Do you care about aging well?

For more than a decade, Dan Buettner has been traveling the world in search of the world’s longevity hot spots-places where people live and thrive into their 100s. He identified five areas where people live long and well: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy: Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California. Buettner calls them Blue Zones.

What enables these people to live so long and so well? Buettner worked with a team of experts including medical researchers, anthropologists, and epidemiologists to identify the factors that contribute to their longevity. It wasn’t just that these long-lived populations won the genetic lottery, lifestyle factors matter a great deal too.

Buettner and his team came up with nine practices embraced in all five Blue Zones .

  1. Move Naturally. The world’s longest living people don’t go to the gym or take zumba classes. Instead, they incorporate movement into their daily lives such as gardening and using their bodies instead of mechanical devices for house and yard work.
  2. Purpose. The Okinawans call it ikigai and the Costa Ricans call it plan de vida, meaning “why I wake up in the morning.” Having a sense of meaning and purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy.
  3. Downshift. Like all of us, those living in Blue Zones have stress but they also have built in routines to reduce stress. Okinawans pause a few minutes each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap, Sardinians have happy hour.
  4. 80 Percent Rule. In Okinawa, they abide by “hara hachi bu,” a Confucian phrase recited before meals that reminds people to stop eating when they feel 80 percent full. That means stop eating when you are no longer hungry and before you feel really full. In Blue Zones, people eat their smallest meal in the early evening and don’t eat any more before going to bed.
  5. Plant Slant. Blue Zones dwellers eat meat on average five times a month and eat occasional servings of fish. A serving size of meat or fish is 3 to 4 ounces, about the size of a deck of cards. Beans, including fava, black, soy, and lentils are the cornerstones of their diets.
  6. Wine at 5. Across all Blue Zones (except Adventists), they found moderate and regular wine consumption (mostly red wine). One to two glasses of wine per day were consumed with friends and/or with food. (And no, you can’t save up all week and drink a bottle or more on Saturday.
  7. Belong. Of the 263 centenarians interviewed, almost all belonged to a faith-based community and attended weekly services.
  8. Loved Ones First. The world’s longest living people emphasize family and friends. Great grandparents, grandparents, parents and children often live near each other or in the same households. They commit to a life partner and their children and spend quantities of time, not just quality time, with them and as a family unit.
  9. Right Tribe. Being a member of a social circle that supports healthy behavior is a common thread in all Blue Zones. Research shows that behavior is contagious. Smoking, obesity, and even loneliness can spread. And so can happiness, eating well, moving, and having strong ties to family and friends.

In short, no one thing accounts for longevity in the Blue Zones. It is a constellation of practices and a supportive environment that favors strong social ties and healthy choices.

We are constantly making choices about how we live. These decisions about how we spend our time are crucial to our lives. Rather than choosing to spend an hour on Facebook you could choose to bike with your children to the library to pick out some books to read together, to meet friends for a picnic and a hike, or to weed the garden to make room for the spring sugar snap peas to grow.

These are just a few thoughts to get you started.

For more details check out Dan Buettner’s books (available at the library).

[Blue Zones is a trademark of Blue Zones, LLC that reflects the lifestyle and the environment of the world’s longest-lived people.]