While there's no definite process to live longer, living a healthy lifestyle has proven to be effective. One of these lifestyles is the Blue Zone lifestyle. It was developed by longevity guru and New York Times best-selling author Dan Buettner, who embarked on a mission to determine which lifestyle contributes to the longevity of people living in areas that he termed as Blue Zones.
This lifestyle has revolutionized senior living across different communities in the US and helped them maximize their years. But what exactly is a Blue Zone and how can I live that lifestyle?
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What is a Blue Zone?
A Blue Zone is a non-scientific term given to geographical regions where one of the oldest and healthiest people in the world lives. These areas also have low chronic disease rates. The name came from the blue circles that Buettner and his colleagues drew when identifying these areas on the world map.
In his publication "The Blue Zones," Buettner identified the following five areas where people have consistently lived over 100 years of age:
- Icaria, Greece
- Sardinia, Italy
- Okinawa Japan
- Loma Linda, California
- Nicoya, Costa Rica
From their research, Buettner and his team discovered that people from these areas lived longer and healthier due to a collective of small, easy everyday choices, ranging from their diet, regular activities, finding purpose in their lives, alcohol drinking habits, and more.
How to Live a Blue Zone Lifestyle
Buettner identified nine common practices that contributed to the long lifespan of the Blue Zone population, which he named Power 9. These practices include the following:
Unlike popular practices, Blue Zone living doesn't involve practices like heavy lifting in gyms, morning runs, or cardio. Instead, it involves remaining constantly active during the day with activities like doing house chores, gardening, cooking, and walking. This manual labor requires cardiovascular and strength training, which keeps them fit and trim.
Finding a Purpose of Life
Having a sense of purpose in your life undoubtedly gives you a reason to get out of bed every morning. This is referred to as, "plan de vida" in Nicoya, Costa Rica, and "Ikigai" in Okinawa, Japan. These phrases refer to "why I wake up in the morning" when loosely translated.
We all get stressed out every day, but how we deal with stress matters a lot. Buettner discovered that people in the Blue Zones deal with stress by engaging in specific routines for at least 15 minutes every day. This may include activities like taking a nap, enjoying a glass of wine, praying, and meditating. These activities prevent stress from building or festering.
Practicing the 80% Diet Rule
People living in the Blue Zone regions usually stop eating once their bellies are 80% full. An example of this practice is coined from an Okinawan phrase, hara hachi bu, which reminds its population to stop eating once they're 80% full. This practice also recommends eating the smallest portion in the early evenings or late afternoons and avoiding eating for the rest of the day. The closest dietary pattern that mimics this practice is intermittent fasting.
Maintaining a Plant-Based Diet
Most diets in the Blue Zone are usually 95% plant-based, which includes legumes, nuts, vegetables, and whole grains. People from these zones barely eat meat, although those from Sardinia and Icaria eat fish.
Drinking Alcohol in Moderation
People from most of the Blue Zones, apart from those in Loma Linda, drink at least 1 to 2 glasses of alcohol per day with a meal or friends. This reduces long-term health risks like high blood pressure and heart disease. However, the benefits of moderate alcohol drinking depend on your choice of drink. For instance, red wine contains several antioxidants which prevent damage to DNA that results in aging. This explains why people from Sardinia and Icaria live a particularly longer life since their wines have extremely high antioxidant levels than other wines.
Belonging to a Community
People with a strong support system fare better while facing difficult times. It also helps reinforce healthy behaviors that are key to longer living. One good example from the Blue Zone is how Okinawans have moais, which is a group of five lifelong friends.
Putting Your Family First
The insistence on keeping your family close among the Blue Zone population is the cornerstone to their longevity. Some of the practices that help them keep their family close include committing to a life partner, building memories with their kids, and taking care of grandparents and aging parents.
A majority of the Blue Zone population is faith-based and practices faith-based activities. This contributes to their longevity by providing social support in times of stress.
Blue Zone living highlights crucial tenets that contribute to a longer life. Although it may differ slightly from other healthy lifestyles, it maintains crucial aspects like regular exercise, moderate alcohol intake, eating a plant-based diet, spirituality, and maintaining a social network.