The Blue Zones, those famous spots around the planet where the longest-lived and healthiest people come from, have been studied extensively because everybody wants to know why people in these regions (Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California) live so long and age so well, with much lower rates of the diseases of aging so many people in the western world eventually develop.
According to Dan Buettner, who initially discovered what he dubbed Blue Zones while on a National Geographic expedition to find the secrets to longevity, there are 9 things all the Blue Zones have in common. Is it all about the seafood, the wine, the exercise? Actually, only 4 of the 9 commonalities have anything to do with diet or exercise. Most of them are about connection—to people, to purpose, to something bigger than themselves. That’s no surprise to me, since I believe that connecting physically and emotionally is one of the more powerful ways to extend life and suspend aging.
According to an article published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine that discusses the lessons we can learn from the Blue Zones, people who lives in these areas:
- Move naturally. They don’t “work out” at gyms but they are naturally active all day long.
- Have purpose. They have a reason to wake up in the morning, that gives their lives meaning.
- They have routines to manage stress, whether that is remembering their ancestors, praying, napping, or…happy hour!
- Practice the 80% rule. They rarely overeat (eating until they are 80% full) and have their late afternoon/early evening meal is the smallest and they do not eat late at night.
- Eat mostly plant-based. They eat mostly vegetables, fruit, nuts, and legumes like lentils, black beans, and soy, with only small portions of meat (3 to 4 ounces) about once a week.
- Enjoy happy hour. With the exception of the Seventh Day Adventists in California, they typically have one or two small glasses of wine in the afternoon, with friends and food. It’s more about socializing than drinking.
- They tend to belong to some kind of faith-based community and attend services regularly (what they believe seems to be less important than that they believe).
- Put family first. They live in multi-generational households, prioritize raising children and caring for aging parents, and are usually in life-long committed relationships.
- Have a tribe. Social circles of friend who remain connected for life and spend time together in person are extremely important to them. Since loneliness and isolation lead to poorer health and earlier death, this makes sense.
While all these are great strategies we could all incorporate into our lives, I suggest starting at the bottom of the list and working up. Prioritize friends, family, and your spirituality to build a foundation for a long and vibrant life, and you may find the rest of the pieces fall into place.