LOMA LINDA (CBSLA.com) — “The Gift of Time” is a fitting name for a clock shop in the Inland Empire enclave of Loma Linda as residents see more new days than practically any place else on earth.
Benita Welebir at 100 years old is a spring chicken as compared to her neighbor Betty Streisling, 102.
Although lots of communities have centenarians, Loma Linda is a so-called “blue zone” designated by National Geographic as one of the five longest-living communities in the world.
The average life expectancy in Loma Linda is anything but average as residents are 10 times more likely to make it to 100.
“Mine would be around 89 years,” said Brian Bull, a blood researcher, pathologist and former dean of Loma Linda University Medical School. “Now being male automatically shortens my lifespan by about two years. Nothing I can do about that.”
But in Loma Linda, the average man makes it to 89 compared to the national average for men, which is 78. The average woman in Loma Linda lives to 91, which Bull says is “huge.”
“For the females in the general population, it’s about 81 years,” he explains.
But Loma Linda is not a general population community as it encompasses different values and a different lifestyle centered around the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
“I’m a lacto-ovo-vegetarian male Adventist,” said Bull, who at the age of 77 has no regrets about giving up meat when he was 4. Back then, there was no science proving vegetarianism made people healthier but, in his church, meat eating has been discouraged for more than 150 years.
“When it became obvious that Adventists were living a lot longer, even the federal government got curious as to why that might be the case,” he said.
Adventists preach that the body is a temple, and a typical Loma Linda breakfast consists of hot oatmeal or granola spiked with flax seed, nuts and plenty of berries.
Not only do Adventists live an average of 10 years longer, they also get less heart disease, cancer and disabilities.
A spin class at a local fitness center is as fierce as it gets and the regular riders are all over 60.
Bull says fitness, science and religion all work together in his hometown among Adventists.
“Science has always been looked upon with approval,” explained Bull, but never at the expense of being observant as local businesses and labs close on Saturdays for the Sabbath.
“Saturday, which is the Sabbath. We go to church, meet with friends and family,” he said.
During that time, attention turns away from making a living to other aspects of life.
“More important things. Where is your life going? Are you doing what you want to do?” Bull said.
Until 2011, Loma Linda got their weekend mail delivery Sunday rather than Saturday.
While science hasn’t proven whether observing the Sabbath on its own helps people live longer, Bull says it “wouldn’t be too surprising because I don’t think the human organism is designed to work seven days a week.”
Welebir, too, has no doubt following Adventist guidelines has contributed to her longevity and believes in always being happy.
“Like today, I had to have a bite of something sweet and then I felt I became sweeter myself in disposition,” she said.
Sweetness, too, may be a key to longevity, which is something Bull encourages in his 11-year-old granddaughter.
“We’re here to serve God, and we serve God best by serving our fellow man,” he said.
In each of the world’s blue zones, religions vary and so do diets. To learn more about blue zones, click here.
For more on Loma Linda University Medical Center, click here.
This segment was produced by CBS2 Medical Producer Gerri Shaftel Constant.