“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 the fewest bad years. As my centenarian friends showed me, the choice is largely up to us.”
– Dan Buettner
Never before have we had the access we do today to the tools needed to live healthier lives. A few years ago finding a bunch of kale was a challenge, now it’s everywhere. Ancient superfoods are now available at your local Pick ‘n Pay, not just specialized health stores. Exercise moved out the gym and onto roads, friendly studios, retreats and on your phone. Running is no longer considered just for a select crazy few. Fitness apparel keeps getting better, savvier and is making its way into our everyday wardrobes.
We should be living our healthiest lives and yet sometimes it feels as if we are on a never-ending search for that magic pill that will give us more health. The latest super food, adaptogen, diet, fitness class, tech device. A quick fix to health.
Dan Buettner, National Geographic Fellow discovered Blue Zones – places around the world where people are living the longest and healthiest lives. In his latest book, “The Blue Zones of Happiness”, he discusses the lessons we can learn from those communities and the 9 commonalities in their lives.
In a recent Mind Body Green Podcast; Buettner discussed the 9 things that no matter where you go, people living long and healthy lives are doing. He calls these “ The Power 9 ” and says “none of them are things marketers can package up and sell”. They’re lifestyle choices we can each take and implement into our lives without draining our bank accounts.
1. They don’t exercise
People in Blue Zones aren’t spending hours in the gym. Instead they move naturally throughout their days. The healthiest populations of the worlds are nudged into moving mindlessly every 20 minutes, which means their metabolisms are constantly humming and they burn more calories throughout the day.
2. They have sacred daily rituals to reverse the stress of everyday living
No one, not even Blue Zones are immune to the stresses of daily living. However, those in the Blue Zones have daily rituals to down shift. Whether this is napping, meditation, prayer, socialising; having that ritual everyday helps them live longer.
3. They have vocabulary for purpose
They know why they wake up in the morning. What they’re good at and what their passions and outlets are. According to the landmark study by Robert Butler, people who can articulate their purpose for living live about 8 years longer than those who can’t.
This, Buettner explains, isn’t about pills, supplements or creams, it’s taking an internal inventory to find out what you’re good at and making sure you’re doing that even if it’s not part of your job.
4. They Drink a little bit
With the exception of Seventh Day Adventists who are included in the Blue Zones, they all drink moderately and often. One or two glasses of wine a day. However, they don’t do this alone – they do it in a social environment or along with food.
5. They mostly eat a plant based diet
Overwhelmingly the people living the longest are eating low processed plants. Buettner lists the pillars of longevity diets around the world as whole grains (all kinds), greens, nuts, beans. According to him, if you want the best supplements, boil beans for a couple of hours with herbs and eat them with grains.
6. They follow the 80% rule
They don’t overeat, in fact they’ll stop when their stomachs are 80% full and that 20% difference can be the difference between losing or gaining weight. People in Blue Zones also eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening.
7. They Invest heavily in their family
Cultures which see people living long lives tend to keep parents and grandparents nearby. This is not only beneficial to the elderly but also to future generations. The grandmother effect has shown that in homes where there are grandparents nearby those children do better, there are lower rates of disease, mortality, and they tend to do better at school.
8. They Tend to be religious
He later discussed that if you live in a religious place, being religious makes your happier. Belonging to a faith automatically comes with a social network, good influences and times during the week where you shut off. However, this is if religion is important to you.
9. They’re Born into or carefully curate social circles that nurture them and influence them to do the right things
Those in Blue Zones were born into environments which encouraged healthy behaviour. Those in Okinowa, Japan went as far as creating “moais” which are groups of 5 friends committed to each other for life. Research has shown that obesity, smoking, happiness and loneliness are contagious so the people you surround yourself with have the ability to positively or negatively affect your lifestyle.
According to his research, people living long lives aren’t doing it because they tried – they weren’t on diets or crazy fitness regimes. Longevity happened to them as a result of their environment. Most centurions don’t know how they lived so long (although this 104 woman claims it’s her daily Diet Coke). Their lives are simply set up in a way where fruit, veg, nuts and greens are the cheapest and most accessible. They have time honoured recipes to make them taste good. Their kitchens are set up where it’s easy to make. They have social networks where people gather around these plants based foods. Its clusters of behaviours that hold the Power 9 habits together for a long time.
When it comes to longevity there is no pill, no supplement, no genetic intervention. The only thing you can do is to optimize your surroundings. Look at what the healthiest people lives look like and recreate them. In a nutshell, move more and often. Eat well, mostly plants. Nurture personal relationships, find and live your purpose and incorporate daily relaxation rituals into your life.
Zissy is the co-founder of Nutreats. She likes to make things, do things and wear things.