If there’s one thing we all want out of life, it’s probably more of it. More health, more happiness, and more good years. Living longer means more time to enjoy the life we’ve worked hard to build.
But how do we do that? Perhaps we should start by looking at the people who live the longest. Those are the people and places author Dan Buettner and the National Geographic Society found—a journey described in Buettner’s book Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.
Blue Zones—places like Ogliastra in Sardinia, Okinawa in Japan, and the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica—have the world’s highest concentrations of individuals over 100 years old. They’re also home to people who tend to grow old without health problems like heart disease, obesity, cancer, or diabetes.
Buettner and his colleagues found that long-living people have nine different factors in common:
They Follow A Plant-Based Diet
People who live in Blue Zones tend to eat a highly plant-based diet. They eat around 95 percent plants—mostly vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts. The non-plant portion of a Blue Zone diet often consists of fish rich in omega-3 fats.
They Restrict Their Total Calories
The people Buettner and company studied typically eat fewer overall calories than we do—through a number of traditional practices. Okinawans, for example, traditionally follow the “80 percent” rule or, as they call it, “hara hachi bu.” They stop eating when they feel 80 percent full, rather than at 100 percent. Others, such as the Icarian Greek Orthodox Christians, follow periods of fasting through the course of the year.
We would certainly caution that such periods of fasting are best carefully controlled, and that fasting may not be right for everyone. Before you change your caloric intake, you should be sure to consult with your doctor.
They Drink Alcohol in Moderation
Alcohol can be addictive and is toxic in large amounts—so this is no license to binge. The long-lived residents of Blue Zones tend to consume alcohol in moderation. Consuming a moderate amount of alcohol may help reduce the risk of heart disease. Red wine, which also contains healthy antioxidants, is commonly consumed in a number of these regions—but also in moderation.
Just as with fasting, your ability to tolerate alcohol and control your consumption will vary. Ask your doctor about your risks.
They Build Movement into Their Lives
People in Blue Zones tend to get exercise in the course of their daily lives—through work, play, and daily chores. Their activities are often as simple as walking or climbing. They sit very little because they have so much to do on their feet.
Does your lifestyle have you sitting more than you’re on your feet? It doesn’t have to be that way. These 25 ways to get up and moving are just a start. Use your imagination.
They Get as Much Sleep as They Need
Rather than getting up and going to sleep to a clock, people who live in Blue Zones sleep—and get up—when their body tells them to. In some Blue Zones, daytime napping is also common.
Though a “get up when ready” attitude may not go over well with your employer, there are steps many of us can take to get better sleep. It starts with going to bed when you’re tired. Avoid the triggers that cause insomnia, and if your sleep isn’t as refreshing as you feel it should be, consider whether you have any of the signs of sleep apnea.
They Have a Spiritual Side
More often than not, Blue Zones tend to occur in religious communities. A number of studies have shown correlations between attending religious services and longevity.
They Have a Life Purpose
This one just makes sense. If you have something important to live for, wouldn’t you naturally take healthy actions to prolong your life? But the association between life purpose and longevity has also been demonstrated in several studies. And your life purpose doesn’t have to be huge. You just need to care about it.
They Live Close to Their Families
They Spend Time with Healthy Friends
Finally, people in Blue Zones have close friends who help to keep them healthy. Spending time with friends is more than fun. When you have regular contact and support from a close group of friends, your stress is measurably reduced. So how do you make and keep friends who keep you healthy? In short, treat your friends the way you’d like to be treated.
And if you have trouble making friends, don’t be afraid to do a little research. As with anything else, you can improve with the help of a few easy tips, and a little practice.