What are the nine (9) easy lifestyle changes you can make to live longer and healthier to over 100?
Changes so easy to implement and effective that they were featured in National Geographic and published in a full length captivating book!
And best of all having that long life without disease!
Dan Buettner, a researcher had this same question and he traveled to certain areas of the world where there are a greater concentration of people living over 100 years.
His aim: To research and observe how these people live and what they do daily.
Buettner and team were thrilled when they saw people over 100: singing, dancing, tending their farms and animals, driving over the speed limit on the freeway, performing surgery (the performing surgeon was in his 90s).
And even having romantic partners decades younger!
These areas are known as the Blue Zones and this article is based on Buettner’s book The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From The People Who’ve Lived The Longest
Although the Blue Zones are in different parts of the world and in different continents they shared the similar nine traits known as the Power Nine.
The Blue Zone Areas
The Blue Zone areas are:
- Loma Linda in California, USA
- Nicoya in Costa Rica
- Sardinia in Italy
- Ikaria in Greece
- Okinawa in Japan
Blue Zones Habits or the Power Nine
So what do inhabitants of the Blue Zones do differently that allows them to live such long life spans?
The habits are not anything magical and may even remind you of the way your grandparents or parents lived years ago.
Anyone of these can be implemented immediately or over a period of time as you so desire.
So brace yourself for the Power 9 habits of the Blue Zones! Here they are:
- Move Naturally
- Hara Hachi Bu (no that wasn’t a typo!)
- Plant Slant
- Grapes of Life
- Purpose Now
- Loved Ones First
- Right Tribe
Let’s see how we can incorporate some of these habits into our daily lives.
These suggestions are taken directly from the book.
I also use the word Blue Zoners. These are the people or centenarians who live in the Blue Zone areas.
LESSON ONE: MOVE NATURALLY
Since kindergarten we have been drilled about the benefits of exercise.
None of the Blue Zoners went to the gym or did hardcore training though, instead moving naturally was part of their routine day to day living.
These included tending sheep, gardening and taking nature walks.
Low intensity but consistent exercises is the name of the game with Blue Zoners.
Buettner suggests the following to move more:
- Use stairs instead of elevators; change TV channel without remote.
- WALK! It’s free and ALL the Blue Zoners did it daily.
- Plant a garden
- Stretch, ‘Stand up: Sit down’ (32 times per day), Stand Tall, Walk Tall, balance a book on your head! I got these from Sitting Kills, Moving Heals by Joan Vernikos.
Ms. Vernikos was a former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division responsible for optimizing the health of astronauts whose bodies can age by 40 years or more when out of space due to lack of gravity!
These are known as G-Habits and are related to using gravity. Even if you are an avid gym goer you still need to do these according to Ms. Vernikos.
Best of all it can be done in your office or living room!
LESSON TWO: HARA HACHI BU
This means stop eating when you are 80% full.
I don’t know how to measure if you are 80% full so as a guide just don’t over-stuff your stomach.
None of the Blue Zoners dieted in the traditional way that we read about. And not even one of them was obese either.
So our goal is simple: just don’t overeat.
- Use smaller plates and tall, narrower glasses. According to Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating, smaller plates and thinner taller glasses makes us eat and drink significantly less.
- Eat slowly and sit while eating. Turn of TVs and keep cellphones of the dinner table.
- Put unhealthy snacks in your garage or out of sight to avoid temptation.
LESSON THREE: PLANT SLANT
Eat more plants and cut down on processed foods.
Beans, whole grains and garden vegetables formed the basis of the Blue Zoners diet.
When meat is eaten it is only a few times per month or on special occasions. Tofu featured heavily in the Okinawan diet.
Nuts were also a common food in all their diets.
Don’t worry you can still get adequate protein from a vegetarian diet and vegetarian meals can taste awesome!
Check out this wonderful cookbook for tasty and high protein vegetarian recipes.
- Eat 4-6 vegetable servings per day
- Limit meat intake to twice per week
- Lead with beans. Let beans be the centerpiece of your diet.
- Eat nuts daily, but maybe an ounce or two at most
LESSON FOUR: GRAPES OF LIFE
Drink red wine but in moderation!
Both consistency and moderation is key here. Limit to 2 drinks a day. Red wine has also been shown to prevent thickening of the arteries.
