The secrets to a long healthy life may not be as elusive as they seem. In 2014, more than 70,000 Americans lived to be at least 100 years old. So, what might these people be doing that we aren’t?
Dan Buettner, National Geographic Fellow, bestselling author and the creator of the Blue Zones, traveled the globe to identify the places in the world with the highest population of people living beyond 100 years of age. He dubbed these places “Blue Zones.”
Common themes among the Blue Zones, which include Sardinia, an Italian island in the Mediterranean Sea, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica, Ikaria, Greece, a community of Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California and Okinawa, Japan include these nine principles. These pillars of a long, healthy life are known as the Power 9 principles.
Your Guide to the Power 9:
1. Move Naturally
The benefits of regular exercise are seemingly endless. Physical activity boosts weight loss, improves mood and more, but you don’t have to rush to the gym or run a marathon to reap these benefits. Instead, residents of the Blue Zones, allow their environments to help them move in the garden, washing dishes and more.
Let’s face it — going through the motions of your day-to-day life can be exhausting, and even a bit boring. Luckily, something as simple as finding your sense of purpose can add up to seven years to your life. And that’s not all — a sense purpose can improve your heart health and protect your brain from disease.
Looking for simple ways to find your purpose? Decide what you’d love to do most, set specific goals and meditate.
3. Down Shift
We all experience stress — even people who live in Blue Zones. Not all stress is bad, but chronic stress can take a toll on your health, leading to conditions like depression, high blood pressure and heart disease. Take a page out of the BZ book and find a way to decompress.
The Sardinians, for example, enjoy happy hour to relax, while Ikarians take a nap. If you’re feeling stressed, take a walk, try meditating or spend time with your family and friends.
4. 80 Percent Rule
About two-thirds of American adults are considered overweight or obese. Excess weight is linked to higher rates of diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers, all of which shed years off your life. You don’t have to slash your portions to be “healthy,” but you shouldn’t stuff yourself either.
The rule of thumb? For a longer life, eat until your stomach is about 80 percent full — you should not feel hungry, but you shouldn’t necessarily feel full either.
5. Plant Slant
Plant-based diets are a popular in the Blue Zones, but you don’t have to live in these regions to reap the benefits of a veggie-rich diet. On average, people in Blue Zones eat five small servings of meat, primarily pork, per month. Rather than eating meat, they load their plates with plant-based proteins, like beans and lentils. People who eat less meat have lower rates of heart disease, the leading cause of death among both men and women in the United States.
6. Wine at Five
Are you a lover of a nightly cocktail? Well, you’re in luck! Moderate drinking — categorized as one daily drink for women and two for men — has been linked to longevity. Studies suggest moderate drinkers live longer than those who drink more heavily, and even those who don’t drink at all.
Faith is an important part of life in Blue Zones, regardless of denomination. Members of faith-based communities — a group of individuals who unify around a specific religious or spiritual belief — who attended services four times each month can expect to add between four and 14 years to their life.
8. Loved Ones First
Those with close-knit families may be destined to live longer. The most successful members of these Blue Zones are married — which can up your life expectancy by three years — live near aging parents and grandparents and invest time in their children.
9. Right Tribe
A motivational speaker named Jim Rohn famously professed that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Research suggests he might be right. Take the Okinawans, for example, who create small groups — called moais — that are committed to one another for life and tend to share the same healthy behaviors. Spending time with people who smoke, are unhappy or have unhealthy eating habits will make you more likely to do the same.