What do Okinawa,Japan, Ikaria, a tiny Greek island, the Italian island of Sardinia, Costa Rica’s isolated Nicoya Peninsula, and Loma Linda, California all have in common?
They are the places in the world where the longest-lived people are settled and live longer and healthier than anywhere else on earth. They belong to the celebrated Blue Zones, where age seem a little detail for people leaving there.
Why are the people leaving there healthier, happier and why do they love longer?
The Five Blue Zones are getting the spotlight for their precious insights on health and longevity. They have so far been identified and thoroughly researched by journalist Dan Buettner in partnership with National Geographic during more than five years of on-site investigation. They found five places that are showing exceptional longevity criteria:
Barbagia region of Sardinia, mountainous highlands of inner Sardinia with the world’s highest concentration of male centenarians.
Ikaria, Greece, a remote Aegean Island with one of the world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality and the lowest rates of dementia.
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica The world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality, second highest concentration of male centenarians.
Seventh Day Adventists community of Loma Linda, California. They live 10 years longer than their North American counterparts.
Okinawa, Japan. Females over 70 are the longest-lived population in the world.
So what is the secret to longevity and health underlying these fascinating communities? Do they possess modern technology, do they take massive amounts of supplements, do they run on treadmills, do they have special genes? As you may have guessed, the answer is none of these.
After more than five years of investigation, what Dan Buettner has discovered about why people in these places are living so long is a quite an open secret. The secret is lifestyle.
Quite simply, these people live a lifestyle that includes a healthy diet, daily exercise, and a low stress life that incorporates family, purpose, religion, and meaning. At a high level it really is this simple, yet there are deeper implications, let's learn some more about the Blue Zone Lifestyle.
After identifying five of the world’s blue zones, Dan and The National Geographic assembled a team of medical researchers, anthropologists, demographers, and epidemiologists to search for evidence-based common denominators among all places. They found that the lifestyles of all blue zones residents shared specific characteristics, that might explain longevity.
They call them the Power 9®.
1. MOVE NATURALLY
In the Blue Zones, the exercise comes for free, already built into their daily lives 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 even thinking of it. They grow gardens, often they don’t have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work. Common across all of the blue zones is that the people climb mountains, walk through the hills, work the land, and generally use their bodies in a constant grind as they perform their daily activities.
But to live long and healthy you have to earn it! You have to work your body every day, or nearly so. Sit around all day and let your body turn into a low efficiency, low energy, low impact carcass and you can kiss your health goodbye. Your bones will weaken, your muscles will wither, toxins and waste will accumulate. Use it or lose it.
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 the sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy. Combined with a particular diet and real-life network of friends, Ikigai is helping people live longer on Okinawa as it gives them purpose. The sense of purpose provides a karate master, fisherman and great-great-great-grandmother, all of whom are more than 100 years old, a reason to wake up in the morning. But remember, just knowing what your Ikigai is is not enough, all of these people put their purpose into action.
3. DOWN 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.
Californian Adventists pray, Ikariarns take a nap and Sardinians do happy hour.
Yes, happy hours! But based on high polyphenols wines and local food.
4. THE 80% RULE
“Hara hachi bu”, the Okinawaian, 2.500 years old Confucian mantra said before meals reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are at 80 percent full. The 20 percent 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 anymore the rest of the day.
5. PLANT SLANT
Beans, including fava, black soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diet. Meat, mostly pork, is eaten on average only five times per month. Serving sizes are reduced yet sufficient, about the size of deck of cards. People in blue zones eat healthy diets, and not surprisingly they suffer from these major diseases either less frequently or not at all. According to Beuttner, in Blue Zone Ikaria, people suffer from one half the rate of heart disease and 20% less cancer than Americans and there are more healthy people over 90 than anywhere else in the world.
6. WINE AT 5 pm
Among the Centenarian secrets, this one is definitely my favorite.
People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately, and regularly. Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. The secret is to drink 1-2 glasses per day (preferably red wine with a high concentration of resveratrol and polyphenols), possibly with friends and always with food.
And no, you can’t save up for the weekend and have 14 glasses on Saturday!
All but five of the 263 centenarians 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.
8. 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 come).
9. RIGHT TRIBE
The world’s longest lived people were born into, or actively choose, social circles that support healthy behaviors. Okinawans create "moais", which are groups of five friends that are ready to commit to each other for life. Research from the Framingham Studies shows that smoking, obesity, happiness and even loneliness are contagious. So the social networks of long-lived people have favorably shaped their health behavior.
As I always say, the best decision in life is who you choose to spend your time with.
Is it really that simple that the secret to longevity and healthy is nothing more than lifestyle? No magic pill is needed? No advanced machinery is needed? The answer is yes!
It is interesting to note that one of the blue zones is in the United States, in Loma Linda, California, proof that even Americans can live long and healthy lives!
If you are already living the Blue Zone Lifestyle then keep on doing it! If you aren’t living the lifestyle, then it is never too late to start.
Several studies show that dramatic improvements in longevity and health can return to an individual very soon after correcting a bad lifestyle.
Living long and healthy is not mysterious.
It is not hard to understand.
It is a choice.
And sadly, most people are choosing wrong.
Want to learn more?
Check out Buettner’s website: www.bluezones.com
Read about Ikigai on https://www.happinesstobetour.com/blog/the-secret-to-a-long-happy-meaningful-life