It’s true: Americans can be a bit ...American-centric. We look to LA and New York for the latest, coolest health trends. We follow coastal bloggers and influencers who push out the most recent diet, cleanse, and 4-minute-rock hard abs workout that will finally be the one that works. But studies show that the most effective tools for health and longevity might actually be the oldest. Turns out the secrets are already unlocked and have been in use for decades in some parts of the world. Joke’s on us!
I came across this organization called Blue Zones while listening to a lecture given by the founder Dan Buettner. Dan is an avid explorer, National Geographic fellow, and NY Times bestselling author. Back in the early 2000s, he led a massive project to find pockets around the globe where people were living the longest, healthiest lives. If 20% of a person’s life span is determined by genes, then that leaves a whopping 80% that is influenced by lifestyle and environment. The goal of the project was to find out as much as possible about the lifestyle and environmental factors of the world’s oldest people.
Not only did he and his team find five places (which they named Blue Zones) with the highest life expectancy and lowest rate of disease in the world, but they spent a significant amount of time in each place to find out exactly how they were pulling it off. Read on for a quick peek at each of the five original Blue Zones and what we can learn from them.
Sardinia, Italy: Nestled in the Ogliastra region, this place has one of the highest rates of centurians, or people living to be 100 years or older. Sardinians eat mostly plant-based diets with meat just a handful of times a month on Sundays after church and other special occasions. What stands out is their attitude towards aging. Sardinians continue to work in their jobs (like herding sheep for miles a day up and down the mountainside) well into their 70s, 80s, and 90s. As they age, they continue to live with their children and grandchildren, taking care of, teaching, and playing with them. Best of all? They love a good afternoon happy hour with wine.
Okinawa, Japan: This peninsula 800 miles south of Tokyo has the longest disability-free life expectancy as well as incredibly low rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Similar to the Italians, Okinawans eat mostly plant-based foods, soy, and compounds that lower blood sugar. Before a meal, they pre-plate their food and chant “hara hachi bu” which translates to “stop at 80%,” reminding them to eat slowly and stop when they are 80% full. #Goals. The coolest aspect of health in Okinawa is the support of the “moai,” the small but tight-knit social circle that you become a part of as a child and stay with for life. Imagine your circle of besties meeting weekly to gossip, enjoy a meal, and be there for one another ...for 90+ years.
Loma Linda, CA: Here lives a large concentration of Seventh Day Adventists known for evangelizing with health. Despite having a Del Taco on every corner, this diverse community follows a strict shared set of principles. They take direction from the Bible and follow (yet again) a mostly a plant-based diet. The emphasis on community service is strong and their adherence to the Sabbath is serious business, no matter what other “business” might be going on in. Shutting everything down for prayer, social networking and spending time outdoors is non-negotiable every single week to ensure they can rest, reflect, and recharge.
Nicoya, Costa Rica: Living longer in Nicoya seems to be the outcome of fresh and nutrient-dense food, morning rituals, and the spirited “plan de vida” or “reason to live” which permeates its people. Nicoyans eat a lot of beans, homemade corn tortillas, and almost no processed foods. They keep their bodies moving naturally in the garden, the kitchen, on their horses, and in the markets.
Ikaria, Greece: These proud islanders keep things simple with a Mediterranean diet of rich olive oil, red wine, and homegrown veggies. The island’s isolation bred a strong sense of community and protection of one another over the years. Fasting for religious holidays throughout the year can almost certainly be linked to the slowing of their aging. Oh, and daily naps are a common practice. Googling flights there now? Yeah, me too.
I think it’s safe to say that we are all hoping to age gracefully and happily with as few health complications as possible, like many of the Blue Zone residents. But I know I won’t be taking up sheepherding, daily naps, and living in a remote part of the world with my entire family (honestly, phew). In order for us to implement, the "Power 9" breaks down the 9 healthy habits shared by those living longest in all the Blue Zones. Read more about the principles Move Naturally, Purpose, Down Shift, 80% Rule, Plant Slant, Wine at 5, Belong, Loved Ones First, and Right Tribe here.
The responsibilities of the daily grind in America aren’t going anywhere, but, armed with these principles, maybe we can approach our priorities with a slightly different spin.
Before we head into the new year, I’m choosing to focus on three principles to slow my pace and increase my longevity: Down Shift, 80% Rule, and Loved Ones First.
CSOB regularly provides opportunities to flex all 9 of these habits in a safe, supportive, and fun community. Want to incorporate more natural movement in your life? Get in on those winter walks with Mer, Mol, and Andi & Krissy of @whatthefitpodcast. Trying to hone in on your purpose through all of the noise? The site has tons of resources for guided meditations as well as local studios and teachers to help get your #mindright. I also happen to know that Mer and Mol will never say no to “Wine at 5”...
On a broader scale, this got me thinking how we can continue optimizing health and longevity in the Queen City. It would be pretty rad to see Cincinnati achieve Blue Zone status someday, right?