Diet, Spiritual Beliefs Make Southern California Town Famous for Longevity

December 5, 2019 Updated: December 5, 2019

At first, one might not recognize the city of Loma Linda, California as the center of health and prosperity that it is.

Loma Linda, population 24,000, is comfortably situated in the heart of the Inland Empire.

From there, you can see the towering summits of the San Bernardino and the San Jacinto Mountains. The city, whose name means “beautiful hill” in Spanish, is a comfortable freeway drive from beaches, the desert, and a number of mountain resorts.

Loma Linda’s website boasts of its ability to offer a “small town setting” within close proximity to Los Angeles and Orange County. But according to statistics, this small, idyllic city offers a great deal more than a small town feel.

Loma Linda is one of the five original Blue Zones in the world and the only Blue Zone in the United States.

The term Blue Zone was coined by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and multiple New York Times bestselling author, and it refers to places in the world where people live the longest and are healthiest.

According to Buettner, there are a number of reasons why over one-third of Loma Linda’s population live eight to ten years longer than the average person.

One of the main contributors to their longevity is diet, but the motivations behind their diet is religion. Loma Linda has one of the highest concentrations of Seventh-day Adventists (SDA) in the world. About 9,000 residents are practicing members of church.

A healthy lifestyle is central to the belief system of Seventh-day Adventists.

Only 1 percent of Adventists smokes, according to a CNN report, compared to around 14 percent of Americans. They consume little to no alcohol and exercise regularly, and many adherents maintain a vegetarian diet.

In addition, the lifestyle of Adventists is a noteworthy component to the lifestyle of Loma Linda.

“We have no bar in town, no liquor store in town, we don’t sell liquor, so that’s kind of unique,” T. Jarb Thaipejr, the city manager, told The Epoch Times. “We have a law that you cannot smoke out in public places” like streets and parks.

“Even McDonalds sells veggie burgers,” he added with a laugh.

According to the Blue Zone website, 60 percent of the diet of centenarians who reside in Loma Linda is composed of fruit and vegetables. Another 30 percent consists of soy and legumes, dairy, and whole grains such as oats.

Another important aspect of an Adventist’s diet is the regular consumption of nuts.

According to Buettner’s book, Blue Zones: Lessons For Living Longer From People Who’ve Lived The Longest, the habit of eating nuts at least five times a week cuts the risk of heart disease in half. This practice can also increase longevity by an average of two years.

Adventists point to the biblical mandate comprised of a diet made up of grains, fruits, nuts, and vegetables in Genesis 1:29: “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.”

“If your life is God directed, don’t interfere with him, he is a pretty big person,” the late Dr. Ellsworth Wareham told Dr. Sanjay Gupta in 2015, according to CNN. “It gets you free of stress.”

At the time, Dr. Ellsworth, a resident of Loma Linda, was 100 years and still mowed his front lawn.

“I never had stress,” Wareham, a Seventh-day Adventist and cardiothoracic surgeon, who died last year at the age of 104, told the news outlet. “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.”

Thaipejr, who has resided in Loma Linda for thirty years, also made note of the diversity that exists within that denomination in the city.

“Because of the hospital (Loma Linda University Medical Center), they have a lot of people from a lot of countries around the world that came out here and work at the hospital or the university,” he said. “So we have a Chinese SDA church, we will have an Indonesian SDA church, Thai SDA church, Filipino SDA church, Japanese, Korean.”

In addition to a healthy diet, Adventists in Loma Linda also incorporate a number of other essential factors into their lifestyle that contributes to the fitness of their minds, bodies and spirits.

These practices include observing a 24-hour Sabbath in order to focus on family, God, camaraderie, and nature; spending a lot of time with like-minded neighbors and friends; seeking out opportunities to volunteer and give back to their community; and, of course, consuming a minimum of five to six glasses of water every day.

John Westerdahl, PhD, a dietician nutritionist who graduated from Loma Linda University School of Public Health, told NBC News that caffeine is also regularly avoided.

“We’ll have tomato juice or sparkling water at a party,” he said. “Alcohol isn’t an option. Instead of coffee, it’s common to offer a coffee substitute such as Kaffree Roma, which looks and tastes like coffee but has no caffeine.”