The Secrets to Living a Long Life: 9 Lessons from The Blue Zones

 

Imagine celebrating your 100th birthday and still enjoying a full and active life. Did you know that in certain areas of the world it’s normal and even expected for people to live and thrive past the age of 100? It’s true! These places are known as the Blue Zones because they have the largest population of centenarians - people who live over the age of 100 years. Not only have individuals in these Blue Zones figured out how to add more years to their lives, they’ve discovered the secrets to adding more vitality to their years.  

 

Where exactly are these Blue Zones? Let’s take a look below: 

 

1. Sardinia, Italy 

    Sardinia is a large Italian island in the Mediterranean Sea and home to the world’s longest-lived men. Most people in this community eat a heavily plant-based diet, drink wine and walk at least 5 miles every day herding their sheep. 

     
    2. Okinawa, Japan 
    Okinawa is a collection of islands in the Pacific Ocean and is home to the world’s longest-lived women. The people here learn the importance of building a stable group of friends at an early age and live by the Confucian mantra Hara Hachi Bu, which reminds them to stop eating when they feel 80% full.  
      

     

    3. Loma Linda, California, USA 

    Nestled between Los Angeles and Big Bear in southern California is the lovely town of Loma Linda. The Adventist community here outlives most Americans by 10 years, eats a strictly vegetarian diet and observes the Sabbath every week to connect with their faith and community. 

     

    4. Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica 

    Nicoya Peninsula is located on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and is home to some of the most beautiful beaches. Nicoyan culture emphasizes faith and family, and Nicoyans consume plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and magnesium-rich water which confers many health benefits.1

     

    5. Ikaria, Greece 

    Ikaria is a small Greek Island in the Aegean Sea. Ikarians regularly nap and consume a Mediterranean diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables and olive oil. This may be why they live almost 8 years longer than Americans, experience lower rates of cancer, heart disease and almost no dementia.1

     

    Scientists and anthropologists have been researching the populations within each of the 5 Blue Zones for over 15 years to determine what they have in common, and what traits contribute to their longevity. What they found was that genes played a minor role in overall health, and that the foods and lifestyle practices offered the most protections as people got older. This reinforces the evidence showing that lifestyle plays a much bigger role than our genes in determining the length and quality of our lives.2

    So, what can we learn from people in the Blue Zones? Researchers came up with 9 science-backed lessons, known as the “Power 9," from studying these communities to help more people around the world live longer, healthier lives.

    Here they are:   

     

    9 Lessons from The Blue Zones 

    1. Keep Moving 

    The good news is that you don’t need to run a marathon or lift tons of weights to apply this lesson to your life. In fact, the people who live the longest don’t do any of those things!  

    The secret here is to move naturally.That means walk everywhere you can and build more elements into your life that require you to be physical. Gardening is a great option here!   

    2. Manage Stress 

    Stress is inevitable but building stress-reducing rituals into your everyday life can make you more resilient to life’s ups & downs.  

    3. Live on Purpose 

    In Japan, they call this Ikigai – which loosely translates to “why I wake up in the morning.” According to the research, having a sense of purpose can add up to 7 extra years to a person’s life.1

    4. Eat Mindfully  

    In most Blue Zones, people follow the “80% Rule” - meaning they stop eating when they feel 80% full. This requires a mindful connection with your body and your food to know when it’s appropriate to finish eating.  

    They also tend to not eat very late in the day. This practice is recommended by many doctors to help their patients maintain healthy blood sugar levels.   

    5. Eat More Plants 

    In all of the Blue Zones, the diet is predominantly plant-based, focusing heavily on seasonal vegetables, beans and lentils. If meat is consumed, it is eaten once per week on average.  

    Studies, including one done specifically with the Adventist community in Loma Linda, have found that vegetarian diets are associated with lower mortality.3

    6. Raise A Glass to Life 

    Most people in the Blue Zones, except for Adventists, drink 1 to 2 glasses of red wine every day with friends and family. Red wine is known for being rich in resveratrol, an antioxidant that protects cells and DNA from damage.4 Perhaps this explains the beneficial impact this practice has on many centenarians.  

    7. Have Faith 

    Some form of spirituality or faith-based practice is emphasized in every Blue Zone. Research has found that having a consistent spiritual practice can add up to 14 years to a person’s life.1

    8. Keep Your Friends Close 

    The people who live the longest belong to or build communities that support their healthy behaviors. Studies have supported the notion that healthy habits, like most behaviors, are contagious.1 This means that choosing friends that share your values around wellness can significantly affect the length and quality of your life.  

    9. Keep Your Family Closer  

    In the Blue Zones, it’s common for generations to live together, or at least near each other. For example, grandparents in Sardinia live with their children and are an integral part of their grandchildren’s lives. This practice seems to not only benefit the older generations but can also lower disease and mortality rates of children in the home.1

             

    Take-Home Message 

    We don’t have to move across the world to implement these lessons into our everyday lives. In fact, most of us can start incorporating at least some of these practices right now. I, for one, am going to enjoy a long walk with my dog and husband, then add some extra vegetables to my dinner tonight. What Blue Zone lesson are you going to try today? Tag us on Instagram at @liveTruLyfe and let us know! 

     

    References:  

    1. Buettner D, et al. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 2016 Sep-Oct; 10(5): 318-321.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6125071/ 
      2. Herskind AM, et al. Human Genet. 1996 Mar; 97(3): 319-23.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8786073/  
        3. Orlich MJ, et al. JAMA Internal Med. 2013 Jul 8; 173(13): 1230-1238.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4191896/  
          4. Castaldo L, et al. Molecules. 2019 Oct; 24(19): 3626.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6804046/