an interesting and important read! Robbins makes meaningful claims about health and well-being, backed by solid scientific evidence. Robbins is convincing because he not only presents the scientific evidence, but also analyzes the studies’ strengths, weaknesses, limitations and possible interpretations.
And if you’re wondering whether Robbins currently bears the torch to the Baskin-Robbins corporation, the answer, as you may have guessed, is a firm no. He declined that offer.