There are five locations on planet earth, referred to as “Blue Zones,” where people happen to live much longer than average. These places are not confined to one country but are scattered around the globe. They are: Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; the Seventh Day Adventists of Loma Linda, California; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica and Icaria, Greece.
In 2004, journalist Dan Buettner joined forces with National Geographic and a team of longevity researchers to try to identify the places in the world where people live the longest. Once these areas were identified, scientific teams traveled to each location to find out what these areas had in common that could be contributing to the extraordinary lifespans of many of their residents. They identified nine specific characteristics shared among the five locations.
Could This Work Elsewhere?
In 2009 Dan and his organization took on a new challenge. They partnered with AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) to see if they could use these nine factors to increase the lifespan of residents in the United States. They chose Albert Lea, Minnesota to test their theory.
In just one year the people who participated in their program added an estimated 2.9 years to their lifespans and perhaps even more impressive, the city’s worker healthcare claims dropped a stunning 49 percent! Clearly, Dan and the Blue Zones team were on to something.
So just what are these nine “secrets” and is it really possible to incorporate them into your everyday life?
The Nine Secrets
One - Exercise - No, this is not what you are probably thinking! The Blue Zones way of exercising does not involve going to the gym or running marathons. In fact, they really don’t don any formal exercise at all, but adhere to the idea of “moving naturally.” They move about constantly because they live in environments which require it, such as tending to their gardens or yard work, walking to the store or to visit friends and they do housework without many modern conveniences. This is certainly a contrast to many of us, who sit at desks for long periods of time and do exercise in strenuous bursts at the gym.
Two - Life Purpose - Blue Zones people have a definite sense of why they are here and why they get up in the morning. The researchers estimate that knowing your own sense of purpose can add up to seven extra years of life.
Three - Stress Control - People who live in Blue Zones do things each and every day to downshift and keep stress at bay. Out of control stress has an incredibly negative impact on human health, including an increase in inflammation, which has been implicated in every major age-related disease. The Okinawans remember their ancestors daily, the Seventh Day Adventists of Loma Linda, California pray, the Greeks nap and the Italians have a happy hour!
Four - Stop Eating Before Completely Full - This is known as the 80 percent rule: stop eating when you are 80 percent full. The body has a bit of a lag time, about 20 minutes after eating, before you feel full. So if you stop eating and wait, you’ll likely feel satisfied. This can make the difference between maintaining your weight and gaining. Also, Blue Zones residents eat their smallest meal in the early evening, then don’t eat anything else the rest of the day.
In Part Two of this article, we’ll let you in on the remainder of the nine secrets (Hint: one of them is what they eat!) plus give you some useful, practical tips on how to incorporate these strategies into your own life.