Do you want to live longer and stay healthier into old age? If your answer is yes then there are a few things you need to learn from the people in the “Blue Zones”. The “Blue Zones” are places around the world were the residents make it to their 100th birthday at 10 times the rate of the general population. Dan Buettner, a research with National Geographic traveled the world to find these locations and study the people living there for commonalities. The 5 Blue Zone areas in his team’s research include 1) Loma Linda, California 2) Nicoya, Costa Rica 3) Sardinia, Italy 4) Ikaria, Greece and 5) Okinawa, Japan.
After 15 years of study Buettner and his team analyzed the data and discovered 9 common traits among these populations that sets them apart from the rest of the world. Buettner and his team call these the Power 9:
1) High levels of physical activity
Blue Zone populations live lives in which they are almost always moving. Walking and gardening play big roles in the lives of these populations(1).
Independent research into physical activity proves the point. A 2017 study conducted at the Cooper Institute in Dallas found that for every hour spent running study participants increased your life expectancy by 7 hours(2). A recent British study found that for men in their 70s, 80s, and 90s who participated in just 10 minutes of light activity a week cut their chances of dying earlier by 17 percent(3). The study essentially proved that any dose of physical activity is better than none.
Another recent study conducted in Copenhagen called the Copenhagen City Heart Study (CCHS) showed that group sports were ideal for longevity. In the study playing tennis added 9.7 years to participants lives, badminton 6.2 years, jogging 3.2 years; calisthenics 3.1 years; and soccer 4.7 years(4).
2) Maintaining a sense of purpose and drive
Having a reason to get up in the morning and feeling purposeful can actually increase your life expectancy. Researchers have found decreased levels of stress hormones and increased feelings of wellbeing and value in those participants who report having a higher sense of purpose and drive in their lives(5).
3) Taking time to relax and play or “Downshift”
Stress increases cortisol which suppresses the immune system and increases the risk of life threatening conditions such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes(6). High cortisol levels also affect the thyroid and sex hormones. Finding ways to relax, unwind and “downshift” is critical to lower cortisol and the stress response.
4) Avoiding overeating
Numerous studies over the last several years have come out touting the incredible health benefits of fasting(7). Fasting increases autophagy and allows the body to process dead cells and waste material without spending energy on assimilating new food and nutrients. Avoiding overeating is just as beneficial in that it too pertains to the concept of calorie restriction. Okinawans recite a Confucian adage, “Hara hachi bu,” reminding them to eat mindfully and stop eating when they are 80 percent full(8).
5) Eating a mostly plant based diet
People in the Blue Zones eat a diet consisting mostly of whole grains, fish, greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes. Meat consumption in these communities averages out to about 5 times per month (about once a week)(9). This type of diet has been studied widely and is commonly referred to as a Mediterranean diet(10).
6) Moderate wine consumption
Many of the Blue Zone communities consume on average 1-2 glasses of wine per day. Wine is rich in antioxidants which slow age related, free radial cell degeneration(11).
7) Participating in a faith based community
Research indicates that regularly participating in a faith-based community can add 4-14 years to your life(12). Many of the people in the Blue Zones belong to strong, faith based religious communities. These communities add to a person’s sense of purpose and create a feeling of belonging.
8) Maintaining close family ties
In the Blue Zones family units are strong from birth through old age. In many of these areas, social equity increases with age and the elderly are seen as gifts not burdens(13). The elderly become keepers of wisdom and community history. They become revered and admired rather than cast aside like in many western cultures.
9) Maintaining close friendships
Not only is family important but in Blue Zone locations people have very strong friendship ties(14). A 1979 study published in the American journal of Epidemiology found that the mortality rate of men and women with fewer closer friendships was 2.3 and 2.8 times greater respectively, than the mortality rate of people with many close friendships(15). Having strong friendship ties lowers the stress-response system and all the associated negative health repercussions that brings(16).
To purchase a copy of Dan Buettner’s book The Blue Zones click here
“A must read, if you want to stay young”-Dr. Oz
“No one thing explains longevity in the Blue Zones. It’s really an interconnected web of factors—including what we eat, our social network, daily rituals, physical environment, and sense of purpose—that propels us forward and gives life meaning.” -Dan Buettner
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2. "An Hour of Running May Add 7 Hours to Your Life - The New York Times." 12 Apr. 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/12/well/move/an-hour-of-running-may-add-seven-hours-to-your-life.html. Accessed 11 May. 2019.
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4. "Major Study Says Tennis Can Add Nearly 10 Years to Your Life ...." 23 Apr. 2019, http://www.tennisindustry.org/cms/index.cfm/news/major-study-says-tennis-can-add-nearly-10-years-to-your-life/. Accessed 11 May. 2019.
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16. "A study of 300,000 people reveals the keys to a longer, happier life ...." 21 Oct. 2017, https://www.businessinsider.com/a-study-of-300000-people-reveals-the-keys-to-a-longer-happier-life-2017-10. Accessed 11 May. 2019.