Lessons from the Blue Zones
Somewhere in the remote Nicoyan peninsula of Costa Rica, a 101-year-old great-great-grandmother is making you look bad. Her name is Panchita, and by the time you finish your morning blog rounds, she has already cleared brush, chopped wood and made tortillas from scratch. And here’s the best part: she’s not alone.
For five years, I took teams of scientists to five pockets around the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives. We called these places the Blue Zones. We found a Bronze-age mountain culture in Sardinia, Italy, that has 20 times as many 100-year-olds as the U.S. does, proportionally. In Okinawa, Japan, we found people with the longest disability-free life expectancy in the world. In the Blue Zones (Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, Calif.; and the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica), people live 10 years longer, experience a sixth the rate of cardiovascular disease and a fifth the rate of major cancers.
How do they do it? Forget fad diets, crazy workouts and syrupy self-help cliches. The world’s longevity all-stars practice simple, common-sense habits as a natural part of their daily routine. We think of these habits as the Power9:
1) Move naturally — be active without thinking about it. Identify activities you enjoy and make them a part of your day.
* Inconvenience yourself: ditch the remote, the garage door opener, the leaf-blower; buy a bike, broom, rake, and snow shovel.
* Have fun, be active. Ride a bike instead of driving, for example.
* Walk! Nearly all the centenarians we’ve talked to take a walk every day.
2) Cut calories by 20 percent. Practice “Hara hachi bi,” the Okinawan reminder to stop eating once your stomach is 80 percent full.
* Serve yourself, put the food away, then eat.
* Use smaller plates, bowls, and glasses.
* Sit and eat, not in the car or standing in front of the fridge.
3) Plant-based diet. No, you don’t need to become a vegetarian, but do bump up your intake of fruits and veggies.
* Use beans, rice or tofu as the anchor to your meals.
* Eat nuts! Have a 2-ounce handful of nuts daily (it’ll stop you from digging in the chip bag).
4) Drink red wine (in moderation)
* Keep a bottle of red wine near your dinner table.
* Keep the daily intake to two servings or less.
5) Plan de Vida: determine your life purpose. Why do you get up in the morning?
* Write your own personal mission statement.
* Take up a new challenge. Learn a language or an instrument.
6) Down shift — take time to relieve stress. You may have to literally schedule it into your day, but relaxation is key.
* Don’t rush – plan on being 15 minutes early.
* Cut out the noise – limit time spent with the television, computer, or radio on.
7) Belong / participate in a spiritual community.
* Deepen your existing spiritual commitment.
* Seek out a new spiritual or religious tradition.
8) Put loved ones first / make family a priority.
* Establish family rituals (game night, family walks, Sunday dinners).
* Show it off: create a place for family pictures and souvenirs that shows how you’re all connected.
* Get closer: consider downsizing to a smaller home to promote togetherness.
9) Pick the right tribe — the people surrounding you influence your health more than almost any other factor. Be surrounded by those who share Blue Zone values.
* Identify your inner circle. Reconsider ties to people who bring you down.
Sound too simple? Remember, simple doesn’t mean easy; I don’t recommend trying to change all these behaviors at once. Pick two or three of the Power9 to work on at a time. Research has shown that if you can sustain a behavioral change for six weeks, you should be able to sustain it for the rest of your life — which, as the world’s centenarians have shown us, should be a long, long