People are growing older – and bolder – in “Blue Zones” where residents disproportionately live beyond 100, at rates up to 10 times higher than other places. Blue Zone residents from various cultures offer the rest of us insight into living longer, better lives.
And it’s a good bet that we will live longer than the generation before us. Recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the life expectancies of both males and females are projected to increase over the next few decades.
- Sardinia, Italy: The Nuoro province of this Mediterranean island has the world’s greatest concentration of male centenarians per capita, according to a study by the University of Sassari.
- Loma Linda, California: East of Los Angeles, a population of conservative Methodists lives, on average, 10 years longer than the rest of North Americans.
- Ikaria, Greece: This Aegean island has one of the world’s lowest rates of middle-age mortality and dementia.
- Nicoya, Costa Rica: On this Pacific coast peninsula with colorful houses and exotic fruits, residents are twice as likely as Americans to reach a healthy age 90.
- Okinawa, Japan: Women in the northern part of the main island enjoy the longest disability-free life expectancy in the world.
Here’s what researcher Dan Buettner learned from Blue Zone residents. Chances are we can learn something, too.
1. Hold loved ones in esteem
Family comes first, which means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in their home, committing to a life partner and investing in children with time and love.
2. Have a sense of purpose
It’s worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy, according to Buettner.
3. Find your tribe
The world’s longest-lived people are born into, or choose, social circles that support healthy behaviors.
4. Move naturally
Each Blue Zone culture has low-intensity physical activity built into their everyday lives. Okinawans socialize and dine while seated on the floor, getting up and down dozens of times a day. Sardinians walk up and down cobbled streets to visit neighbors.
5. Shed stress
It’s vital to decompress the body and mind with downtime (even for just 15 minutes) to help ward off nearly every major age-related disease including Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease.
6. Eat just enough
People in these zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and don’t eat any more for the rest of the day.
7. Choose a diet with a “plant slant”
Centenarians embrace a plant-based diet with plenty of vegetables and beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils. Meat – mostly pork – is eaten on average five times each month, with servings about the size of a deck of cards.
8. Sip some wine
People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly, enjoying one to two glasses each day with friends and/or food.
9. Belong, and stay connected
Most of the centenarians interviewed by Buettner belonged to a faith-based community. Attending faith-based services four times a month can add four to 14 years of life expectancy.
Many of us want to live as long as possible. Consider:
- How you want to live as you age
- Discussing – openly and honestly – what your wishes are with your family
- Realistically planning for your long-term care needs
- Thinking of novel ways to stay connected to the important people in your life
Sources: New York Times Magazine; bluezones.com; nytimes.com; shiftyourfamilybusiness.com; girlboss.com; MIT AgeLab; cdc.gov; cnn.com; Cardinal & Gray Society; Hartford Funds, “The Quality of Life”; census.gov
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