Aging secrets from the Blue Zones

42109205 - senior african american couple at home“The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

There’s no fountain of youth, but there are habits that can set you up for success as you age. What does it take to become a centenarian and truly enjoy life as you advance in years? Here’s a look at some of the commonalities between people in Blue Zones — areas where people have long lifespans and low rates of chronic disease.

1. Integrate basic movement into your everyday life.

The world’s longest-lived people don’t run marathons or do CrossFit. Instead, they’re always on the go and seldom sedentary. They grow gardens and don’t have mechanical interventions for house and yard work. In other words, their activities of daily living keep them healthy and fit. Movement is more of an afterthought than something they intentionally seek out.

2. Find purpose.

Whether it’s through one’s zone or a hobby, knowing your sense of purpose is key to aging happily and healthfully. Experts say it’s worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy.

3. Destress.

People in Blue Zones are not immune from stress. Such a feeling is associated with chronic inflammation. Every major age-related disease is caused or exasperated by high inflammatory markers. What the world’s oldest people have that we don’t are routines that help them cope. For instance, Sardinians do happy hour and this social interaction can pay dividends. Some people turn to four-legged friends as therapy or go for daily walks. Others have hobbies that keep them centered. Whatever the case, these healthy coping mechanisms can mean the difference between a mediocre quality of life and a rich one. Even just 10 minutes each day can improve your outlook and lower stress.

4. Follow the 80% rule.

What if you stopped when you felt 80 percent full? Think about how that might positively impact your waistline. In Okinawa, they do just that. Their fellow peers in other Blue Zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening, and then they don’t eat anymore for the rest of the day. That means no snacking!

5. Eat mostly plants.

Blue Zoners tend to be more omnivorous than carnivorous. Beans, soy, and lentils tend to be staples of centenarians. Meat is mostly ceremonial and only eaten a few times a month — and in moderation. Serving sizes are 3 to 4 ounces, about the size of a deck of cards. People in these regions also tend to eat very little or no dairy.

6. Lean into Happy Hour.

Dry red, anyone? People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. The data tell us that moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers but with a few caveats. The trick is to drink one to two glasses per day with friends and/or with food. And no, you can’t save up all week and go on a bender on Saturday to round it out.

7. Find belonging.

Are you a regular at Sunday services? Blue Zone residents are keen on faith-based communities. Denomination doesn’t seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month can add up to 14 years of life expectancy.

8. Put loved ones first.

Family is at the center of life in Blue Zones where they often live in multi-generational households. Aging parents and grandparents live nearby or in the home. These individuals commit to a life partner (which can add up to three years of life expectancy) and have strong connections to their children.

9. Find the right community.

Centenarians aren’t islands. On the contrary, they have rich and robust social circles that support healthy behaviors. For example, Okinawans create moais—pods of five friends that commit to each other for life. There’s research that shows we tend to adopt the habits and behaviors of those in our inner circles. In this sense, healthy practices are contagious!

To make it to age 100, there are some genetic factors at play. But most of us have the capacity to make it well into our early 90s and largely without chronic disease if we take care of ourselves, eat sensibly, move more and make a point to put friends and family first. In this sense, nature and nurture both matter and it’s never too late to make changes for the better.

What’s one of these habits you can work on this week? As Dan Buettner, who studied Blue Zones, puts it: “Living longer and feeling better is the sum of a few small easy choices you can incorporate into everyday life.” In other words, start small and work your way from there and you’re bound to find success.

We hope that you find this message to be informative and useful as you look to making some changes in 2022. If you have specific questions or concerns about longevity, please feel free to contact us at (703) 822-5003. Remember, you’re never too old to invest in your health.