I recently started watching the Netflix documentary, Down to Earth, hosted by Zac Efron (which if you haven’t seen, I highly recommend). In this series, Zac and Darin Olien, author and health & wellness expert, travel to different countries learning about the ways people all over the world practice a healthy, sustainable lifestyle – both for themselves and the planet. In one episode, they explore the Italian island of Sardinia to learn about the habits of people who live in what are now known as “Blue Zones”. But what are Blue Zones exactly?
What are Blue Zones?
Blue Zones are communities around the world where there are above average numbers of centenarians, or people who live to be over 100 years old. The concept of Blue Zones was developed by Michael Poulain, Dan Buettner, and Giovanni Mario Pes who, when studying longevity in Sardinia, discovered that certain geographic locations had a higher rate of centenarians. They identified 5 areas in the world which are the original Blue Zones: Ikaria, Greece; Loma Linda, California; Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; and Nicoya, Costa Rica. Researchers wanted to know how and why residents of these communities lived longer and generally healthier lives. To uncover the secrets of longevity, they interviewed hundreds of centenarians about their families and lifestyle habits. While they acknowledged that a genetic influence is likely, seeing as living over 100 was common through multiple generations, researchers were convinced that the lifestyles of the people in these communities had an immense impact on their longevity. Ultimately, Blue Zones researchers identified 9 lifestyle habits of the world’s longest-living people, and coined the term “Power 9”:
1. Move naturally
We’ve all heard that physical activity is important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but people in Blue Zones generally aren’t signing up for tons of spin classes or running marathons. Instead, they opt for naturally active lifestyles like, for example, gardening or choosing to walk rather than drive.
Having a reason to wake up in the morning can extend your life by years. A sense of purpose will not only grant longevity, but also make for a happier, healthier life.
Stress is inevitable and chronic stress can lead to disease and worsened mental health. Centenarians find ways to incorporate stress relief into their everyday life, whether it’s praying, mindfulness, or simply enjoying a meal with their loved ones.
4. 80% rule
Because food plays such an important role in our health, some centenarians follow the 80% rule and stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full. While this might not be the easiest (or healthiest) habit for all of us to take, I do think being mindful of our eating habits is important for our overall well-being.
5. Plant slant
Most centenarian diets revolve around plants - meat is very rarely eaten. Beans, which are chock full of vitamins and nutrients, make up a large part of the diet.
6. Wine @ 5
Now this is something I think many of us can get on board with. Blue Zone residents regularly drink alcoholic beverages in moderation (1-2 glasses per day). And if you can do so with friends or family, even better.
Many centenarians belong to faith-based communities, which has been shown to increase life expectancy by 4-14 years.
8. Loved ones first
Centenarians invest in their families. This means taking care of aging parents and grandparents, and spending lots of quality time with their partners and children. In fact, in some Blue Zones, it’s common for multiple generations to live together.
9. Right tribe
As many centenarians belong to faith-based communities and invest in their families, it’s no surprise that a huge aspect of longevity is surrounding yourself with the right people. Finding the right social circle is so important to your own wellness journey since we all tend to mimic the habits of those around us. So take a look at the people closest to you – do they reflect who you want to be?
As shown by the centenarian lifestyle, there is not one secret to living a long life – turns out, there might actually be 9. While not all of us are striving to live past 100 years old, it might be worth adopting at least a few of these habits. I, for one, appreciate the lack of strict health rules and restrictive diets that are all too common in our fad-crazed culture. At the end of the day, it’s not a long life that matters so much as a happy, healthy one, and the Blue Zones lifestyle might just help with that.
Interested in learning more? The Blue Zones website has tons of information and resources: https://www.bluezones.com/