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Would you agree that the goal is to live a long life but stay youthful as you age? Most people want to increase their life expectancy yet reduce illness, and age-related declines and diseases. We know well that eating nutrient dense food, staying active with exercise will increase our chances of achieving the goal, yet there are additional lifestyle factors that have been discovered which dictate how long and healthy our lives can be.

The Danish Twin study measured what factors determine life expectancy across more than 2,800 twins and concluded that approximately 20% of longevity is influenced by genes, whereas 80% is influenced by lifestyle.

If 80% of our health and longevity is influenced by our lifestyle then what lifestyle habits can we adopt to maximize our vitality?

The answer lies in what has been discovered about the Blue Zones. Dan Buettner led a National Geographic expedition to learn about human longevity. What they found was there are 5 regions in the world who have cracked the code on longevity. These regions, known as the Blue Zones, have individuals who live long lives with minimal illness and disease. The Blue Zones have the highest percentage of centenarians in the world who reach age 100 at 10 times greater rates than in the United States.

Blue Zones:

  1. Loma Linda, California USA
  2. Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
  3. Sardinia, Italy
  4. Ikaria, Greece
  5. Okinawa, Japan

 After being discovered, researchers have identified what lifestyle habits are responsible for their longevity. The commonalities between the regions make up 9 characteristics called The Power 9. Inhabitants of the Blue Zones don’t do anything particularly special and their lifestyle is easy to emulate. It begins with low-level physical activity throughout the day, having a sense of purpose, managing stress in healthy ways, controlling food intake, drinking moderately, having a sense of belonging and spending quality time with family and friends.

Lifestyle Habits of the Blue Zones (The Power 9)

  1. Natural Movement

Instead of beating themselves up in the gym with dumbbells and barbells, or strenuously engaging in CrossFit circuit training, Blue Zone inhabitants create their environments that require consistent movement. They move all day by tending to their gardens in addition to doing house and yard work by hand. Throughout the day they are engaged in low-level physical activity and prefer to walk as a form of transportation.

  1. Purpose

According to Dan Buettner, connecting with and living true to your sense of purpose can add seven extra years onto your life. Sense of purpose is similar to what Simon Sinek has popularized as your ‘Why’, the Okinawans refer to this as their ‘Ikigai’ and the Nicoyans refer to their purpose as ‘plan de vida’.

  1. Stress Management

Chronic stress leads to an array of health issues including chronic inflammation and cardiovascular disease. Blue Zone inhabitants have habits to diminish lifestyle stress. According to Buettner, Okinawans remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians nap and Sardinians have happy hour.

  1. Control Food Consumption

The Okinawans eat until they are 80% full, instead of overeating as some Westerners do. Other inhabitants of the Blue Zones tend to eat larger meals earlier in the day and eat smaller meals in the afternoon or evening and do not consume food after their final meal.

  1. Predominantly Plant Based Diet

Plants, beans and legumes including fava, black, soybeans and lentils make up the majority of the Blue Zone diets. Meat is only eaten about 5 times per month, of which serving size is about 3-4 oz.

  1. Moderate Alcohol Consumption

People in all of the Blue Zones, except for those in the area of Loma Linda drink alcohol moderately and regularly. They tend to drink only 1-2 beverages per day while socializing or eating their meals. Interestingly, moderate drinkers live longer than non-drinkers.

  1. Belonging & Faith

According to research, attending faith-based services 4 times per month adds 4-14 years onto your life. Of all the Blue Zones inhabitants, 258 of the 263 that were interviewed belonged to faith-based communities.

  1. Family First

Blue Zone inhabitants prioritize family. Partners commit to each other for life and three or more generations live under one roof taking care of each other. Parents and immediate family spend loving quality time with children.

  1. Supportive Social Networks

The social networks in the Blue Zones are very supportive and instill healthy behaviours amongst each other. Research shows that obesity, smoking and happiness spread through social ties. As the saying goes, you are like the five people you spend the most time with. By socializing with people who have healthy behaviours, you adopt those behaviours increasing your likelihood of living a longer life. 

Be aware of how your current habits align or conflict with the centenarians of the Blue Zones. Begin with movement and reflect on how much physical activity you get in a day, even consider if you overdo it at the gym and are causing stress on your body. If you don’t have a sense of purpose outside of your vocation, you can discover your sense of purpose, or ‘Ikigai’ here (hyperlink to Ikigai). 

Living a long and healthy life doesn’t require investing time, energy and money into all the recent biohacking devices, it just requires fulfilling basic human needs including movement, proper stress management and prioritizing close social ties which provide a sense of belonging.