4 lessons from the world’s “blue zones” that might end up extending your life
If you’ve worked hard throughout your career, invested well, and made savings, you’ll likely find yourself set up well for your eventual retirement.
When that day finally arrives, you’ll want to be in the best possible shape to enjoy the lifestyle you’ve been building towards for as long as possible – potentially for several decades.
The world’s “blue zones” are a collection of five places around the globe where people statistically have the longest, healthiest lives on average. They are: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Loma Linda, California; and Ikaria, Greece.
The concept stemmed from a study in the Journal of Experimental Gerontology that had identified areas in Sardinia with the highest concentrations of male centenarians in the world.
National Geographic Fellow and New York Times bestselling author, Dan Buettner, built on this initial work and pinpointed five longevity hotspots around the world.
These locations had populations with large percentages of inhabitants that either lived until 100 or remained healthy and very active throughout their 80s and 90s. He dubbed these regions the blue zones.
Read on to discover four lessons you can learn from the residents of the blue zones’ lifestyles and how adopting some might help you extend your own lifespan.
Changing your diet and your mealtime routine could have a myriad of benefits
“Hara hachi bu” is an Okinawan mantra said before meals to remind them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full. That 20% gap believed to help them keep their bodies in balance and not gain or lose significant amounts of weight.
People in blue zones tend to eat less, more frequently, with five or six meals throughout their days with the smallest meals in their evenings. Periods of fasting also make up part of their weeks.
Blue zoners living in Loma Linda adopt the phrase: “Eat like a king at breakfast, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper”.
Blue zone diets are largely vegetarian, although not completely. Around 90-95% of their diets consist of plant-based products such as grains, beans, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, sweet potatoes, and fruit.
They then supplement their meals with a small amount of meat such as fish, high in omega-3 and fatty acids, or lean pork. Dairy products and red meats barely feature.
Water is the beverage of choice, as well as water-based alternatives like herbal teas and coffee. Both coffee and tea have been shown to have high levels of helpful antioxidants and are mood enhancers. Red wine is enjoyed by many blue zone inhabitants.
The lesson is not just to eat healthy but also to eat in moderation — excess is a killer.
2. Don’t exercise as a goal, exercise as part of your routine
The world’s longest-lived people don’t typically hit the gym or run marathons, instead they let their environments and their bodies naturally nudge them into exercise as part of their daily routines.
Blue zoners don’t overly rely on technology when they are able to do a task themselves. Walking is a key part of their daily routines whether its staying active around their homes, heading to work, or for relaxation.
They are also active by undertaking chores around their households such as DIY or gardening by hand, through socialising, or from intimate practices. All these activities have been shown to build muscle, increase respiratory activity, burn excess calories, and improve mindsets.
Consider ways to build natural exercise into your daily routine so that your body is constantly looking after itself.
3. Know when to switch off and get some rest
Good, quality sleep is key to staying healthy, happy, and having a long life.
People living in blue zones get sufficient sleep, approximately seven hours of sleep in the evening with naps of no more than 30 minutes during the day.
Introducing siestas into your routine, and taking the time to switch off for 30 minutes during your day, can massively reduce stress.
Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease.
Knowing when to sleep is key as well. In blue zones, people don’t tend to stick to strict routines.
They instead let their bodies dictate when they should rest. If they are tired, they sleep. If they have energy, they seek to be productive.
They then start of each new day with a positive mindset and a sense of purpose. In Okinawa it is called “ikigai” and in Nicoya “plan de vida”, both concepts roughly translate as “why I wake up in the morning”.
Adopting a positive approach to sleep and stress reduction can not only improve your health physically and mentally, but it can give you an energy boost to achieve more with your given day.
4. Loneliness can shave 8 years off your life expectancy
In blue zones, community is a key part of life, whether that is having a family or a large group of friends, finding love or being an active member in a group like a church or a society. Being around other people and socialising not only improves quality of life but has been linked to longevity.
People in blue zones build their “tribes” around their daily lives. They incorporate their loved ones into their morning routines, their activities, their work life, and their mealtimes.
They find opportunities to socialise and take part in communal projects that boost their minds, bodies, and skillsets.
The musician Jon Bon Jovi once said: “No man is an island”. Don’t get so sucked up into your personal goals and career that you lose sight of your work-life balance.
Make time for your loved ones, find ways to socialise outside of work, and seek out new opportunities to find joy in activities with others that you might not have found the time for previously.
You never know, you just might find yourself living a longer, happier life.
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A call to your financial planner could put you on the path to meeting your retirement goals and set you up financially for any additional years a change in lifestyle might bring.
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