If you’re like me, you want to live a long, healthy life, filled with purpose and surrounded by those you love. What are some practical ways to make that dream a reality?
Best-selling author Dan Buettner, along with a team at National Geographic, think they have the answer. They scoured the world for communities of people that lived longer, healthier lives and then researched those people to determine what they were doing differently than the rest of us. His team came up with 9 key traits.
Move naturally. None of the people studied by Buettner exercised in the way that you and I have come to think of exercise. They didn’t run marathons, lift weights or do CrossFit. Instead they moved naturally. They walked, climbed stairs, gardened and/or road their bike for transportation. Movement was a regular, natural part of their day.
Have a purpose. Apparently, if you have a reason to get out of bed in the morning, you’re much more likely to be alive to get out of bed in the morning. Buettner points out that the people in the Blue Zone of Okinawa Japan have even given this a name. They call it Ikigai. It means “a reason for being” or “a reason for getting out of bed in the morning.” What is your Ikigai?
Find ways to relax and shed stress. Buettner’s researchers found that when you’re in a hurry and stressed, it triggers an inflammatory response in your body. That inflammatory response can lead to all sorts of health problems and diseases. By finding ways to relax and de-stress, Blue Zone people live longer.
Eat less. Those who live longer tend to eat less than the rest of us. Buettner points out that it takes your stomach about 30 minutes to tell your brain that you’re full. Blue Zone people naturally recognize that and stop eating before they’re full. The Japanese even have a name for it: Hara Hachi Bu. It’s a Confucian teaching to stop eating when your belly is 80% full.
Eat more plants and less meat. Blue Zone people aren’t typically vegetarians, but they tend to eat a more plant based diet, especially beans. They eat meat, but usually only 4-5 times per month.
Drink in moderation. Those who drink in moderation tend to outlive teetotalers. The antioxidants and resveratrol in red wine, for example, have been shown to improve artery health and increase good cholesterol (HDL). Consume too much, however, and the negatives outweigh the positives.
Have faith. Buettner and his team found that those who attend some sort of faith based service four times per month tended to live, on average, about 14 years longer than those who didn’t.
Live close to and be committed to loved ones. Blue Zone people tend to live close to their loved ones and they are committed to those relationships. They have a healthy marriage. They keep parents and grandparents close by and they help them as they age. They have their children nearby and have a good relationship with them.
Have a strong social network. Blue Zone people tend to have strong friendships. Not only that, but their friends tend to support healthy behaviors and they are a positive influence—both mentally and physically.
On the surface, Buettner’s research seems like common sense—eat right, get exercise, have friends—but I think that misses the main point. The power of those behaviors only shows up when they become lifestyle habits. The people in the Blue Zones do those things every day for a lifetime. So if you want to gain some of the same benefits (regardless of where you live), consider how you can design your lifestyle, environment and daily life to incorporate those 9 things regularly.
If you want to read more about Blue Zones, Buettner has two books based on his research:
- The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer
- The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People