Dr. Niveditha Navin
In today’s world, to make it to the age of 99 would seem like winning the genetic lottery. In 2019, The Central African Republic claimed the lowest average life span, at 53 years, while Japan’s average life expectancy was 84 years.
If you were offered the chance to live an extra five, ten or more years, and remain healthy and active, wouldn’t you take it? Read on to find out what the most long lived populations do to improve their longevity.
Discovering the Blue Zones
A Danish study established that 80% of how long we live is dictated by our lifestyle, while only 20% is dictated by our genes. American author Dan Buettner, along with National Geographic, and the National Institute on Aging led to the discovery of five specific geographical zones on our planet where people seem to hold the secret to eternal youth. What began as an expedition, led to the discovery of daily practices that lead to longevity.
These places not only have more centenarians, or individuals over 100 years old, but also elderly populations without the usual age-related health issues, such as heart disease, obesity, cancer, and diabetes. Instead, seniors enjoyed active lives with less illness well into their golden years.
These five areas, known as ‘Blue Zones’, were identified based on epidemiological data, statistics, birth certificates, and other research.
Blue Zones are located in:
- Ikaria, Greece- An island in the Aegean Sea eight miles off the coast of Turkey has one of the world’s lowest rates of middle-aged mortality, and lowest rates of dementia, heart disease and cancer.
- Ogliastra Region, Sardinia- The mountainous highlands of this italian island boasts the world’s highest concentration of centenarian men.
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica- A central American country where family and faith plays a strong role. They are twice as likely than other Americans to reach 90 years old.
- Loma Linda, California- This Adventist community in California outlives the average American by a decade.
- Okinawa, Japan- The largest island in a subtropical archipelago. Home to the world’s longest lived women.
Additional experiments and explorations across the USA are focused on redeveloping the areas in Minnesota, California, and Iowa to incorporate the Blue Zone ethos.
Blue Zone Longevity Tips
Buettner found that despite the geographical differences, people living in the Blue Zones all have nine key lifestyle habits, which he refers to as the Power 9.
- Move Naturally: Be active without having to think about it. Physical activity is part of daily life for the residents in the Blue Zones, and is incorporated into the day through activities like gardening, walking, and cooking.
- Know your Purpose: The Okinawans call it Ikigai, while the Nicoyans call it plan de vida – both translate to “why I wake up in the morning.” Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to 7 years of extra life expectancy. Having a reason to get out of bed in the morning is closely intertwined with happiness. This gives a positive outlook towards life and influences psychological well being.
- Down shift and manage stress daily: Slow down daily, rest, take vacations. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, the Ikarians take a nap, and Sardinians do happy hour.
- 80% Rule: Hara hachi bu - this 2500-year old Confucian mantra said by Okinawans before meals, reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full. People in Blue Zones do not eat excessively, and eat their smallest meal in the early evening.
- Plant Slant: eating more veggies, less meat and processed foods. To eat more plant-based, start small and try to make a vegetarian meal one night a week.
- Wine is Fine: Drink alcohol moderately and limit wine to 2 glasses per day.
- Keep the Faith: be part of a spiritual community. Research shows that attending faith-based services once a week will add 4 to 14 years of life expectancy.
- Family Matters: Blue Zone centenarians make family a; priority. It is common to have several generations under one roof, or living nearby.
- Right Tribe: the world’s longest lived people have close friends and strong social networks. Studies show that people with stronger support networks have lower rates of chronic illness and depression.
Adopt a Part of Blue Zone
The beauty of Blue Zone practices is that they are small habits that you can incorporate into your daily life. These simple habits, accumulated over years, can help you earn an extra decade of good health, as well as keep you happy and healthy during tough times – our current situation with Covid being a prime example.
About Dr. Niveditha Navin
Dr. Navin is a clinical research specialist, who holds a degree in dentistry. After completing her postgraduate diploma in clinical research, she has experience working as a clinical affairs specialist in the pharmaceutical industry. She is passionate about medicine and wishes to carve a distinct niche in the field of research.
- Buettner, Dan, and Sam Skemp. “Blue Zones: Lessons From the World's Longest Lived.” American journal of lifestyle medicinevol. 10,5 318-321. 7 Jul. 2016, doi:10.1177/1559827616637066
- Herskind AM, McGue M, Holm NV, Sorensen TIA, Harvlad B, Vaupel JW. The heritability of human longevity: a population-based study of 2,872 Danish twin pairs born 1870-1900. Hum Genet. 1996;96:319-323.