- People living in California’s Blue Zone of Loma Linda live on average 4 to 10 extra years.
- Their lifestyle plays a huge role in their longevity.
- Loma Lindans recommend eating less meat, enjoying daily stretching, and drinking water.
At first glance, Loma Linda doesn’t look that different from any other suburb in Southern California. There are fast food joints, a few big highways, palm trees, and year-round sunshine.
And yet, thousands of people living in this town manage to avoid chronic diseases that end up killing many other Americans, like chronic inflammation and heart issues. If you had to pick the top two things that torpedo our odds of living long, healthy lives, naming those two culprits wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Heart disease is the number one killer in America, and controlling inflammation is so intricately tied to how well we age that some researchers have nicknamed the damaging effects of inflammation on our bodies over time “inflammaging.”
But people living in America’s longevity Blue Zone of Loma Linda, California often manage to avoid these two issues — and as a result, their rates of heart disease and age-related inflammatory conditions like diabetes are much lower than in other parts of the US.
These people are not genetically spectacular. Rather, they believe in health, which helps them prioritize daily activities that draw down inflammation and improve circulation in the body.
Insider recently visited Loma Linda to learn more from these folks about how they defy the odds, and live about four to ten years longer than other Californians. Here are nine longevity hacks that Loma Lindans — many of them retired doctors and nurses — shared with Insider for better heart health and less chronic disease.
You don’t have to be vegetarian, but don’t make meat a daily habit
Loma Linda is a popular spot for Seventh-day Adventist Christians, who settled in this orange grove-rich, dry, hilly area in 1905 and started a nursing school.
Loma Linda University Cardiologist Gary Fraser has been studying the impact of vegetable and bean-heavy Adventist diets on overall health for decades. He’s discovered that even Adventists who eat meat don’t have much of it — and that seems to promote their longevity.
“By and large, they’re only eating about three servings of both poultry and red meat per week,” he said.
His recommendation for a healthy anti-aging diet is to avoid milk and meat as much as possible, but still enjoy some animal products.
“Kind of trending towards vegan, but a little fish, a little cheese, that’s about as good as you can do,” he said.
Include omega 3s in your diet
Salmon, flaxseed, canola oil, oatmeal and walnuts can all protect the heart because they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce the amount of fat in your blood, improve blood pressure, and slow the buildup of plaques in your arteries.
Fraser, the cardiologist, likes to plop about half a dozen walnuts on his cereal in the morning, while Retired Adventist nurse Mary Reynolds recommends flaxseeds to her patients who are trying to lower their cholesterol.
Maintaining social ties helps your body control stress and counteract inflammation.
“You gain some advantage with social support and maintaining connections as you get older,” Fraser said.
Reynolds, who worked in cardiology, said that it’s important not to “hibernate” too much.
“Learning to interact with people and share, that’s how we can grow strong,” she said.
Dr. David Baylink, a 92-year-old lab scientist and the head of regenerative medicine at Loma Linda University, agrees.
“You need to have some kind of positive feedback from society in order to get the most out of living longer,” he said.
Have a clear plan for stocking up on fresh foods every week
Taking time each week to prioritize grocery shopping for fresh food helps Loma Linda’s Adventists stick to their health-centric diets.
Vegetables like leafy greens can boost circulation and blood flow, and all fresh produce has anti-inflammatory effects, due to the beneficial chemical compounds tucked naturally inside.
“The fruits and veggies are the ones that don’t have labels, and they are loaded with a lot of nutritional value and vitamins that are beneficial for health,” Reynolds said. “If you have other foods, like a lot of sugar in your diet, of course you’ve weakened your immune system.”
University dining services director Greg Sullivan, who runs a meat-free cafeteria in Loma Linda, said he knows it’s tough to do, but the key to healthy eating is mapping out a clear menu for your week ahead.
“Go shopping once a week, spend a few hours on Saturday or Sunday getting it ready,” he said. “Planning helps. It’s the not planning that drives you to fast food.”
Drink water instead of soda or alcohol
The health effects of the Adventist diet are as much about what people don’t eat, as what they do.
In general, local Adventists told me they drink lots of water and avoid alcohol (there are no liquor stores or cocktail bars in Loma Linda.)
Sugar-sweetened beverages are key factors in stoking inflammation-related diseases, including obesity and diabetes. In addition to the immediate inflammatory effects it can have on the body, alcohol is also the fourth leading cause of preventable deaths in the US.
Retired Adventist nurse Ethlyn Oblyn said that “drinking enough water and not harming our bodies with smoking or alcohol” is one of the big pillars of health for Adventists.
Baylink, the 93 year old researcher, says he doesn’t even have coffee in the morning, which isn’t unusual in Loma Linda, as Adventists traditionally shun stimulants of all kinds.
“I just drink a lot of water and get on my bike, go to work,” he said.
Rest and refresh at least one day a week
Adventists often take a time out from the hustle and bustle of life every Saturday and head to church.
It’s a tradition that’s rooted in religion, but backed up by science too. Chronic stress is inflammatory, so taking time to relax and unplug really is good for keeping your body young.
Obland said the Adventist Sabbath is designed for rest, worship, and connection with friends and family. Often, Adventists enjoy a vegetable-centric potluck meal on Saturdays.
“To shut down and have a day to spend with your friends worshiping and enjoying being together,” she said. “It’s really kind of refreshing for one day a week to just sit back and listen to God’s voice.”
Take a cooking class
Chef Shawn “Grumpy” Wood, who plans the daily menus at Loma Linda Market, said seasoning is key with vegetarian food. His recipes include lots of flavorful herbs and spices, like rosemary, green onions, and hot jalapenos.
Because veggies and beans don’t have the same kind of juicy fats inside that give meat a savory flavor all on its own, learning how to give your meat-free dishes a good “mouthfeel” with plenty of olive oil, and spicing them up with seasonings, will help with healthier eating, Sullivan said.
He recommends taking a cooking class or watching chefs on YouTube and Instagram for tips.
Enjoy the scenery
Mental health experts say the benefits of being in nature can help combat stressors like loneliness, which is a big driver of chronic inflammation. Adventists in sunny Loma Linda adhere to this principle every day, enjoying hiking up into the hills, nearby beach walks, and outdoor pickleball.
“Being outdoors and seeing the beauty of creation, seeing the birds and the trees and the flowers — we do a lot of nature walks and that really brings a completely different atmosphere to your mind,” Reynolds said.
Some Adventists, like Baylink, use the Sabbath to go hiking after church.
Loma Lindans like to take a few minutes to stretch out everyday.
Often, people will take an aerobics class with friends in the morning, or just stretch out at home when they wake up.
That’s what retired physicist and physiologist Mailen Kootsey, age 84, does.
“I wake up in the morning and do about 20 minutes of basically just stretching, not lifting any heavy weights or doing anything really strong, but just basically limbering up,” he said.