We all want to live a long, happy and healthy life. But you might not believe that its possible to be 100 and still be active and enjoying every minute. Here’s how.
Global research reveals that living to be healthy, disease-free and 100+ is not as rare or as complicated as we might think. Making simple lifestlye choices are the key to slowing down the aging process and positively influencing how long and how well we will live. No matter how old you are and where you live, you can learn how to, starting today.
With so much information available around on healthy living, it can be confusing to know what to believe so this research was designed to identify the key factors for longevity. What things really made a difference? Do health supplements make a difference? Do we need passion, purpose or spirituality? Does organic verses non-organic matter? Should we practice yoga or should we run marathons? Should we be vegan, vegetarian, eat fish or eat meat? And what about our genes? For over five years National Geographic explorer Dan Buettner and a team from the US National Institute of Aging examined cultures around the world. They identified the areas with the highest demographic proportion of people aged 100 years or more – areas where life expectancy is up to 12 years greater than it is in Australia – and identified the common lifestyle characteristics that made them live longer. They called these areas ‘blue zones’. The four blue zones are found in Sardinia Italy, Okinawa Japan, Nicoya Costa Rica and surprisingly, in California USA. What was discovered in these blue zones, not only do people live to be ripe-old-ages of 100+ they are also mostly free of chronic disease. They live vigorous, engaged lives and it’s rare that they die in hospital beds or nursing homes. That’s good news for everyone. The Truth Revealled Nine common relatively simple factors, making up the optimal formula for longevity, were found.
1. Move naturally every day. None of the blue zones ‘exercised’ per se. They incorporated natural movement in the tasks of their day, like walking as a mode of transport and tending to their garden. In Sardinia, men of 102 years of age still ride bikes to work. Although it might mean a little inconvenience, create space for daily physical activity. Choose to work or go to schools closer to home that you can walk or ride a bike to instead of driving a car. Or ride or walk a part of the way. Do active household chores like raking and sweeping as often as you can, rather than getting others or machines to do the work. Most of us would do well to take a leaf out of our grandparents’ book!
2. Practice mindful eating and reduce food intake by 20%. Those in Okinawa have a saying ”Hara hachi bi’ which reminds them to not over-eat and to stop eating when they are 80% full. They also make eating a ritual and conscious activity. In Nicoya they also ate a light dinner early in the evening. Practice eating less and stopping before you are completely full to leave enough room for digestion (this is also an ancient yogic practice called mityahara). Use smaller plates and bowls. Try making your evening meal lighter than your lunch, and eating early in the evening, Serve food first, put the rest away and then sit to eat mindfully. All-you-can-eat buffets with second and third helpings were not a part of the blue-zone cultures.
3. Eat a mainly plant-based diet. Across all of the blue zones there was a prevalence of plant-based foods including vegetables, grains, nuts and tofu (that wasn’t necessarily organic). Increase the amount of fresh vegetables and plant-based protein foods in your daily diet. Consider having set meat-free meals or days. Notice how you feel after eating less meat after a period of time.
4. Drink red wine…in moderation! A daily intake of no more than two serves of red wine per day was found to be common amongst those living the longest in the blue zones.
5. Determine your life purpose. In Okinawa, they have a life-purpose called an ekigai or a ‘reason to get up in the morning’ with them throughout their life and there is no word for retirement. It gave their life value. Why do you get up in the morning and do what you do? Develop a heartfelt personal vision or mission statement. Write down a list of things that naturally draw your interest and curiosity, looking for the common threads and finding ways to make that basis of your life.
6. Simplify to relieve stress. Each of the blue zones communities practised the habit of taking rest. For those in California, it was an established seventh-day ritual. Reduce your daily to-do list to just the most important to allow time for rest. Practice giving yourself more time to arrive somewhere early, rather than rushing to be late. Spend quiet time without television or computers to help to soothe your nervous system. Learn life-skills such as yoga and meditation for relaxation. These may seem like a small things, but they can have a big, cumulative impact on your overall sense of wellbeing.
7. Belonging to a faith-based community. In California the men and women living in a Seventh Day Adventist community live up to 11 years older than average Americans. They follow a small set of common values and lifestyle habits throughout their lives. For one day per week, they have a ‘sabath’ a strict rest day and often take a nature walk. Prayer was also found to be a part of the Sardinian blue zone group. Get to know yourself on a deeper level by exploring your spirituality. No longer just for church-goers, spiritual communities and groups, such as reflective peer support groups, some yoga centres or meditation groups bring people together in ways that foster connection, practice and conversation based on a spiritual or deeper meaning of life.
8. Put loved ones first and make family a priority. In Sardinia, where they have an extra six years of longevity, the older they get, the more wisdom they are celebrated for. They show great respect for their elders and this also has a positive influence on their youth. What does family connection look like to you? Create family rituals like walks, games nights or Sunday dinners to unite your loved ones. Consider how you might spend more regular time with your family to promote togetherness.
9. Choose the right tribe. In Okinawa, it was found that people belonged to a small circles of life-long friends called a moai where the challenges and joys of life were all shared freely. The people that you surround yourself with influence your health more so than almost any other factor. Choose to be around people who share similar values as you, who prioritise their physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing in ways that inspire you rather than turn you off. Maybe its time to reconnect with or refresh your tribe! “The calculus of aging offers us two options: We can live a shorter life with more years of disability or we can live the longest possible life with fewest bad years. As my centenarian friends showed me, the choice is largely up to us.” Dan Buettner. Watch his TED talk here.
At Momentum Coaching and Yoga all of our coaching, yoga and meditation services support the findings of the Blue Zone research. We encourage you to try (and try us again) for yourself.
May you live a happy, healthy and long life,