Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya, Cost Rica; Loma Linda, California; Okinawa Japan: besides Italy and Greece, European neighbors, what do these areas around the world have in common? Quite a few things, apparently: nine, to be precise. Nine life lessons for the rest of us to learn.
These five places across the globe house the most centenarians than anywhere else. If you visit these places you will see 90-somethings walking along the streets, chatting with neighbors over fences, standing tall. Living not with ill health, but with vitality and wellness.
In 2004, National Geographic explorer Dan Buettner teamed up with longevity researchers to identify global areas where people live measurably longer and better. Named the “Blue Zones,” here people reached age 100 at rates 10 times greater than in the United States.
According to National Geographic, the specific definition of Blue Zones is this: “Those places where we have a demographically confirmed, geographically defined, area where people are either reaching age 100 at extraordinary rates, have the highest life expectancy, or the lowest rate of middle age mortality.”
Buettner conducted in-depth studies and interviews to target how this phenomenon occurred. What were these people doing differently than the rest of us? Why were they living, and living well, well into their 90s?
After identifying these Blue Zones, Dan and National Geographic scientists spent time in each location to identify lifestyle characteristics. They discovered that all Blue Zone residents share nine specific traits to help achieve such longevity.
Since named The Power 9, a revolution started in 2009 to educate people living outside the Blue Zones (the vast majority of us) in how to adopt these lifestyle shifts.
We all want to approach our twilight years with ease and joy. With so much buzz on the internet, in magazine articles, shared on Facebook, we consciously and subconsciously search for the next anti-aging miracle. What to eat, what to do, what product to use to feel and look younger, vibrant and valuable.
Many people as they age rely on medication to get through each day, to manage symptoms begun through lifestyle patterns started early in life. Shifting our thinking about aging well can seem complex and out of reach, especially when we’ve set this same blueprint up for the next generation.
There is nothing complex, however, about Blue Zone living. Based on the Power 9, we can make simple changes now to add years and purpose to our lives.
These shifts don’t just involve food, but also incorporate parts of life that fuel us beyond the nutrition we put into our bodies. Spirituality, career, relationships, and physical activity: the Power 9 incorporate them all.
Curious to hear what the Power 9 are?
1. Move Naturally
Forget cross-fit, marathon training, double workouts: Blue Zoners move every day, in natural ways. They walk to and from neighbors houses, mend fences, weed gardens, etc. without scheduling exercise. Rather than forcing themselves into an environment of “working out,” their environments naturally require them to move without putting it on a to-do list.
“Retirement” doesn’t fit in Blue Zone thinking. They find their purpose early and continue it throughout their lives. Researchers have discovered that knowing one’s sense of purpose can add up to seven extra years of life expectancy. Not finding ways to fill the days post retirement, but knowing what they are meant to do on the planet. And doing it each day, in ways both large and small.
3. Down Shift
Stressed out but don’t know how to fix it? Such has become a staple of modern thinking. We all know that stress wreaks havoc on our systems, from adrenal fatigue to chronic inflammation, to age-related disease and weight gain. We understand, but haven’t adopted the tools to down-shift stress as it gains momentum. Not so in the Blue Zones. Each of these communities incorporate built-in routines, from community gatherings to daily walks, to reduce stress.
4. 80% Rule
“More is better” … “supersize” … the “newest” upgrade, the latest and greatest device. From food to commodities, everywhere we look “bigger” promises something “better.” Buettner discovered the opposite during his travels. A big part of Blue Zone longevity can be summed up in the Okinawan saying: “hara hachi bu,” or “belly 80 percent full.” Instead of clearing overfilled plates or going back for seconds, stopping at 80% capacity positively impacts our health. We digest better, keep weight in check, and feel nourished instead of weighed down.
5. Plant-Based Diet
All Blue Zone communities enjoy a diet based mainly on plants, legumes and beans. Typically, they eat meat just five times per month, as a treat rather than a daily staple. Without taking bio-individuality or blood types into play, most people could benefit from less red meat. Even trying something like Meatless Monday, a global campaign aimed at lowering our overall meat consumption, dating back to WWI. Not going so far as limiting meat to 5 times a month, but even just one less time per week can be a small step towards better health. It could improve our longevity as well as make make less of a negative impact on natural resources.
6. Wine, Anyone?
Blue Zoners enjoy daily moderate intake of alcohol, specifically red wine, with its high levels of polyphenols and antioxidants. Moderate alcohol consumption has many benefits beyond nutritional makeup: it helps us relax, especially enjoyed with friends on a patio before turning in for the night. And, as Buettner found in his research, it actually increases longevity.
No matter if the religion is Seventh Day Adventist (Loma Linda) , Greek Orthodox (Ikaria), attending faith-based services four times per month adds up to 14 years of life expectancy. Blue Zone residents rally around their faith, with weekly gatherings at the heart of their communities. Not just on occasion, but as a regular part of their lives.
8. Loved Ones First
Forget nursing homes and solitary living: centenarians place great emphasis on family. Part of putting loved ones in the Blue Zones first includes living close to aging grandparents, committing to a partner for life, and investing in children even after the children leave the home. Families ensure that the bond between generations continues right up to the end of of life.
9. Right Tribe
Solitary living and a sense of isolation are part of the modern dilemma. In the Blue Zones, people were either born into or chose to return to social circles for life. Belong to a social circle, or cultiviating your “tribe” (in modern terms) is necessary to a happy, long life with purpose.
There are other factors beyond the Power 9 that add to the “secret sauce” of Blue Zone living. Daily naps, lots of zzz’s at night, and sex. Yes, sex, an important and active part of Blue Zone life partnerships.
According to Buettner in a National Geogrphaic interview, “We know that people who are having sex after the age of 50, at least twice per week, have about half the rate of mortality than people who aren’t.”
I think we’d all readily sign up for more red wine, sex, and naps. Don’t we feel refreshed after vacation, when we sleep, relax and let loose? The trick is incorporating these elements daily to combat stress, live longer, and feel happier.
Even taking little steps to utilize the Power 9 could provide some Blue Zone magic. Schedule in weekly coffee dates with a friend, go to bed an hour earlier each night. Forgo one power workout for a long walk with your dog, neighbor, or kid.
We don’t need to move to Greece or Italy, tempting as that may sound. Join me in becoming more Blue Zone today, right here, exactly where you are. I’d love to hear your ideas and inspiration on how your life can improve in tangible ways, both now and for the next thirty years.
Meet you in the wine aisle!
The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest: (Book by Dan Buettner)
“The calculus of aging offers us two options: We can live a shorter life with more years of disability, or we can live the longest possible life with the fewest bad years. As my centenarian friends showed me, the choice is largely up to us.”