Blue Zones and the Keys to Healthy Longevity
Occasionally on the news, you’ll see a headline about a woman who lived to 112, or perhaps someone in your county who just hit their 100th birthday. But what if there were whole communities of people who lived to 100 and beyond? What if becoming a centenarian was the norm in your town, rather than the exception?
That’s precisely the case in Blue Zones, a name for areas where people regularly live to be one hundred years old. Blue Zones were originally identified by two gerontologists, Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain. They noticed that certain parts of Sardinia in Italy had extremely high concentrations of men who lived to be 100 – the highest in the world, actually. Then they began to find other areas with similarly high numbers of 100 year-olds, and termed these areas “Blue Zones.”
Blue Zones are found across the world. The most well documented regions include: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California.
So what makes a Blue Zone a Blue Zone, apart from the concentration of elderly folks? Researchers found similar qualities amongst these Blue Zones. And in this blog, we’ll share these secrets, with tips on how to bring these traits into your own life.
1. Move regularly in your daily schedule
People in Blue Zones aren’t healthier because they go to the gym for 90 minutes each day or complete triathlons. Instead, movement is a normal part of their day. Whether that’s walking to the store, a family member’s house or community center, movement is bound into the fabric of their life.
Oftentimes, people in Blue Zones also have gardens that they tend to by hand, rather than opting for machines or other conveniences that decrease the exercise of the work.
How can you embody this trait of Blue Zones? Consider things like…
- Walking your dog a few times / day
- Biking to nearby stores instead of driving
- Starting a garden to grow your own fruits and veggies
2. Prioritize belonging and your loved ones
In each of these communities, members have been able to establish a sense of purpose. It goes by different names in each culture, but the meaning remains the same: these centenarians have been able to find a purpose that motivates them to get up each day.
If you feel unsure about your purpose, consider the following questions:
- When do I feel the most lit up and happy in my day-to-day life?
- What gives me the greatest sense of fulfillment each week?
- How can I better prioritize these things in my daily life?
When finding your purpose, allow yourself to follow the things that bring you a natural sense of contentment or joy. For some people, this is work related, for others, it has to do with family. Prioritize your fulfillment and see the purpose that unfolds in front of you.
3. Learn to manage your stress
Yes, 100 year-olds experience stress, too. Stress is universal to the human experience. The difference in Blue Zones, however, is that people have practices bound into their daily routines to decrease stress.
For instance, those in Okinawa take a few minutes to honor their ancestors. Those in Ikaria take a midday nap. Sardinians opt for a glass of wine in the afternoon. All of these activities minimize stress that’s built up in the day.
Consider your own daily schedule: How do you manage stress? What do you do each day to minimize it? If you don’t have anything you do each day, think about…
- Adding 5-10 minutes of reflection, meditation or prayer
- Starting a yoga or stretching practice
- Giving yourself permission to take a nap!
- Calling a friend to catch up
Find what de-stresses you and add it into your daily routine.
4. Follow the 80% rule
People in Blue Zones typically follow eating patterns that set them up for long-term health. For instance, they often follow the 80% rule: the idea that you should stop eating once you’re 80% full. Often, it can take our bodies time to register the amount of food ingested and can delay the process of telling us when we’re “full.” Stopping at 80% ensures you don’t overeat.
Additionally, the smallest meal is at dinner time – likely before it. This is contradictory to the US, where dinner is often the biggest meal of the day.
Try out the 80% meal for yourself and aim to have a larger lunch and a smaller dinner!
5. Favor plants in your diet
Blue Zone diets typically are high in legumes – AKA beans. The fiber content and protein of beans provides plant-based nutrition. You should increase your intake of beans to once per day or at minimum, a few times per week, to embody a Blue Zone diet.
Additionally, there isn’t a high meat intake in Blue Zones. Typically, meat is only eaten five times per month in average portions.
Takeaways? Eat more beans and plants, and less meat to emulate a centenarian’s diet.
6. Drink moderately
People in Blue Zones do in fact drink alcohol, and frequently! However, they limit it to 1-2 glasses at a time, and it’s typically social. They’ll have a glass of wine with friends or family over dinner, and binge drinking isn’t a result.
If you do drink, keep it light, and aim for higher quality alcohol. Sardinian Cannonau wine could be the next glass you order with dinner!
7. Prioritize belonging and your loved ones
The majority of centenarians felt belonging with a larger group – typically a faith-based organization that they were involved with weekly. Additionally, they prioritized their families, keeping their elders in the house or nearby as they aged. Most typically, they also had a committed life partner, and spent ample time with their family.
The main tip here? Make time for the people and groups that matter in your life. The sense of love, belonging, and fulfillment that can come from relationships transcends all aspects of health and wellness. It’s what serves as the cornerstone of the human experience, and people in Blue Zones honor that.
If you follow these tips, perhaps you’ll live to be 100. Even if you don’t, your quality of life, sense of inner peace, and overall health will certainly increase. Choose a few of these to implement this week and see how your mental and physical health transforms.