You can’t live forever, but you can certainly live for longer. With so many things to do, places to go, and people to spend time with, we all want to have as much time as we can on this Earth. When someone lives a long life, people always want to know what they’ve done to make it happen. According to Blue Zones, the actual secrets to living a long and healthy life aren’t secrets at all. These life-extending practices are hiding in plain sight.
What is a Blue Zone?
Blue zones were conceptualized by Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain in the Journal of Experimental Gerontology when they discovered a significant number of men over the age of 100 living in Sardinia. They drew blue circles around the villages they found with the greatest longevity. Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and multiple New York Times bestselling author, picked up where Pes and Poulain left off and continued searching for more blue zones around the world.
Why Blue Zones are Important
With a team of demographers and researchers, Buettner identified five places in the world where people live the longest and healthiest lives:
- Sardinia, Italy
- Okinawa, Japan
- Nicoya, Costa Rica
- Ikaria, Greece
- Loma Linda, California
After visiting and speaking in depth with the longest-living people of these regions, Buettner and his team found specific lifestyle habits commonly practiced in each of these locations. The good news? You don’t have to live in a blue zone to adopt these habits! Anyone can use them to increase their chances of living a long, healthy life.
1. Find Your “Why”
Everyone has something special to contribute to society. When you can identify what makes you excited to get up in the morning, you have a much higher chance of living a long and happy life. So many of us get stuck on the hamster wheel of work-sleep-repeat that it can be difficult to get out. Knowing what makes you happy allows you to participate in activities and join communities that encourage the growth and flourishing of happiness.
To find your “why,” consider your strengths and talents; how can these abilities positively contribute to your life and the lives of others? When you zero in on a purpose, figure out how you are going to share it. Finding your “why” allows you to harness your passions to bring joy to your own life and others’.
2. Enjoy Movement
There are hundreds of thousands of gyms with exercise programs designed to get people moving. Many people think of exercise as a chore they have to do, and for this reason they often dread it. However, people in Blue Zones don’t schedule their daily movement — their lives simply include it.
Blue Zone populations garden, walk to nearby stores and restaurants, and complete chores without modern conveniences. They get their blood pumping doing activities that are natural and enjoyable to them. That’s not to say you have to quit going to your group fitness classes if you truly enjoy it, but try to look for ways that you can include more natural movements in your daily life.
3. Find Ways to Relieve Stress
Everyone experiences stress in one way or another, but the way you react to your stressors can make a huge difference. While many of us hold onto stress and are unable to let it go, people in the Blue Zones consistently release it in a healthy way. In Okinawa, they purposefully think of their ancestors once a day; in Ikaria, they take a nap, and in Sardinia, they enjoy happy hour.
Termed “down shifting,” intentionally taking time out of their day to recharge is a practice the world’s longest-living people are committed to. While daily naps or happy hours may not work for your schedule, you can downshift by taking breaks from work or going for a walk outside.
4. Eat to Live
Much of our societal interactions revolve around the experience of eating. While enjoying food is part of the human experience, many of us indulge a little more than we should. People in Blue Zones stop eating when they feel 80% full. Not only does this support weight management, it also discourages overeating. They eat their biggest meal during the day and their smallest meal in the early evening – and they don’t eat anything more afterward. This idea is similar to the popular idea of intermittent fasting.
Additionally, those in Blue Zones eat a plant-centric diet. Most people who live longer than 100 years primarily eat vegetables, fruits, grains, and beans. The meat they do eat is mostly pork and only consumed a few times a month. As you can imagine, their intake of dairy, sugar, and processed food is little to none.
5. Drink for Your Health
One thing that’s not off-limits is wine. Most people in Blue Zones drink alcohol in moderation and, in fact, Buettner found that moderate drinkers typically outlive those who don’t drink at all. The key is to enjoy 1 to 2 glasses a day with friends or food – or both!
6. Have a Little Faith
Buettner and his team interviewed 263 people who were at least 100 years old and found that all but five practiced some kind of religion. According to their research, attending faith-based groups or activities four times a month could add at least 4 years to your life.
Those that belong to religious communities may be healthier because they are able to turn over their stress to a higher power and they have a solid support system.
7. Focus on Friends and Family
Having a family to depend on can greatly enhance your quality of life. The longest-living people are focused on finding a life partner, raising children, and taking care of their parents as they age. Committing to a partner can add up to 3 years to your life and having children continues the cycle of parental care.
In addition to family, our friends play a vital role in our longevity. People in Blue Zones surround themselves with lifelong friends who help support a healthy lifestyle. Humans are naturally social beings and loneliness can be harmful to our health and lifespan. Surround yourself with friends you can trust, have fun with, and rely on.
While these habits do not guarantee that you will live to celebrate your 100th birthday, they can increase your chances of living a longer, fuller, and more joyful life.
- Buettner, Dan. Power 9®. Blue Zones. 2022.