Blue Zones

One of the greatest aspects of my job is that I get the opportunity to meet individuals that are living well beyond average life expectancy. In fact, many of these folks are physically, cognitively and emotionally dong exceptionally well. When I meet these people in their 80’s, 90’s and even 100’s, I am always extremely curious as to the “secret” to their healthy long life. Luck, desserts, exercise, vegetables, laughter, love, friends, reading and good genes are just a few of the common answers I hear. However, the casual way in which I have been collecting data will never lead to any firm conclusions on what we can attribute to long life.

Therefore, my search to find the answer to longevity, led me to the book, The Blue Zones, written by explorer/author Dan Buettner. In his book, Buettner travels the world to find what he calls hot spots or “Blue Zones,”-communities of people that live an exceedingly longer life than the rest of the world. Once he discovered these “Blue Zones,” he would then study the people in these communities and their lifestyle to see what was attributing to their impressive longevity. Mr. Buettner found 5 distinct “Blue Zones” or places throughout the world that had populations of people that had substantially longer lives than other through the world. The 5 locations of extreme longevity are:

· Ikaria, Greece

· Loma Linda, California

· Nicoya, Costa Rica

· Okinawa, Japan

· Sardinia, Italy

While each location had their own story and reason for longevity, Dan Buettner was able to compile 9 overlapping common tendencies. Below is a list of the 9 themes he suggests we all live by. I was particularly impressed/excited about #8 as we, Seacrest at Home, strives to help keep people in their own home!

  1. Move Naturally 
 The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it. They grow gardens and don’t have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work.
  2. Purpose  The Okinawans call it “Ikigai” and the Nicoyans call it “plan de vida;” for both it translates to “why I wake up in the morning.” Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy
  3. Down Shift
  Even people in the Blue Zones experience stress. Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease.  What the world’s longest-lived people have that we don’t are routines to shed that stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians do happy hour.
  4. 80% Rule 
 “Hara hachi bu” – the Okinawan, 2500-year old Confucian mantra said before meals reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. The 20% gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it.  People in the Blue Zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then they don’t eat any more the rest of the day.
  5. Plant Slant
 Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets.  Meat—mostly pork—is eaten on average only five times per month. Serving sizes are 3-4 oz., about the size of deck or cards.
  6. Wine @ 5 
 People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. The trick is to drink 1-2 glasses per day (preferably Sardinian Cannonau wine), with friends and/or with food. And no, you can’t save up all weekend and have 14 drinks on Saturday.
  7. Belong
  All but five of the 263 centenarians we interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. Denomination doesn’t seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy.
  8. Loved Ones First 
 Successful centenarians in the Blue Zones put their families first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home (It lowers disease and mortality rates of children in the home too.). They commit to a life partner (which can add up to 3 years of life expectancy) and invest in their children with time and love (They’ll be more likely to care for you when the time comes).
  9. Right Tribe 
 The world’s longest lived people chose–or were born into–social circles that supported healthy behaviors, Okinawans created ”moais”–groups of five friends that committed to each other for life. Research from the Framingham Studies shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. So the social networks of long-lived people have favorably shaped their health behaviors.

I find these 9 principles of life to be very simple and possible for all of us to employ. Clearly, one’s adherence to this template will not guarantee that one lives a long and healthy life. However, it is hard to ignore that living by these principles has been proven successful for many all over the world.

If you are interested in learning more about the author or his book please see additional references below: