by Kim Keller
If you were told you could live into your 100s, with good health of both mind and body, would you be interested?
If the answer is yes, then you might want to read this article, and maybe even take notes!
According to the findings of a joint investigation by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), the National Geographic Society, and bestselling author Dan Buettner, the key to longevity — what these social scientists have labeled as “Blue Zones,” meaning communities around the globe where lifestyle choices have led to unusually long and healthy lives — is a combination of diet, exercise, family bonds, spirituality and personal fulfillment. The study explored places throughout the world where indigenous populations live vigorous and dynamic lives into their ninth and tenth decades. The researchers have examined the societal habits of these communities and noted what they have in common in the hopes of helping us all live longer and healthier lives.
The formula for longevity comprises these nine common features:
- Move Naturally: There is no need for high-impact aerobics with these folks. Instead, the people who live in these communities have built regular movement into their lives — they walk a lot, ride bikes, weed their gardens, climb stairs rather than using elevators or escalators, in general just stay active and keep their bodies in motion. Regular movement is a natural a part of their everyday existence.
- Downshift: They take time each day to slow down and reflect on something positive and larger than themselves, even if it’s just for 15 minutes. Buettner, the leader of the investigation, explains that stress and a hectic pace can set off what he calls “inflammatory responses, which is associated with everything from Alzheimer’s disease to cardiovascular disease.”
- Sense of Purpose: Each day when they wake up, the residents of these communities seem to have a clear mission in mind. Each person is different, of course, but the core value is the same: to have a meaningful purpose and to actively live out that personal mission each and every day.
- Drink a Little Bit Every Day: Yes, that’s right, a glass of wine is good for your health. (Some of us already knew that!) Naturally, the key is moderation. According to Buettner, “A glass of wine is better than a glass of water with a Mediterranean meal.”
- A Plant-based Diet: This doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a vegetarian (though it’s not precluded either), but allowing for a predominance of fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts in one’s diet.
- Eat in Moderation: All the people in these communities had strategies for not overeating. For example, using smaller plates for portion control, or not keeping food on the table while eating (serve the food, then put it away). Mindful eating is key.
- Loved Ones First: Our bonds matter, and families come first in these communities. Friendships are important but nothing counts as much as blood.
- Belong: These communities are all spiritually grounded. According to Buettner, research indicates that participating in a faith-based community, such as going to church or temple, is “worth between four and 14 extra years of life expectancy if you do it four times a month.”
- Right Tribe: This is thought to be the most significant distinguishing feature: surrounding yourself with people who are positive forces in your life. A supportive community — whether you’re born into it or seek it out — is essential to good health and long life.
In case you are interested in learning more, Buettner has written four books on the topic. His most recent, published this year, is called The Blue Zones Solutions: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People.
For those of you wondering where these Blue Zone Project communities are located, here’s the list:
- The first one they found was a tiny area in the highlands of Sardinia, a small island off the coast of Italy.
- The second was discovered 800 miles south of Tokyo, on the northernmost tip of the main island of Okinawa, Japan.
- The third Blue Zone was found in Loma Linda, a small California town located about halfway between Los Angeles and Joshua Tree National Park. Buettner explained that his colleague, an editor at National Geographic, insisted on locating an American Blue Zone, which brought the team to Loma Linda, CA, where they “found America’s longest-lived population among the Seventh-Day Adventists . . . [who are] conservative Methodists.”
- The fourth spot is Nicoya, Costa Rica, which is an 80-mile peninsula just south of the Nicaraguan border.
- The fifth is the tiny and secluded Mediterranean island of Ikaria, Greece, where chronic disease and dementia are all but unheard of.
The Blue Zones lesson? Keep your body moving, find peace, have purpose, eat mindfully and treasure your connections with family and friends. Stay the course, and chances are good, according to Dan Buettner, that you’ll have a long, vibrant life.
Kim Keller is the Co-Founder of In Care of Dad. She lives and works in New York City.