Have you seen the new Netflix series about the lifestyle behaviors that contribute to the longest-living populations on Earth? We have, and it’s great. But if you haven’t seen it yet, this is where you will find all the Blue Zones’ secrets in bite-sized pieces.
What Are Blue Zones?
These are the five parts of the world where more people live healthily to old age than any others. They are Ikaria in Greece, Okinawa in Japan, Nicoya in Costa Rica, Loma Linda in California, and Sardinia in Italy. In these regions, people tend to live longer and age better, suffering less from chronic illnesses such as diabetes and dementia that blight older patients elsewhere. Explorer and educator Dan Buettner set out to discover why, and he found nine key factors that these communities share…
Blue Zone Diet: Eat Plant-Based
The longest-living populations on Earth eat whole food plant-based. They may not be fully vegan – although some are – but they prioritize beans, nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and herbal tea over processed foods and those made from, or containing, meat, milk, or eggs. It’s not just that products from animals contain cholesterol and saturated fat, it’s that plant-based foods are alive with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and life-enhancing phytochemicals. Beans are the cornerstone of the Blue Zone diet, says Buettner. They are cheap, nutritious, low fat, and full of protein and fiber. Top tip: Eat your beans!
Blue Zone Eating: Adopt the 80% Rule
You know that feeling when you have eaten so much food that your belly is stretched to bursting? Well, that doesn’t happen in Blue Zones. Eating mindfully and recognizing when you are 80 percent full and then stopping is key to ensuring our food nourishes us without smothering us.
Blue Zone Drinking: Wine Is Fine
Another thing that connects four of the five Blue Zones is they take a little wine with their meals. Often, that wine is produced organically, using ancient methods, which means there are no nasty chemicals in it. Often, this is part of an event such as a family meal or a social gathering, and that may be contributing to its powers. So, just drinking a glass of wine at the end of the day to help us switch off may not have the same effect. In that case, we need to look for other ways to deal with stress. And that brings us neatly to…
Blue Zones: Manage Your Stress
Now, we know that we cannot banish stress entirely, and we should not aim to, but chronic stress is a killer. We must find ways to manage it and build those mechanisms into our daily lives. Whether that is meditating, walking in nature, writing a gratitude journal, taking a nap, or joining friends each evening to laugh and talk, the longest-living people find ways to reduce their stress.
Blue Zone Exercise: Keep Moving and Move Joyfully
The modern world has provided us with many labor-saving devices and access to drive-thru food. But if we only use the time we save to stare at our phones or televisions, we have not gained anything of value at all. In the Blue Zones, people move naturally throughout the day — they walk to the store or market, tend to their gardens, knead bread, and sweep the yard. This way, they are moving all day, strengthening their muscles and bones, and moving oxygen around their bodies. But they also do more. They may hike or dance or cycle to see friends because they love to do these things, not because it is a chore or something to tick off the list. They move for the joy of it and no gym is necessary to be Blue Zone healthy.
Blue Zones Purpose: Know Your Why
We all need something to get out of bed for, and Blue Zones residents have a strong sense of purpose. They may take care of family, volunteer for a charity, commit to a creative project, or they may just keep working. The Okinawans call it Ikigai and the Nicoyans call it plan de vida but whatever you want to call it, find what motivates you, and that is your why.
Blue Zones: Put Your Loved Ones First
Keeping your family or friends close by and caring for them is integral to enjoying a long and happy life. Giving something is a way of gaining something, and when we love others, and put their needs first, we benefit just as much as they do. After all, what can be better than loving and being loved?
Blue Zones Faith: Believe in Something
Most of the centenarians interviewed by Buettner’s team were members of a faith-based community. The faith did not matter, but believing in something is important. Research shows that attending a faith-based service once a week can add between four and 14 years to your life. Is it the faith? Is it a sense of belonging? We don’t know but if it works, it works.
Blue Zones Community: Find Your Tribe
Another Blue Zones’ secret — which may be similar to belonging to a faith — is finding a tribe that makes you feel loved and enlivened. This is partly because social behaviors are contagious, so if you find the people who love what you love, and live positive and healthy lives, their great attitudes and behaviors will rub off on you! But it is more than that; we feel safe and happy when we are with the people or animals we love. Less stress + more joy = longer life.
Creating Our Own Blue Zones
We may not live in the mountains of Sardinia or be able to bathe in the clear waters of the Aegean, but there is much ancient wisdom in these nine secrets that we can bring into our own modern lives. Even if our lives are super busy, can we take five minutes to close our eyes and breathe deeply? Can we arrange to go dancing with friends once a month? Can we phase out those processed, meat- or dairy-heavy dishes in favor of whole plant foods? Our lives will improve immeasurably if we can live some of this wisdom.
Six Tips To Creating Your Own Personal Blue Zone
There are so many ways we can incorporate some of these ideas into our lives. Here are some of our own tips to making life sweeter, happier, more fulfilled, and longer.
- Stress is a killer, and lack of sleep drives chronic stress, so developing a healthy bedtime routine can make all the difference. As a chronic ill-sleeper, this author’s blog finally found a routine that almost guarantees a good night’s sleep every night. That is: taking some form of exercise during the day (being physically tired and not just mentally exhausted makes all the difference), turning screens off at 9, writing a daily journal, reading a few pages of a good book, and finally switching on a sleep app. Other people have found that eating earlier in the evening, taking a warm shower, meditating, having a cup of herbal tea, and using a weighted blanket can also help. Experiment and find what works best for you.
- One way to build movement into our daily lives is to follow the advice of Alzheimer’s-prevention specialists Drs. Dean and Ayesha Sherzai. They recommend we get up from our desks several times a day, put on a song or piece of music that we love, and simply dance. We love this!
- Eat fruit and ditch sugar. The big corporations make it too easy to pick up sugar-laden snacks that we believe help us get through the day. But what if we picked up some fruit instead? It takes very little time for our taste buds to change and to recognize the beautiful sweetness in grapes, mangoes, and melons.
- Volunteer. We might volunteer at a food justice project, at an animal shelter, in a school, or at a sporting event. And when we do that, we get a sense of contributing to something wonderful, and changing our world for the better. Not only that, we also have a great time, enjoy a few laughs, and meet like-minded people, all of which are central to living a long and healthy life, too. Give a little, and get a lot.
- Move towards a plant-based diet. This is such a powerful way of eating because it is so good for you, but it is also the best way we can support a healthy planet, and reduce suffering. It can take a little time to make the change and that is fine. You might start by looking for some recipes online that sound tasty, switching dairy for a plant milk, and picking out more fresh produce at the store. And if you would like a little help with transitioning to plant-based, check out our free guided 7-day or 30-day vegan challenges.
- Make time for those you love the most. It is too easy to put off spending quality time with our family and friends, and for what? So we can spend more time cleaning our house or watching a TV show?! Call them up, invite them over, and connect, human to loved human.