Have you heard of the Blue Zones? The term has been around since 2005 when Dan Buettner led a National Geographic expedition to uncover the secrets of longevity. During this expedition he discovered that there are five places around the world where people consistently live to be over 100 years old, which he dubbed the ‘Blue Zones’.
So where are these ‘Blue Zones’?
- Icaria, Greece
- Ogliastra region of Sardinia, Italy
- Okinawa, Japan
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
- The Seventh-day Adventist community in Loma Linda, California, USA
But why are they living so long?
Buettner’s research uncovered some specific commonalities amongst these regions that are believed to slow the ageing process and allow one to live well into their 90’s and beyond without suffering from chronic disease. It appears genetics aren’t the life sentence we believe! Buettner and his team have coined these commonalities the ‘Power 9’.
What are the ‘Power 9’?
Move Naturally. Most of us have fairly sedentary lifestyles these days. What with taking transport to and from work, sitting at a computer for hours on end, then eating in front of the telly – even the gym bunnies among us only manage an hour or so of rigorous movement in a day. Those in the Blue Zones get plenty of incidental exercise throughout their day without a second thought. They walk to where they need to be; they’re out gardening, and not using convenient electronics and devices day-to-day to rule out any need for manual labour.
Sense of Purpose. The Okinawans call it ‘Ikigai’ and the Nicoyans call it ‘plan de vida’; for both, it translates to “why I wake up in the morning.” Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to 7 years of extra life expectancy.
Don’t Stress. Everyone experiences bouts of stress, that’s a given. The problem is that many of us are in a state of chronic stress never winding down, and that leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. In the Blue Zones they have methods to de-stress, which they practice daily and consistently. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors; Adventists pray; Ikarians take a nap; and Sardinians have happy hour.
The 80% Rule. ‘Hara hachi bu’ is the Okinawan 2500-year old Confucian mantra that is said before meals. It reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full. Not being overfull keeps their weight in check. Blue Zones also tend to eat their smallest (and last) meal late afternoon or early evening.
Primarily Plant Based. Diets in the Blue Zones are typically rich in vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts. Meat (mainly pork) is eaten on average only 5 times per month. Serving sizes are small, about the size of a deck of cards. Additionally fish is often eaten in Icaria and Sardinia. It is a good source of omega-3 fats, which are important for heart and brain health.
Wine (in moderation!). People in all Blue Zones drink alcohol moderately and regularly (except Adventists as it is against their religion). It appears moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers; however we’re only talking 1 to 2 glasses per day in the company of friends or with a meal. If you skip a day it doesn’t accumulate to the next though!
Have Faith. Having a faith seems to make a difference. Denomination doesn’t appear to matter either. Research shows that attending faith-based services 4 times per month will add 4 to 14 years of life expectancy!
Family First. Centarians in these regions spend a lot of time with family, often having aging parents and grandparents living within the family home or close by, and caring for them as needed. They also tend to choose one life partner to commit to as well.
Find Your Tribe. People within these regions have active social lives and choose (or are born into) social networks that encourage and support their healthy lifestyles. For example, Okinawans created moais—groups of 5 friends that committed to each other for life. Research also shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious so surrounding yourself with friends that foster healthy habits is very beneficial.
I don’t know about you but some of these principles seem alarmingly easy to implement! Which ones can you adopt for the sake of a better, longer life?
Written by Ché Miller
About the author
Ché has always had a passion for hospitality having completed a conjoint Bachelors Degree in International Business and Hospitality Management. She has spent the last 15 years working in the hospitality industry. This passion led her to working in a premier health retreat in Australia in her twenties. There she found the knowledge she gained there inspired her to start living a healthier life.
Now Ché loves to combine her two favourite things, hospitality and wellbeing. She scours the island for the best nourishing restaurants, products and services. Ché has been living in Mallorca since early 2017, having moved from her home in New Zealand. She absolutely loves the energy of the island and everything it has to offer.
Ché’s other interests include ashtanga yoga, boxing, reading, writing, and really good coffee.