With the right lifestyle, experts say, chances are that you may live up to a decade longer. But what’s the best prescription for long health? Is there a stand-out combination of diet and supplements that enhances lifespan and quality of life? In 2004, Dan Buettner teamed up with National Geographic and hired the world’s best longevity researchers to identify pockets around the world where people lived measurably better. In these “Blue Zones” they found that people reach age 100 at rates 10 times greater than normal. Buettner and National Geographic took teams of scientists to each location to identify lifestyle characteristics that might explain longevity. They found that the lifestyles of all Blue Zones’ residents shared nine specific characteristics.
1. Move Naturally: The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it. They grow gardens and don’t have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work.
2. Purpose: The Okinawans call it “ikigai” and the Nicoyans call it “plan de vida”; for both it translates to “why I wake up in the morning”. Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy
3. Down Shift: Even people in the Blue Zones experience stress. Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. What the world’s longest-lived people have that we don’t are routines to shed that stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians do happy hour.
4. 80% Rule: “Hara hachi bu” – the Okinawan’s 2,500-year old Confucian mantra said before meals reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full. The 20% gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight
5. Plant Slant: Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Meat – mostly pork – is eaten on average only five times per month. Serving sizes are 3-4oz, about the size of a deck of cards.
6. People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers out-live non-drinkers. The trick is to drink 1-2 glasses per day (preferably Sardinian Cannonau wine), with friends and/or with food. And no, you can’t save up all weekend and have 14 drinks on Saturday.
7. Belong: All but five of the 263 centenarians we interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. Denomination doesn’t seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy
8. Loved Ones First: Successful centenarians in the Blue Zones put their families first. This means keeping ageing parents and grandparents nearby or in the home (it lowers disease and mortality rates of children in the home, too). They commit to a life partner (which can add up to three years of life expectancy) and invest in their children with time and love. (They’ll be more likely to care for you when the time comes).
9. Right Tribe: The world’s longest-lived people chose – or were born into – social circles that supported healthy behaviours. Okinawans created “moais”– groups of five friends that committed to each other for life. Research from the Framingham studies shows that smoking, obesity, happiness and even loneliness are contagious. So the social networks of long-lived people have favourably shaped their health behaviours.
To make it to age 100, you have to have won the genetic lottery. But most of us have the capacity to make it well into our early 90s and largely without chronic disease. As the Adventists demonstrate, the average person’s life expectancy could increase by 10-12 years by adopting a Blue Zones lifestyle.
Practical things you can do to live the Blue Zone way
De-convenience your home – lose the remote, buy a light garage door and lift it yourself.
Eat nuts – have a can of nuts around your office or home, eat a handful daily.
Drink Sardinian wine – Sardinian Cannonau wine has the world’s highest levels of antioxidants. Drink a glass or two a day.
Play with your children – this is excellent low-intensity exercise and will strengthen a family. Both associated with longer life expectancy.
Grow a garden – this proven stress-reducer will put your body through the range of motion and yield fresh vegetables.
Hour of Power – downshift daily with a nap, meditation, prayer or a quiet walk – de-stressing is a proven way to slow ageing.
Eat fermented soya – arguably the world’s most perfect food, eaten by the world’s longest-lived women. Contains a plant oestrogen that makes skin look younger.n
Get a tan – doctors are re-thinking the notion of slathering yourself with sunscreen. Up to half of Westerners are vitamin D deficient – a condition that can double your chance of dying in any given year. A tan not only looks healthy, it is.
Donate your large dinner plates – eat off nine-inch plates as the Okinawans do and reduce calorie consumption at dinner by 20-30%.
Write down your personal mission – knowing and putting into practice your sense of purpose can give you up to a decade of good life.
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