Blue Zones – 9 habits for a longer and more meaningful life

‘The Science of Living Longer’

National Geographic teamed up with the National Institute on Aging to find the longest lived societies in the world. The highlighted several such places and circled them in blue marker, hence how they came to be knows as the ‘blue zones’. To find more information on these ‘Blue Zones’ there’s now a dedicated website, diets and TED talks – a great one notably given by Dan Buettner

Then teams of researcher went to each of these places to discover the commonalities between all these populations. Eventually they were able to tease out the commonalities -long held secrets that can help us all live longer, happier and more fulfilled lives.

I’m going to work through three societies studied: Sardinia, Okinawa and Loma Linda, California

Sardinia

  • This is place where men live the longest.
  • This is a culture of shepherds where the men trek up and down hills all day tending to their flock.
  • They garden, cook from scratch and eat a plant based diet. Most notably different in Sardinia than from us in America is the way they revere the aging population.
  • They believe that the longer you live the more wisdom you have. Grandmothers and grandfathers live with their children and grandchildren and something named the ‘Grandmother Effect’ is observed.
  • The elderly get 4-6 extra years of life in these living situations along with a lowered rate of infant mortality and sickness.

Okinawa

  • A place where the oldest living female population lives.
  • They also have the longest disability-free life expectancy. Here they live over 7 years longer than the average American population and they have only 1/5th the rate of colon cancer and breast cancer.
  • Here they have strategies in place to help keep them from overeating. They eat off small plates and say ‘Hara Hachi Bui’ before each meal which translates to ‘stop eating when you are 80% full.’
  • They are observed to eat less calories per sitting and they put the food onto the plates and then store the leftover food before they even start eating, rather than leaving it out to make grabbing extra food a temptation.

Loma Linda California – Seventh Day Adventists

  • This is a Christian denomination that observes a strict 24 hour sabbath from Friday to Saturday each week during which they stop all work and focus on their God and their community.
  • The life expectancy here is 89 years old and men live 11 years longer than the American average.
  • This is a diverse community bonded together by faith with Asian, African American, and Caucasian heritage.
  • They get their diet directly from Genesis Ch 1: 26 and are the only Blue Zone observed to abstain from alcohol.
  • They do many nature walks and spend time with their community each day.

1. Loved Ones First

  • The people of these ‘Blue Zones’ take care of their elderly and not only respect but also revere them for all the wisdom that they’re gained. The older you are, the wiser you have become.
  • They keep families nearby and care for their aging parents and grandparents. People in ‘Blue Zones’ commit to a life partner (which incidentally has been found to be worth 3+ years) and invest in children and loved ones.
family first – blue zones

2. Belong

  • People of ‘Blue Zones’ belong to a faith or spiritual group and meet with their community groups 4+ times a month.
  • The faith, spirituality or denomination doesn’t seem to matter as much as the frequency and consistency of community gatherings.
  • The Sardinians are Roman Catholic and Okinawans are found to be a mix of Buddhist and their original tribal religions.
  • Meeting with your group 4+ times a month is worth anywhere form 4-14+ years of additional life.
muai – blue zones

3. Right Tribe

  • People of ‘Blue Zones’ are born into or proactively surround themselves with the ‘right people,’ meaning people who are positive influences on their health and their happiness.
  • Americans today have an average of 1 ½ good friends and it’s no mystery that isolation and loneliness are becoming an epidemic. The Okinawans are born into a half dozen or so ‘Muai’ group or the  group that they a do life together with.
  • Within this Muai, they share the bounty and the losses with one another.
  • As one is successful they share all their blessings with those in their life group.
  • If someone falls ill, all the group collects their resources and shares the burden of caring for the sick with finances, resources and time.
  • The reverse side of this, there was a study called the ‘Framingham’ study that found that if your 3 best friends are obese then you are 50% more likely to be obese. We are all influenced by the people we choose to be connected to and to spend time with, whether me admit to it or not.
  • If you’re surrounded by a group that thinks that kayaking, hiking and growing a garden are fun hobbies you’ll spend your time very differently than if your friends think that watching a new movie then going out drinking and trying a new dessert is their ‘perfect day.’ Friends are longterm adventures, choose wisely.

4. Move Naturally

  • People in ‘Blue Zones’ set up their lives so that they are constantly nudged into physical activity. They walk everywhere. Every trip to the store, to the church or a friend’s house is an opportunity to walk. There are no modern conveniences, kitchen gadget to help with mixing or mashing. They mix up cakes and make bread by hand from scratch and even from ingredients they have grown themselves. They do their own yard work, chop their own wood and till their own garden.
  • In addition to this, most of them sit on the group which results in getting up and down 30+ times each day helping them stay mobile and strong for their lengthened lives.
  • The Sardinians live in vertical houses with many stairs and are shepherds that are constantly moving with their flock up and down steep hills.
  • They all do constant, low intensity activity and walk a lot.

5. Wine at 5

  • This shouldn’t be a hard sell… All the Blue Zones except one drink small amounts of alcohol. Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers in anthropological studies.
  • So it appears that 1-2 drinks with friends or family could be better than no drinks at all.
  • To be noted, they never drink to excess; there is no saving up all your drinks from the week and binge drinking on one night!
  • Also do be noted, many of the alcoholic beverages are made by scratch from their own ingredients.
  • The wine that the Sardinians drink is low in alcohol and has been found to have 3 x the level of protective polyphenols seen in any other wine in the U.S.
  • These drinks are made on ingredients grown by hand and slow fermented then sipped and savored in the presence of loved ones.

6. Plant Slant

  • All of the cultures garden.
  • Not only that, but their diet consists of at least 60% plant-based foods: vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and fruits!

7. 80% Rule

  • There is a saying that the Okinawans say before each meal, ‘Hara Hachi Bu.’ It means, stop eating when you are 80% full.
  • It is a well known fact that your stomach will not register fullness for up to 20 minutes after you are full, so this Hara Hachi Bu can help them not overeat, which we know is one of the gravest problems Americans are facing.
  • They also eat their smallest meal in the afternoon or early evening and then do not eat again until the next day.

8. Purpose

  • The two most dangerous years of your life are the year you are born, due to infant mortality, and the year you retire.
  • Which brings us to our next point, the people of all Blue Zones have a passion and a purpose that they can articulate at will. This strong sense of purpose has been statistically found to be worth 7+ additional years of life.
  • ‘Icki Gai’ is the term that Okinawans use.
  • It means ‘the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning’ and researchers heard people of this region say things like ‘to care for my grandbaby’ or ‘to catch fish for my family.’

9. Downshift

  • People of the ‘Blue Zones’ all take time in their day to downshift.
  • The Seventh Day Adventists pray and have a 24 hour ‘sabbath’ each week, the Sardinians nap and the Okinawans take time to recognize their ancestors.
  • When you are in a hurry or stressed out, the ‘inflammatory response’ is triggered which has been shown to increase risk of Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease and many other diseases.
  • When you take time to downshift, this dangerous process gets turned off and your body can return to homeostasis.

So again, we may not all live to be 100 years old, unless we are both genetically blessed and live in a way that promotes longevity, but the research has shown that we can all live longer and more fulfilling lives.

All we have to do is take notes from the cultures of the ‘Blue Zones’ and actively incorporate the 9 habits of longevity into our own lives the best we can. We can all do our best to create out own ‘Blue Zones’ in the communities around us. Incorporating these 9 principles can both increase the meaning and length of our own lives, and also and help others around us live longer and more fulfilled lives.

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