If you're looking for the secret to a longer, healthier life, you don't have to look any further than Blue Zones. These communities, identified by explorer and National Geographic member Dan Buettner, are renowned for having a large number of inhabitants who live more than 100 years and do so with lower rates of degenerative diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. A population study of Danish twins conducted in 1996 revealed that only about 20 percent of longevity is genetic. The rest is largely influenced by lifestyle factors.
Of the nine lifestyle habits that are common among the inhabitants of the Blue Zone, only two are related to diet and one to exercise. The others have to do with community and mentality. Alcohol is a regular part of life in the Blue Zone, with the exception of Seventh-day Adventists. Research shows that people who drink alcohol in moderation have a lower risk of premature death. The key is not to overindulge.
Limit yourself to 1 or 2 glasses a day, preferably wine. The life expectancy of an American born today is an average of 78.2 years. However, this year, more than 70,000 Americans have turned 100 years old. What are they doing that the average American isn't doing? Okinawans call it “Ikigai” and Nicoyans call it “life plan”, since both translate as “why do I get up in the morning”. Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy. Beans, such as beans, blacks, soybeans and lentils, are the cornerstone of most century-old diets.
Meat, mainly pork, is eaten on average only five times a month. Servings are 3 to 4 ounces. All but five of the 263 centenarians we interviewed belonged to a religious community. Research shows that attending religious services four times a month will increase life expectancy by 4 to 14 years. Successful centenarians from the blue zones put their families first.
This means keeping older parents and grandparents close to or at home (it also reduces illness and mortality rates for children in the home). They commit to a life partner (which can add up to 3 years of life expectancy) and invest time and love in their children (they are more likely to take care of you when the time comes).To reach 100 years old, you have to have won the genetic lottery. However, most of us have the capacity to survive well into our 90s and, to a large extent, without chronic diseases. As Adventists show, the average person's life expectancy could increase by 10 to 12 years if they adopted a lifestyle in the Blue Zones.
Some simple lifestyle adjustments could add more than a decade to your life expectancy. I remember a physical therapist once telling me that if you did these three things every day (SIT UPRIGHT, STAND UPRIGHT and WALK UPRIGHT), you would already be on your way to having a healthier body. Blue Zone researchers are also using information collected in these locations to promote healthier habits in other communities in the United States, including areas of California, Minnesota, Iowa and Texas. If you want to live longer and healthier life, consider adopting some of these nine healthy habits from Blue Zones: moderate alcohol consumption; eating beans as your main source of protein; having a sense of purpose; belonging to a religious community; putting family first; committing to a life partner; investing time and love in your children; exercising regularly; and maintaining good posture.