Any dark red wine would do. Just don’t overdo it as alcohol can have toxic effects when over consumed.
LESSON FIVE: PURPOSE NOW
Most Blue Zoners had a strong sense of purpose.
You to should have a reason to get up in the morning.
This don’t have to be anything complicated and can be as simple as seeing your children or grandchildren grow up.
It can come from a job, a hobby, a new activity such as travelling or learning to play a new musical instrument or even a new language.
In Okinawa this is called ‘ikigai’. Buettner gives the examples of a 102 year karate master whose ikigai is to leave a martial arts legacy, a 100 year old fisherman whose ikigai is to feed his family and 102 year old great grandmother whose ikigai is to hold her great -great-great granddaughter.
- Craft a personal mission statement saying what you are truly passionate about and how you can use your talents further.
- Learn something new. Musical instrument or new languages are good ones.
- Find a partner who shares your zeal and help assess your progress.
LESSON SIX: DOWNSHIFT
We can’t go on like perpetual robots. This is the trend of the modern day world but Blue Zoners take time to downshift and appreciate the finer things in life like natural beauty.
For e.g. Sardinians pour into the streets at 5pm; Nicoyans break every afternoon and socialize with friends; the Blue Zoners at Loma Linda has a Sabbath Saturday where they focus only on God, nature and family.
Or in the words of one of the Blue Zoners: ‘life is short. Don’t run so fast that you miss it’.
We all know that stress has adverse effects, so you have to find the time to gear down at times.
- Meditation. Here is a previous article on meditation. Just do 5 or ten minutes a day.
- Reduce your exposure to bad news and time spent on television, radio and internet. Darren Hardy, author of The Compound Effect recommends going on a ‘media’ diet.
- Be early to avoid the stress of traffic.
- Take vacation time.
LESSON SEVEN: BELONG
Studies have shown that just attending religious services once a month makes a difference on how long you live reducing the risk of death by a third.
All of the Blue Zoners belonged to strong religious communities.
Buettner suggest that this could be so because prayer and self reflection gives peace of mind and a sense of belonging and submitting your daily stress to a Higher Power.
- Attending religious gatherings more often if you already don’t
- Explore a new tradition if you don’t belong to or accept any religious faith at present.
You can also join a club where people share similar interest to you. Or maybe a gym or yoga class where everyone is gunning after the same goals.
LESSON EIGHT: LOVED ONES FIRST
Blue Zoners put family first. For e.g. in Sardinia no one allows their parents to stay at old aged homes.
Their lives are built around their families and children.
The MacArthur Study of Successful Aging followed 1,189 people between the ages of 70 and 79 for more than 7 years and found that those who lived with their families had much sharper mental and social skills.
- Invest time and energy in your kids, spouse and parents or anyone close to you.
- Eat at least one meal together as a family, go to family outings and family vacations.
LESSON NINE: RIGHT TRIBE
Social connectedness is ingrained into the world’s Blue Zones. A study shows that people with a high level of social connectedness lived longer.
The people you associate with is one of the most powerful things you can do towards your quest for good health.
It helps reinforce good and positive behaviors as it is easier to adopt healthier habits when everyone around you is doing the same thing.
For e.g. Sardinians finishes their days in a local bar where they meet up with friends and Okinawans have ‘moais’ or group of people who stick together their whole lives.
A study in the New England Journal of Medicine followed 12,067 people over a 32 year period and found that people are more likely to become obese when their friends become obese!
- Create an inner circle of people who have healthy habits and spending time with them.
If you can’t meet in person then even a phone conversation once a week to talk about shared healthy behaviors can go a long way.
- Don’t be a grump!! None of the Blue Zoners interviewed were grumpy or not likeable.
You Would Live to 100
There you go! Nine simple and easy lifestyle changes you can adopt immediately or over time as convenient.
You can read the article that appeared in National Geographic article on the Blue Zones here.
Or you can pick up a copy of the book here.
The book is a super fun and easy read and contains lots of photos of the Blue Zoners and their villages and communities. You would want to adopt some these healthy habits by just looking the photos!
Imagine spending ten extra years with your kids or beautiful spouse….just because of nine easy habits.
After all we are all going to live to 100….so we may as well do it in style: dancing, singing and racing into the sunset!