When it comes to living longer, the DNA running through your family tree might not have as much influence as you might think.
There is growing evidence that shows the lifestyle choices you make can help determine your lifespan.
Researchers have been studying “Blue Zones,” a handful of areas around the globe where people live longer, stay healthier longer into their old age and have lower rates of chronic disease.
These areas include, Okinawa, Japan; Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; and the island of Ikaria in Greece.
In these Blue Zones, there seem to be several diet, exercise and lifestyle patterns that the areas have in common, in addition to having a higher-than-average number of people celebrating their 100th birthday.
From what makes up the bulk of their daily diet to how involved they are in their communities, the core traits of each of these places appear to be in sync.
Let’s take a look at some of these characteristics and how easy it can be to make a few simple changes to take steps toward making your home into a Blue Zone.
Eat plenty of whole plant foods
People filling their plates with nutritious, whole foods and a high percentage of plant-based food is a key characteristic of Blue Zone communities.
Take Okinawa, for example, where women live longer than any place else on Earth. Centenarians there have eaten diets that rely on sweet potatoes, stir-fried vegetables and soy-based and fermented foods.
Loma Linda, California, has a high population of Seventh-day Adventists, many of whom choose to be vegetarians or vegans as a way of practicing their faith. On the Greek island of Ikaria, more than 60 percent of their Mediterranean diet is made up of fruits, vegetables and greens.
To follow this Blue Zone path, fill up a big section of your own plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal and pick plant-based snacks.
Eat slowly; stop before you are full
Another key marker is how people in Blue Zones eat. Research shows they typically take their time, treating meals as social events when they sit down with family and friends to enjoy conversation along with their food.
They are also careful not to stuff themselves. In Okinawa, there is a saying called “hara hachi bu,” which is a reminder to stop eating when they are 80 percent full.
Alcohol in moderation
Alcohol consumption is a bit different in each Blue Zone community. In four of these zones, people drink alcohol regularly, but they do it in moderation. And if they are having a drink, it’s with a meal or with friends.
Whether it’s the physical work the people of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula continue to do into their old age, or the martial arts enjoyed by the centenarians in Okinawa, an active lifestyle is a big part of these communities.
What’s the best exercise for you? It’s probably a mix of a few different types that you like well enough to stick with as you make your way toward your 100th birthday. For some advice, read Exercise and be healthy for life.
In Blue Zones, sleep is a necessity, not a luxury only to be enjoyed once a lengthy to-do list is finally done.
People who live in these zones typically sleep 8 to 10 hours a night, and in at least a couple of these areas, afternoon naps are also common. The takeaway here is to be kinder to your body and treat a good night’s sleep as very important to your health.
Need some help? Read 7 tips for getting a better night’s sleep.
Build a good support system
Blue Zones are best described as areas where groups of long-lived people are enjoying their lives, and they’re doing it as part of a social network.
Whether it’s coming together to exercise, to enjoy meals, or to practice their faith, people are enjoying each other’s company in these tight-knit communities.
Research shows that having a strong social network is important to people’s well-being. Learn more by reading Social Health: Friends and family can make all the difference.
The common traits of these Blue Zone communities can give us insight into how to embrace lifestyle changes that bring better health and wellness and the possibility even more birthdays to celebrate in our future.