Acts Retirement-Life Communities offer a lifestyle very similar to “Blue Zone” areas where people are ten times more likely to live to 100. If you’ve ever visited or lived at one of Acts’ vibrant senior living communities, you’d be in awe by how many active, vivacious seniors seem to defy aging. Whether they are rappelling buildings like Tryon Estates residents Katherine Jeter and Lorraine DeCesare, volunteering at 96 years old like Edgewater at Boca Pointe resident Buddy Harris or line dancing and rowing at 100 years old like Westminster Village resident Mary Gordon. What is the secret to a longer and healthier life?
Netflix’s new four-part documentary series, “Live to 100: Secrets of Blue Zones” traveled around the world to specific areas with the highest percentage of centenarians. They discovered five “Blue Zone” areas, where people were ten times more likely to reach age 100. It is a fascinating conclusion: people living in these five areas, while geographically scattered thousands of miles apart, share similar lifestyles with nine specific characteristics. They call it the Power 9. Perhaps without even realizing it, Acts residents are following many of these same principles of longevity by simply living on Acts campuses.
How rare is it to live to 100?
Only 1 in 5,000 people in America live to be 100, which means, our odds of celebrating a 100th birthday are very low. But as of August 2023, 108 Acts residents are centenarians living across our 26 communities. In fact, the average age reached by Acts residents is 90.6 years. Compared to the average life expectancy for females (79 years) and men (73.5 years), that’s more than 10 years longer than typical Americans.
A common myth is you would have to win the genetic lottery to live to 100, and while genes play a role, it is not as significant as how you live. The Danish Twin Study established only about 20 percent of how long the average person lives, within our biological limits, is dictated by our genes. The other 80 percent is dictated by our lifestyle.
Mather Institute’s Age Well study, in which seven Acts communities participated in, found significant wellness benefits for those living in life plan communities compared to the general population. It’s no fluke Acts residents outlive their “age in place” counterparts.
Let’s look at how Acts residents are following some of these “Blue Zone” lifestyle principles to defy aging.
“The world's longest-lived people don't pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it.”
Acts residents have ample opportunities to move naturally. Every aspect of life is in walking distance whether its visiting friends, walking to campus restaurants, the hair salon, social activities and shows at the performing arts centers. Acts’ expansive campuses offer beautiful green spaces where residents leisurely walk their pets and enjoy nature.
“I wanted a European lifestyle because I like to walk everywhere,” said Gee Fetes, a resident of St. Andrews Estates. “Here I can walk to the grocery store, a zillion restaurants, and shopping, and I just love the community. It has something for everyone.”
Many Acts communities also offer covered walkways where residents can be out and about without worry of increment weather. Several campuses also have nature trails and marked walking paths.
“The Okinawans call it ‘Ikigai’ and the Nicoyans call it ‘plan de vida;’ for both it translates to ‘why I wake up in the morning.’ Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy.”
With so many activities on campus to fit any interest, it’s easy for Acts residents to fill their days with meaningful intent. Many Acts residents also find purpose with a wide variety of volunteer opportunities at their communities – gardening and donating produce to help local food banks, knitting octopuses for premature babies, and fundraising with resident-run consignment shops, just to name a few.
“You get what you give, and we love to give,” said Harris. “I may be 96 years old but living here I feel like 49!”
“Even people in the Blue Zones experience stress. Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. What the world’s longest-lived people have are routines to shed that stress.”
The world’s longest living people have a way to deal with stress: they garden, get out in nature, take a few minutes each day to meditate or pray. While we can’t entirely avoid stress and anxiety, Acts residents plan for the unpredictability of the future. By moving into an Acts community, they alleviate the stress that comes with the responsibilities and burdens of home ownership, and ensure financial security with healthcare whenever they need it.
“If something breaks, you call maintenance, they’ll write up a ticket for you as opposed to us trying to decide, so who are we going to call to fix the roof this time?” said Linda Simmons, a resident of Fairhaven. “It makes life so much simpler.”
“You can’t put a price on not having to do or worry about those things,” her husband Frank Simmons added. “And I haven’t had a water bill or electric bill in five years.”
With much less to worry about, Acts residents have more time to do what they want, and more opportunities to relax with resort-like amenities to help them truly feel at peace.
“All but five of the 263 centenarians that Blue Zones documentary interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. Denomination doesn’t seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy.”
Acts Retirement-Life Communities was founded by a suburban Philadelphia pastor who sought to give older members of his congregation a safe place to live with compassion and dignity. Today, residents with many different spiritual backgrounds, enjoy a culture of Loving-Kindness and belonging at Acts. Whatever your faith, spiritual support is always available, with a full-time chaplain at each community, and numerous spiritual services conveniently held on campus.
Arthur Breyer, 98, a resident of Normandy Farms Estates plays card games, walks three times a week, and participates in Bible studies at his community.
“I became a Christian when I graduated from high school, and even fighting in World War II, I never worried about dying,” Arthur Breyer said. “I could have died many times in war, and if I didn’t worry there, why should I worry now?”
Arthur’s daughter has said her father’s strong faith and sense of belonging to a community where he is engaged with activities and hobbies are the secrets to his longevity.
The Right Tribe
“The world’s longest lived people chose–or were born into–social circles that supported healthy behaviors. Social connection also strengthens our immune system, helps us recover from disease faster, and may even lengthen our life.”
For residents living in Acts communities, social connection is one of the biggest benefits to their health and emotional wellbeing. Acts residents have an advantage to their counterparts who are “aging in place” with unparallel access to an established support network and limitless opportunities to be socially engaged. Residents who did not know a soul before moving in were most surprised by how quickly they developed meaningful, close relationships.
“My dad moved in at 75 and died a year shy of 97,” said Kathy Howard, a second generation resident of Brittany Pointe Estates. “The only reason he lived that long, and I believe this completely, is because he lived in a community where he was involved. He had a support system and friends.”
“There is a friendliness and openness, and a youthful spirit, that you can feel as soon as you walk in the door,” she added. “It’s just unbelievable, how welcoming.”
If you can do one thing today to increase your changes of celebrating your 100th birthday – it’s to surround yourself with positive, supportive people who lift you up, and remain by your side for life.
“Most importantly, find your tribe,” said Dan Buettner, bestselling author of Blue Zones: Secrets for Living Longer. “Your friends are your long-term adventures, and perhaps the most significant thing you can do to add more years to your life and more life to your years.”