What if you knew the secret to living a long life and healthy life? In 2016, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that the average lifespan in the United States is 78.8 years, but residents of Blue Zones regularly live well past 90 years old. These residents aren’t just living longer either, but they also live without the pain of chronic illness or the burden of taking lots of medication. So what makes residents of Blue Zones able to enjoy a long and healthy life? After years of research, Dan Buettner found that it came down to one simple answer: lifestyle!
Partnering with a team from National Geographic, Dan Buettner set out to learn more about places in the world where life expectancy far exceeded the rest of the world. He found that it wasn’t geographic location that they all had in common, but they all followed the same nine principles when it came to their lifestyle. In fact, he discovered that these Blue Zones were spread all over the world and narrowed them down to five locations:
- Barbaria region of Sardinia
- Ikaria, Greece
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
- 7th Day Adventists (in particular, the 7th Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California where the highest concentration is located)
- Okinawa, Japan
What Buettner and his team discovered was that each of the populations in these regions had the following habits in common when it came to their lifestyle:
1. Incorporate movement into your day.
The population in blue zones don’t necessarily belong to a gym. Rather, their lifestyle encourages natural movement, meaning they don’t have to think about exercise, it’s already incorporated into their lifestyle. Perhaps hiking through the mountains on a daily basis isn’t an option for you, but think about how you can incorporate more movement into your day. Start by taking the stairs, parking the car further away or biking to the store next time you need something.
2. Have a sense of purpose.
According to Buettner, different groups have a different name to refer to the idea of having a sense of purpose, but it can be simply understood as “why I wake up in the morning.” Know that your sense of purpose can mean up to seven years of extra life expectancy and start by cultivating opportunities to grow as an individual and by looking for simple ways to make a positive impact on one person each day.
3. Learn how to downshift.
Living in a Blue Zone does not preclude anyone from experiencing stress, however people in Blue Zones seem to handle it better than the rest of us. Knowing what to do when life throws a stressful situation at you can be key to living a longer life.
4. Follow the 80 percent rule .
When Buettner studied the eating patterns of those living in the Blue Zones, he realized that people here didn’t eat until they felt stuffed. In fact, they generally follow a rule where they only eat until they are about 80 percent full. They also tend to eat their heavier meals in the morning and their lightest meals in the afternoon or early evening and then they’re done consuming for the day.
5. Eat a plant based diet.
Residents in Blue Zones have more of a plant based diet, consuming meat only about 5 times a month. Instead, their diet is rich in beans, including fava beans, black beans and lentils. In fact, only about 5 percent of their total diet comes from animal products.
6. Add wine to your meal.
People in all of the Blue Zones, with the exception of the 7th Day Adventists, were all moderate consumers of alcohol, drinking about 1-2 glasses a day with dinner. Research actually shows that moderate drinkers tend to outlive even nondrinkers.
7.Belong to a faith based group.
Over 98 percent of the people that were studied in Blue Zones attended faith based services on a weekly basis. The denomination had no effect on longevity, but regularly attending faith based services can add 4-14 years on to your life expectancy.
8. Put family first.
One characteristic of the people Dan Buettner studied was that they all put their loved ones first. They spent more time with family and stayed committed to a life partner. Parents were shown to invest more time and energy in their children and even as they got older, parents and children still lived close to each other.
9. Find your tribe.
The last characteristic of residents in Blue Zones is that they choose their friends wisely. Research shows that finding a social group that will help you support healthy habits is essential for maintaining them. Like the philanthropist, W. Clement Stone once said, “Be careful the environment you choose for it will shape you; be careful the friends you choose for you will become like them.”
So, there you have it – the nine lifestyle secrets to living a longer and happier life. While they are all simple, they take intentionality and the great thing is that you can start implementing these habits today. Disconnect from the hustle that our busy lives can create and work towards finding purpose, finding the right tribe, putting family first…and adding a glass of wine to dinner! To learn more about Blue Zones, as well as the Blue Zone diet and lifestyle, make sure to check out their website.
“The Blue Zones Solution: Secrets of the World’s Healthiest People – 9 Questions for Dan Buettner.” Blue Zones. Accessed 25 August 2017.
Buettner, Dan. “Reverse Engineering Longevity”. Blue Zones. Accessed 25 August 2017.
Stein, Rob. “Life Expectancy in the US Drops for the First Time in Decades, Report Finds.” NPR. Accessed 25 August 2017.
“W. Clement Stone”. Goodreads. Accessed 25 August 2017.