Live long and prosper
Those wonderful stories about men and women living active, healthy lives well into their 80s and 90s are so inspiring to hear. But it begs the question, “How do they do it?”
A research team from Boston University studying the impact of genes versus lifestyle on a long life says there’s evidence to suggest that genes do play a key role in determining how long we live.1 But lifestyle can be a factor too.
That’s exactly what Dan Buettner proposes in his book, The Blue Zones: 9 Power Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. Buettner and his National Geographic team studied people from areas of the world he calls “Blue Zones”—places where people seem to live healthier and longer lives, often surpassing 100 years of age. Those places include Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; and Loma Linda, California.
What do these “Blue Zone” residents seem to have in common? Nine things, apparently. Buettner and his research team identified nine traits shared by the communities where it’s common to live to a ripe old age. The Blue Zones website lists those nine things that Buettner says may just help you live a longer, healthier life too:
- Move Naturally. 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. They grow gardens and don’t have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work.
- Purpose. 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.
- wn Shift. 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 that we don’t are routines to shed that stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians do happy hour.
- 80% Rule. “Hara hachi bu”, the Okinawan 2500-year old Confucian mantra said before meals, reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. The 20% gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it. People in the Blue Zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then they don’t eat any more the rest of the day.
- Plant Slant. Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Meat—mostly pork—is eaten on average only five times per month. Serving sizes are 3-4 oz., about the size of a deck of cards.
- Wine @ 5. People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. The trick is to drink 1-2 glasses per day (preferably Sardinian Cannonau wine), with friends and/or with food. And no, you can’t save up all weekend and have 14 drinks on Saturday.
- All but five of the 263 centenarians we 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.
- Loved Ones First. Successful centenarians in the Blue Zones put their families first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home (It lowers disease and mortality rates of children in the home too.). They commit to a life partner (which can add up to 3 years of life expectancy) and invest in their children with time and love (they’ll be more likely to care for you when the time comes).
- Right Tribe. The world’s longest lived people chose–or were born into–social circles that supported healthy behaviors, Okinawans created ”moais”–groups of five friends that committed to each other for life. Research from the Framingham Studies shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. So long-lived people’s health behaviors have been favorably shaped by their social networks.
For more information about the Blue Zones and how you can apply Dan Buettner’s research findings to your own life, visit the Blue Zones website.
For a unique way to explore your life’s purpose and add beauty and meaning to your days, read our article about personal art therapy (link to art therapy article)!
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