The Blue Zones: 9 Lifestyle Habits from the World’s Longest Lived Cultures

Over the past two decades, author and explorer Dan Buettner has been on a mission to identify the specific lifestyle habits of populations who not only have high concentrations of individuals living over 100 years old, but also high rates of people living active lifestyles in their 80’s and 90’s, unscathed from chronic disease. [1] [2] This mission led him to the discovery of, “The Blue Zones”, which consist of the following locations: Loma Linda, California; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; and Okinawa, Japan. [3]

With his team of medical researchers, anthropologists, demographers, and epidemiologists, Buettner identified nine evidence-based common denominators that each of these regions practiced in their daily lifestyle. He dubbed these nine life lessons as, “The Power 9”. [1]

  1. Move Naturally: In the blue zones, you will not find many people with gym memberships or training for marathons. Rather, you will find people getting in their daily exercise from natural movement such as gardening, walking/biking instead of taking a car, or manual housework without the convenience of a washing machine or dishwasher.  [1] [4]
  2. Purpose: In Okinawa they call it “Ikigai”, and in the Nicoya Peninsula they call it “Plan de vida”. Both of these translate to, “Why I wake up in the morning”. Having a sense of purpose and direction in your life contributes to being healthier, happier, and adds up to seven years of extra life expectancy.  [1] [4]
  3. Down Shift: Even people in the Blue Zones experience stress, which can lead to chronic inflammation, as well as other age-related diseases. To help combat this stress, people in the Blue Zones have set routines that help them wind down or re-center. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a daily nap, and Sardinians have happy hour.[1] [4]
  4. 80% Rule: The Okinawan 2500-year old Confucian mantra, “Hara hachi bu”, is said before meals and is a reminder to stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full. This little reminder could be the difference of gaining or losing those extra few pounds. People in the Blue Zones also eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening.[1] [4]
  5. Plant Slant: Beans are central to most centenarian diets. Vegetables, fruit, and whole grains make up the rest. Meat is eaten in smaller amounts, and on average 5 times per month. [1] [4]
  6. Wine @ 5: Moderate and regular wine consumption with friends and/or food is a consistent part of the Blue Zones lifestyle, with the exception of the Adventists community in Loma Linda, CA. Those in the Blue Zones do not drink in excess, but on average have 1-2 glasses of wine per day.[1] [4]
  7. Belong: Out of the 263 centenarians that were interviewed, all but 5 belong to a faith-based community of some kind. Research shows that being part of a faith-based community can add up to 4-14 years to your lifespan.[1] [4]
  8. Loved Ones First: Strong family connections are a vital part of the culture in the Blue Zones. It is not uncommon for you to see aging grandparents living with their families, parents investing quality time into their children on a daily basis, as well as marriages lasting a lifetime with committed partners.[1] [4]
  9. Right Tribe: In addition to tight family connections, people living in the blue zones also prioritize community with close friends and social networks. “Research has shown that older adults who have strong social support and social networks tend to retain independence, have a stronger sense of purpose in life, and may experience slower cognitive decline compared to those who are socially isolated.” [1] [4] [5]Researchers have also found that people are more likely to engage in healthy/unhealthy behaviors depending on the behavior of those in their social circles.[6] It sounds like the people in the Blue Zones are in good company!

While his decades of research have already benefited many, Buettner’s work is far from finished as he is now working on how to adapt these common practices of the Blue Zones in the United States. “Chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease are among the most prevalent and costly health conditions in the U.S. As of 2018, approximately 45% (or 133 million) of all Americans suffer from at least one chronic disease, and this percentage continues to rise.” [7

According to the Danish Twin Study, the average person’s lifespan is dictated by 20% genetics, while 80% is dictated by their lifestyle. [8] Buettner believes that if 80% of our well-being and lifespan can be dictated by our lifestyle, then by adapting these common practices we should see results in our health over time. The few cities of the U.S. that have already adapted the Blue Zones project have seen stunning results. We are seeing double digits dropping in obesity, a decrease in smoking, as well as overall healthier BMI (body mass index). Millions of dollars have been saved in healthcare costs, as well as measurable drops in employee absenteeism [9]. If you would like to learn more about the Blue Zones Project and how you can get involved in this movement, check out the following link:

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