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Habits of the World's Healthiest, Longest-Lived People

Updated: Oct 21, 2021

Okay, I am not necessarily motivated by the idea of living to 100, (although I suppose I'm not against it either!) but I am interested in living as long as I can in a healthy, mobile, and connected way. I am very afraid of losing my mental capacity and my ability to do basic things for myself. And I have no interest in living in a nursing home. I'm fifty-nine now and I love to hike, swim, play tennis, paint, garden, and of course, spend time with my loved ones and friends. And at the very least, I would always like to remember who they are and why I love them!

We all know by now that diet and exercise are important and that smoking is terrible and many of us, especially those of us who live in Southern California, are surrounded by beautiful people who don't seem to age. But putting aside cosmetic surgery (which is superficial and ego driven, i.e., vain but certainly not a sin in my book), what are the most important things we can be doing to live and age in as vital a way as possible -- free of chronic illness.

Blue Zones® is an organization that I have found to be a source of information and inspiration. Blue Zones was founded by Dan Buettner, an explorer, best selling author, and National Geographic Fellow. For Dan, trekking continents was about mysteries, not miles. And it was a mystery in Japan that became the seed from which his best-selling books would grow: What are the secrets of the world's longest-living people?

Buettner has discovered five places in the world where people live the longest and are healthiest: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California.

Buettner and his team have determined that there are nine elements that the people who live in the above Blue Zones® have in common and they call them the

The Power 9® and they are:

  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 a deck of cards.

  6. Wine at 5 - People in all blue zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. The CDC recommends that adults of legal drinking age to drink in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men or 1 drink or less in a day for women on days when alcohol is consumed.

  7. Belong - All but five of the 263 centenarians that were 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 will 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.

While we may need to win the genetic lottery to reach age 100, most of us (according to the Blue Zones website) have the capacity to live well into our 90's and largely without chronic disease if we adopt a Blue Zones® lifestyle. I am not a scientist* and I haven't validated the research conducted by the people at Blue Zones, but it seems to me that these ideas are pretty uncomplicated and straight forward...common sense things we can all do without spending money or buying stuff we don't need if we just slow down a bit, move more, and connect with ourselves, our loved ones, our friends, our environment, and what we put into our bodies.

*I have a friend who is 95 and she is still playing golf, walking on the beach, and is planning on skiing this winter! She is not only amazing physically, but she is an inspiration spiritually too!

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