If you care about aging well, Dan Buettner is your man. For more than a decade, Buettner has been traveling the world in search of the world’s longevity hot spots—places where people live and thrive into their 100s. He identified five areas where people live long and well: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy: Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California. Buettner calls them Blue Zones.
What enables these people to live so long and so well? Buettner worked with a team of experts including medical researchers, anthropologists, and epidemiologists to identify the factors that contribute to their longevity. It wasn’t just that these long-lived populations won the genetic lottery, lifestyle factors matter a great deal too.
Buettner and his team came up with nine practices embraced in all five Blue Zones
The world’s longest living people don’t hit the gym or go to Soul Cycle for an hour each day. Instead, they move throughout the day and walk everywhere.
The Okinawans call it ikigai and the Costa Ricans call it plan de vida, meaning “why I wake up in the morning.” Having a sense of meaning and purpose beyond one’s daily work are evident in all Blue Zones.
Like all of us, those living in Blue Zones have stress but they also have built in routines to reduce stress. Okinawans pause a few minutes each day to remember their ancestors, Ikarians take a nap, Sardinians do happy hour.
80 Percent Rule
In Okinawa, they abide by hara hachi bu, an ancient rule spoken before meals. It reminds people to stop eating when they feel 80 percent full. In Blue Zones, people eat their smallest meal in the early evening and don’t eat any more before going to bed.
Blue Zones dwellers eat meat on average five times a month and eat less fish than one would expect. Beans, including fava, black soy, and lentils are the cornerstones of their diets.
Wine at 5
Across all Blue Zones, they found moderate and regular wine consumption. They drink one to two glasses per day with friends and/or with food.
Of the 263 centenarians (people in their 100s) they interviewed, almost all belonged to a faith-based community.
Loved Ones First
The world’s longest living people emphasize family and friends. Great grandparents, grandparents, parents and children often live in close proximity and contribute to the household. Centenarians commit to a life partner and invest in their relationships.
Being a member of a social circle that supports healthy behavior is a common thread in all Blue Zones. Research shows that behavior is contagious. Smoking, obesity, happiness and even loneliness can spread.
In short, no one thing accounts for longevity in the Blue Zones. It is a constellation of practices and a supportive environment that favors healthy choices and food is at the heart of it. It is not just what centenarians eat—the nutritional value of ingredients – but also about how food is prepared and what rituals surround meals.
As Buettner describes:
We make decisions about what to eat several times a day. Apart from the obvious health ramifications, these decisions also determine how we spend our time. Do we shed stress by growing food in a garden? Dow we prepare meals with our family? Do we unwind with conversation over a good meal? Or do we grab a bite at a drive-through so we can cram more activity into our already busy days?
The good news is you don’t have to move to some far-flung place to live in a Blue Zone. Buettner has successfully Blue Zoned a number of US cities with startling results. In the US Blue Zones, grocery stores replace candy in checkout aisles with fruit, restaurants add healthier options to the menu, city planners designate more bike lanes and create more appealing walkways, and “walking school buses” bring children to school. As in all Blue Zones, the healthy choice is the easy choice.
In his groundbreaking new book, The Blue Zones Solution, Buettner provides a step-by-step guide for creating Blue Zones in our own homes and communities. It is the ultimate blueprint for a healthy, happy life.
What are you waiting for?
Samantha Boardman, M.D., a clinical Instructor in Psychiatry, Public Health and Assistant Attending Psychiatrist at Weill-Cornell Medical College, is the founder of PositivePrescription.com, a website that shares insights and explores the way that psychiatry, psychology, culture and science intersect. She cares more about what is right with people then what is wrong, and is always looking for the tweaks and change makes a difference.
This post originally appeared on The Positive Prescription.