Ikaria, Greece. Okinawa, Japan. Ogliastra region, Sardinia. Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. Loma Linda, California. What do all of these places have in common? They are called Blue Zones and are home to the healthiest and longest living people in the world. A prominent indicator of wellbeing is life expectancy, and currently the average life expectancy in the United States is 78.8 years. In Blue Zones, many of the residents are living well past 100. Ikaria, Greece, has the lowest rates of middle-aged mortality and the lowest rates of dementia than any other place in the world. Ogliastra region, Sardinia, is home to the largest population of centenarian men, and in Loma Linda, California, many residents live 10 years longer than the average American.
Before you pack up and move to Ikaria, many of the principles these communities live by can easily be adopted into your own life. Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, spent five years visiting these different areas of the world to learn the secrets to living long, healthy lives. Dan and a team of researchers studied these areas and identified a core list of lifestyle and environmental factors they’ve named the Power Nine.
The Power Nine
- Move naturally. Create an environment that encourages and enables you to move.
- Purpose. Whether you call it ikigai (Okinawans), plan de vida (Nicoyans), or my sense of purpose, find a reason to wake up in the morning (besides going to work).
- Downshift. Take a few moments each day to reflect, relax and unwind.
- 80 percent rule. Eat until your stomach is 80 percent full – Okinawans call this Hara hachi bu.
- Plant slant. Make beans a staple in your diet, which should consist primarily of plants and very little meat.
- Wine at 5 p.m. Drink alcohol moderately and regularly. (One serving per day for women and two servings per day for men is the current guideline for moderate alcohol consumption.)
- Right tribe. Create a supportive social circle.
- Community. Research shows that regardless of denomination, attending a faith-based service four times per month can add four to 14 years to your life.
- Loved ones first. Invest in your family with time and love.
Notice that none of these nine factors involve medications, extreme diets or quick fixes. What it all boils down to is environment and lifestyle. All of the environments in these Blue Zones enable residents to live healthfully. In fact, making the healthy choice is actually the easier choice. The residents are surrounded by nudges that push them to engage in healthy behaviors, such as walking to the market or spending meaningful time with family and friends.
Here are six ways you can incorporate the Power Nine into your life to build your personal Blue Zone.
- Default to physical activity. Find ways throughout your day to incorporate physical activity naturally – this way you don’t even have to think about it, you just do it.
- Make high-quality food a priority. Set guidelines around food to ensure you’re always eating high-quality, whole foods. Some examples that our Blue Zone residents live by include eating a mostly plant-based diet, consuming meat no more than twice per week, reducing dairy consumption, eating beans and nuts daily, not consuming more than 7 teaspoons of sugar a day (the less sugar the better), only eating 100 percent whole-wheat or sourdough bread, and choosing foods that are not processed.
- Spend time with family or friends during dinner. Make dinner a dedicated time that not only focuses on nourishing your body but also your relationships. Studies show that eating dinner as a family can enhance the vocabulary of young children, increase the amount of fruits and vegetables — and reduce the amount of soda and fried foods — children consume, and reduce the threat of teenagers and young adults engaging in high-risk behaviors.
- Focus on nurturing your relationships. A recent Harvard study found that strong, meaningful relationships are the key to living a happy and healthy life. Surround yourself with a community of people who share the same values, and make time to nurture and cherish those relationships.
- Make time for faith. Being part of a community that makes dedicated time for spirituality has been shown to improve one’s happiness and quality of life, and even lengthen life expectancy. In a recent study of nearly 75,000 middle-aged female nurses in the U.S., those women who went to church more than once per week had a 33 percent lower risk of premature death. Even less frequent attendance showed a significant decrease in the risk of death. Additionally, women who attended faith-based services had higher rates of social support and positivity, and were less likely to smoke and suffer from depression.
- Design your home to support healthy living.
- Start with your kitchen. Make sure you have everything you need when preparing food. Your kitchen should be designed to make it convenient to prepare meals. That means ensuring you have plenty of counter space, good lighting and the proper tools within reach. It’s also a good idea to have a smaller fridge and pantry. This will prevent you from overbuying and throwing away food.
- Next is the bedroom. Your bedroom should be reserved for two things: sleep and intimacy. Make sure it is a comfortable oasis. It should be a place you enjoy relaxing in. Suggestions include making sure you have a comfortable mattress and bedding, removing all electronics and digital clocks, using shades to block out light, and making your bedroom cool (65°F is ideal) at night.
- You can also design the rest of your home to enable healthier behaviors. Some examples include having only one TV in your home, getting rid of the remote control, replacing power tools with hand tools, creating an indoor exercise room, planting a garden, adopting a dog, growing indoor plants, or mowing the lawn with a push mower.
Environment directly influences behavior and motivation. By changing your environment to support healthy living, you’re making the healthy choice the easy choice.