About 20 years ago, while working for National Geographic and on a grant from the National Institute on Aging, I began to identify and study the longest-living people, those in what we call the blue zones of the world. These are people who have escaped heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and several types of cancer.
My goal, in a sense, was to reverse engineer longevity. Given that only about 20% of the average person’s lifespan is dictated by genes, I thought that if I could find the common denominators in people who achieved the health outcomes we want, I could draw some good lessons for the rest of us. I discovered nine powerful lessons – the nine powers – that underlie the five blue zones. Here they are:
- Move naturally.
The longest-living people in the world do not work out, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in an environment that constantly encourages them to move without thinking about it. They cultivate gardens and do not have mechanical means to do housework and gardening.
2. Find a purpose.
The Okinawans call it ikigai and the Nicoyans plan de vida; for both, it translates as ‘why I get up in the morning’. Knowing your purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy.
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Ultra-moisturising formula that nourishes the skin barrier, available in unscented and unscented versions. Even people living in blue zones experience stress. Stress leads to chronic inflammation, which is associated with all major age-related diseases. What the longest-living people in the world have more than we do are routines to get rid of this stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians have happy hour.
- Follow the 80% rule.
Hara hachi bu, the 2,500 year old Okinawan Confucian mantra spoken before meals, reminds us to stop eating when the stomach is 80% full. The 20% difference between not feeling hungry and feeling full can mean the difference between weight loss and weight gain. People in the blue zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then do not eat for the rest of the day.
- Eat mainly plants.
Beans, especially broad beans, black beans, soybeans and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Meat, mainly pork, is eaten on average only five times a month. Portions are 3 to 4 ounces, about the size of a deck of cards.
- Drink wine at 5 o’clock.
People in all blue zones (except Adventists) drink moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers live longer than non-drinkers. The trick is to drink one to two glasses a day (preferably Cannonau wine from Sardinia) with friends and/or food. And no, you can’t save up all week and drink 14 glasses on Saturday.
- Find your place.
All but five of the 263 centenarians we interviewed belonged to a faith community. The denomination does not seem to matter. Research shows that attending religious services four times a month increases life expectancy by 4 to 14 years.
- Put your loved ones first.
Successful centenarians in the blue zones put their families first. This means keeping their elderly parents and grandparents close by or at home. (They commit to a life partner (which can add up to three years of life expectancy) and invest in their children by giving them time and love (and they will be more likely to look after you when the time comes).
- Find the right community.
The longest-living people in the world have chosen – or been born into – social circles that promote healthy behaviours. For example, the Okinawans have created moais, groups of five friends who commit to each other for life. Research from the Framingham studies shows that smoking, obesity, happiness and even loneliness are contagious. The social networks of long-lived people have therefore positively influenced their health behaviours.
To make it to age 100, you have to have won the genetic lottery. But most of us have the capacity to make it well into our early 90s and largely without chronic disease. As the Adventists demonstrate, the average person’s life expectancy could increase by 10 to 12 years by adopting a Blue Zones lifestyle.