With all the advances in science and technology, most people assume that good health is improving with each generation, but this is not the case. While we are living longer, more of those years are spent dealing with serious diseases and limited mobility. Doctors have the drugs, procedures, and machines to keep us alive longer, but why would we want to live longer with a poor quality of life? If we can’t look to doctors and technology to live stronger longer, where can we look?
We can look to the Blue Zones. The Blue Zones are five places in the world where people live the longest. They were so named by author/explorer/educator Dan Buettner who traveled the world for National Geographic looking for hotspots of longevity. Though these places are very different and are far apart, they share commonalities that contribute to the health and longevity of their people.
Wait a minute, isn’t lifespan mostly determined by genes? Actually, no. According to studies, only about 25% is determined by genes. That means we have so much more control than many of us believe, and even though we don’t live in a “Blue Zone,” we can learn from their success and adopt their habits, so we too may live longer, stronger lives ourselves. After all, who wants to live longer, if those years are going to be plagued by disease and limited mobility?
When we look at people in the Blue Zones, not only are they living longer, they are also living healthier into their later years. Who are these people, and what are their secrets?
- The people in Ikaria, Greece, also known as “the island where people forget to die,” live eight years longer than Americans with half the rate of heart disease and almost no dementia. 1 in 3 lives into their nineties.
- Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California live about 10 years longer than other Americans. They view health as central to their faith.
- Sardinia, Italy is home to the largest concentration of centenarians in the world, almost 10 times more centenarians per capita than the United States! Their simple, traditional way of living has not changed much since the time of Christ.
- Okinawa, Japan is home to the longest-living women. They have less cancer, heart disease, and dementia than Americans.
- In Nicoya, Costa Rica, residents are twice as likely as Americans to live to a healthy 90 years of age.
Dan Buettner and his team identified health-promoting behaviors that all the Blue Zones share which he calls the “Power 9.”
#1 – Movement – This is not about exercise classes, just an active lifestyle such as tending a garden, walking to visit friends, and doing their own house and yard work.
#2 – Purpose – They have something that pulls them out of bed every day. They don’t dread what’s ahead. The Nicoyans call it “plan de vida,” or plan for life, while the Okinawans call it “Ikigai.” No matter what it’s called, it can lead to up to seven more years of life expectancy!
#3 – Down Shift – Everybody experiences stress. The people who are the healthiest have learned ways to manage it. Ikarians take a nap each day, Sardinians have happy hour, Adventists pray, and Okinawans spend time each day remembering their ancestors.
#4 – 80% Rule – Okinawans repeat the Confucian mantra “Hara hachi bu” before meals. It reminds them to stop eating when they are 80% full. People in the Blue Zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or late evening and eat nothing else the rest of the day. Seventh Day Adventist live by the maxim “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper,” and studies show that people who do this typically have a lower BMI.
#5 – Plant Slant – 95 per cent of their diet is fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. They only eat meat about 5 times per month and only 3 to 4 ounces. To see what the average longevity diet is, click the link below:
#6 – Wine @ 5 – All people in the Blue Zones, except Seventh-Day Adventists, drink wine moderately and regularly. The healthiest wine seems to be Sardinian Cannonau wine which has more flavonoids. It’s important to remember that people in the Blue Zones are not drinking wine to try and make an otherwise unhealthy diet healthier. Their diet is 95% plant-based. For those eating the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.), adding wine alone will not rescue your health.
#7 – Belong – Attending faith-based services, it doesn’t matter which denomination, increases life expectancy.
#8 – Loved Ones First – Family comes first for centenarians in the Blue Zones. They commit to a life partner, nurture their children with love and attention, and keep aging parents and grandparents nearby, which lowers disease and mortality rates of the children in the home as well.
#9 – Right Tribe – We are shaped by the people with whom we spend the most time. The healthiest people were either born into, or chose, a network of friends who fostered healthy habits, thereby, making it easier for them to adopt and maintain a healthy lifestyle. According to the Framingham Studies, happiness, obesity, smoking, and even loneliness are contagious. Even if you weren’t born into a family that makes health a priority, you can begin to learn healthy habits and associate with people with whom health is a priority and set the example for your family.
Hopefully, you’re already doing many of these “Power 9.” For the ones you’re not doing, I encourage you to evaluate how you can incorporate them into your life. We don’t get to choose the time we enter or leave this life, but we can make choices that determine the quality of our lives. I fully intend to do my best to do all I can to live STRONGER LONGER!
For more information about The Blue Zones, you can go to www.bluezones.com for interesting books, articles, recipes, and more!