man aged 106 holding a sign with this number on

Let’s be frank, I don’t know about you but I want to live until I’m 100 years old. I want to be fit, healthy, productive and happy, and I want to see my great-grandchildren, heck, my great-great-grandchildren grow up. I’ve just turned forty years of age, and I definitely want to be here to see another forty at least.

Around the world, people living to be over 100 years old are quite rare, but in a handful of places it does seem to be more common. And it’s not just about having a longer life, it’s about really living that life – being conscious in each moment, enjoying it and having fun. I want some of that! So, on the journey of creating this book, I went to some of the healthiest places in the world – places where the numbers of exceptionally old, healthy, fit people are unusually high. You’ll see some of the incredible characters I met in the images peppered throughout this section of the book. And despite these areas being vastly different in geography and climate, generally there are similarities between all these wonderful old people. Food plays a big part, but there are other factors too.

Community & purpose

First of all, the majority of these lovely people are really good fun, and really good company. Now to me, that makes perfect sense, because if you’re a miserable old codger, who’s going to want to hang out with you and care for you? But in all seriousness, a sense of community, of sustained relationships with the people around you, is really at the heart of these pockets of people. Most have a religion or belief of some sort, all of which vary, but I think the message to be taken is the same – that having a sense of purpose, and having people around you to share that with – family, friends, neighbours, community – is really important. You can live alone, but getting out there, keeping in touch with people, laughing and sharing stories, is key.

Movement

Movement is pretty interesting too. Exercise as we know it – going to the gym, going for a run – doesn’t exist in most places. Instead, movement and being active is simply a natural habit in all aspects of daily life. Generally things are inconveniently got, it sounds daft but people sit on the floor and stand up and down more often, they walk a lot more, tend gardens; I could go on. In the very act of living their lives these wonderful people are probably getting more ‘exercise’ than you and I do on an average day, without intentionally setting out to do so. It’s a great lesson – we’ve almost made our lives too convenient. Let’s all challenge ourselves to be more naturally active each day and quite simply, just move a bit more!

Food & wine

Diet-wise, the key ingredients and habits do vary wildly from place to place, but on the whole, meat consumption is fairly low and plant-based meals are celebrated. Most people have a garden or outdoor area where they grow a few things – giving the opportunity to get outside and keep active, but also to eat food that is the ultimate in seasonality and freshness, picked right from their backyard. A lot of people have a small glass of alcohol each day (that’s a small glass, and one, not two, three or four!). And many people share meals when they can with the people around them – rushing less, chewing more, and appreciating their food.

What’s the secret?

I guess what these brilliant folk have taught me more than anything is that the secret to a long, happy, productive life isn’t one golden bullet – there’s no tablet out there that you can take to give you a longer life. It’s about the full package – family, friends, community, keeping stress levels low, the simple act of growing, cooking and eating good food, and sharing that food with the people around you whenever you can, sleeping enough and being nice to people. Remember, there’s no such thing as an insignificant healthy choice – they all count, however big or small. It’s about joining all the dots together to give yourself the best chance.

Now I don’t claim to be an expert on all areas of life, but I can certainly help you out on the food front, and that’s why this book exists – to offer a tangible solution to the food part in order to help you live a healthier, happier life. Everything else is up to you – be optimistic, open, and embrace life and all the weird and wonderful challenges it presents us with.

I’m part of a neat little app, called YOU, which is free and totally in the spirit of this book. It’s all about completing daily micro actions around food, mindfulness, movement and love. Getting involved and going on that journey only requires one minute of your time each day, and it’s a great little tool to help you start making small, achievable, sustainable changes.

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Everyday Super Food by Jamie Oliver is published by Penguin Random House ⓒ Jamie Oliver Enterprises Limited (2015 Everyday Super Food) Photographer: Jamie Oliver