The Blue Zones are five areas of the world where people live the longest and healthiest lives: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California. Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and multiple New York Times bestselling author, and his team study the five Blue Zones extensively. They identified the Power 9®− the nine traits that the Blue Zone cultures have in common and that contribute to their longevity. Check out the summary of these nine traits below so you can “Blue Zone” your lifestyle.
1. Move Naturally
The Blue Zones cultures are not spending hours at the gym or engaging in high intensity interval training. Rather, they lead naturally active lives without giving exercise much thought. Their environments enable them to be active all their lives. They rarely take the short cut. For example, they take the stairs and/or walk to work. These activities add up over a lifetime and contribute to their naturally active lives. Regular, low-intensity activity is a key component to these cultures. The bonus? This type of exercise is low impact and easy on the knees and hips.
Buettner and his team found that knowing your sense of purpose in the world can add up to seven years to your life. Seven years! In the Blue Zones, the citizens wake up every day feeling valued and feeling like they have a purpose and role within their communities. This sense is invaluable to their contentment. Having purpose can help control stress and reduce the chance of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis and stroke.
Stress is inevitable. And, how we deal with stress is crucial for a long and healthy life. The Blue Zones cultures have daily practices and rituals to deal with the stressors of life. This enables them to take control of their responses to stress in a healthy way. While each culture has a different way in which they unwind, they all engage in stress relief every day. For example, in Okinawa, they go on daily walks with friends. In Nicoya, they take a break in the afternoon to socialize with friends.
4. 80% Rule
The 80% rule is associated with maintaining a healthy weight. These cultures do not stuff themselves with huge portions of food. They only eat until they are 80% full. This practice naturally leads to caloric restriction without feeling restricted. The Okinawans say “hara hachi bu” before each meal to remind them not to over consume. This practice gives the body enough time to register the food eaten and to feel full. It takes about 20 minutes for the stomach to send signals to the brain that it is full, so eating until 80% full, gives the brain time to catch up with the stomach.
5. Plant Slant
You could have guessed that a plant-based diet would be part of the Power 9®. The diets in the Blue Zones focus on beans, whole grains and vegetables. Beans provide the majority of protein and animal products are eaten only about five times a month. A serving of meat is only about three to four ounces. They consume mostly whole, unprocessed foods. The whole grains, corn, oats and rice are staples.
6. Wine @ 5
In all of the Blue Zones except in Loma Linda, the individuals regularly drink high quality wine. Their alcohol consumption is moderate− one to two drinks per day with friends or at dinner. They do not save up their alcohol for one boozy weekend night. Drinking is a social activity that brings people together. These cultures enjoy the wine and savor it.
Buettner’s research shows that going to faith-based services, regardless of denomination, four times a month adds four to 14 years to your life. Believing in any higher being and regularly attending spiritual events contributes to a sense of community and purpose. It also reinforces healthy habits and behaviors.
8. Loved Ones First
Family is extremely important in these communities. Often the elderly live with or near their younger relatives who happily take care of them. The elders contribute to the home life by caring for the children and helping with daily chores. Most of the people in these cultures commit to one life partner, which can add up to three years to life. They go out of their way for their children and have rewarding family lives.
9. Right Tribe
Finally, you are a product of the company you keep. These cultures have supportive friendships that encourage and support healthy habits. When your friends choose to go on a walk instead of engaging in a sedentary activity, you are likely to join in, happily. Regular active social dates help maintain a high level of physical activity and contribute to a sense of community. Surround yourself with other “Blue Zones” minded people to reinforce the Power 9® principles in your daily life.
Try this Blue Zones recipe to start eating your way to 100: Easy Lentil and Veggie Soup
Written by: Abby Cannon, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern
Source: Blue Zones