Larry Trivieri Jr.
Imagine being 100 years old. If you are like most people in America, the thought of living that long probably includes having to live in a nursing home and being unable to care for yourself, along with poor health and memory loss. Sadly, that is precisely the condition that many Americans of advanced age find themselves in today, and the same is true in many other industrialized countries. In the U.S. and many other countries, the incidence of serious illness for most people increases with every decade that they live.
But in certain regions of the world, this is not the case at all. In fact, in these regions, not only do people typically live longer than other people—in many cases well into their 90s and beyond—but they do so while still leading healthy and active lives, with few, if any disabilities and no reliance on medications. In addition, they also tend to be far more content and happy compared to most other populations around the world.
Researchers have so far identified five regions around the globe where health and longevity go hand in hand. These regions have been dubbed “blue zones,” a name first given them by researchers Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain after they discovered that the Italian island of Sardinia had one of the highest concentrations of men per capita who were 100 years old or older of any place in the world. (The name came about as they focused in on the cluster of Sardinian villages with the highest rates of longevity, drawing concentric blue circles on the map to denote their locations.) Their findings were later expanded upon in a book by Dan Buettner in collaboration with the National Geographic Society.
In addition to Sardinia, other “blue zones” are the Greek island of Ikaria; an isolated region of Costa Rica called Nicoya Peninsula; Okinawa, Japan; and Loma Linda, California, which has a large population of Seventh Day Adventists who are known for their good health.
The people who live in these blue zone regions do not have special genes, nor do they typically use nutritional supplements. Additionally, their cultures are not the same, yet all of them share one thing in common that explains the secret of their longevity—a healthy lifestyle made up of nine key traits.
The Nine Keys to Long-Lasting Health
The nine traits or habits that all blue zone people have in common are a healthy diet, daily physical activity, strong family bonds, a strong sense of purpose, strong ties with friends, daily activities that help relieve stress, active participation in faith-based activities, a strong sense of belonging to their community, and moderate daily alcohol consumption.
Diet: Despite the variety of differences in the foods native to each of the blue zone regions, the traditional diet in each area is primarily plant-based, with an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables being consumed each day, along with whole grains and legumes, nuts and seeds, and small amounts of fish (except in Sardinia, where meat is eaten more frequently). Such diets are also low in unhealthy fats and sugar, and free of processed foods and food additives that are so common in the standard American diet. Meal portions are also smaller than the typical American meal, yet far richer in vital nutrients. The beverages blue zone people are also healthy, and include herbal teas, goats milk, red wine and, in Okinawa, a glass or two of saki. (Seventh Day Adventists do not consume alcohol and eat a completely vegetarian diet.) Not only are blue zone diets very healthy, they are also inexpensive.
Daily Physical Activity: Blue zone people don’t have to worry about making enough time to exercise because regular moderate physical activity is a built-in part of their cultures. Their most common form of exercise is walking and it is not uncommon for even people in their 80s and 90s and older to walk miles each day as they go about their daily routines. In addition, most blue zone people work the land or garden on a daily basis. And unlike the high-intensity workouts so many Americans engage in, blue zone exercise tends to be slow and relaxed, yet ongoing throughout the day. As a result of their daily activities, along with their healthy diets, blue zone people are free of the obesity epidemic raging across much of the rest of the world, and experience far lower rates of its associated diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Strong Family Bonds: Among blue zone people, family always comes first. Family relationships are loving and caring, marriages are faithful, and family members tend to live close by each other, creating a nurturing extended family dynamic. Research has shown that having strong family bonds can add as much as six extra years to your life because of the various physical and emotional benefits such bonds provide.
A Strong Sense of Purpose: Blue zone people typically live their lives making use of their talents and passions for the good of themselves, their families, and their community. By doing so, they have a strong sense of purpose and look forward to getting up each day. Researchers have found that possessing such a sense of purpose can add up to seven years to your life.
Strong Ties with Friends: Another common trait among blue zone people is their close and deep relationships with friends. By and large, blue zone people are gregarious and regularly spend time with their friends each week.
Daily Activities that Help Relieve Stress: Chronic stress is considered by many health experts to be the number one cause of disease and premature aging and death. Compared to other people around the world, stress among blue zone people is rare. That’s again due to their daily lifestyle, which includes making time for enjoying friends and family, daily naps, regular engagement in prayer or meditation, and making time to enjoy hobbies. While blue zone people may not have much in the way of material possessions, they certainly have figured out how to escape the “rat race” that so many other people compete in to their detriment.
Active Participation in Faith-Based Activities: Blue zone people also tend to be spiritual and religious, and have a strong connection to respective faiths. Participating in faith-based worship services and other activities is very important to them and is something they do at least once a week. Research shows that participating in faith-based activities with others can increase your lifespan by as much as a decade or more.
Moderate Daily Alcohol Consumption: With the exception of Seventh Day Adventists, blue zone people typically enjoy an evening glass or two of red wine, beer, or saki. A growing body of scientific research suggests that people who drink in moderation out-live nondrinkers and may also be healthier overall.
As you can see, adopting the healthy habits of blue zone people does not require a lot of money or time. Rather, it involves a commitment to implementing as many of the above nine traits into your own daily lifestyle as you can. The more that you do, the healthier you will become, and you’ll likely discover that you are becoming happier too.
Buettner, Dan. “The Secrets of Long Life.” National Geographic, Nov 2005: 9.
Poulain M.; Pes G.M., et al. (2004). “Identification of a Geographic Area Characterized by Extreme Longevity in the Sardinia Island: the AKEA study.” Experimental Gerontology 39 (9): 1423–1429.
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