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The Top Habits From the Healthiest People on Our Planet - Blue Zones

Did you know that around 20% of how long you live is determined by genes, the rest is influenced by lifestyle and environment? That’s why Blue Zones is such an interesting phenomenon. Researchers teamed up with the National Geographic and went on a quest to find the Blue Zones, pockets of society who had the highest life expectancy. They then studied the commonalities between the cultures and came up with the ‘Power 9’ which are the main learnings us Westerners can use to live longer, healthier lives. 

 The Five Longest Living Societies:

  • Barbagia region of Sardinia – Mountainous highlands of inner Sardinia with the world’s highest concentration of male centenarians.

  • Ikaria, Greece – Aegean Island with one of the world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality and the lowest rates of dementia.

  • Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica – World’s lowest rates of middle age mortality, second highest concentration of male centenarians.

  • Seventh Day Adventists – Highest concentration is around Loma Linda, California. They live 10 years longer than their North American counterparts.

  • Okinawa, Japan – Females over 70 are the longest-lived population in the world.

The Power 9: Strategies for Living Longer

Researchers believe that by adopting these strategies you can add 10-12 healthy years to your life. Why don’t you give yourself a rating out of 10 for each strategy, and focus on one per month until your new habits are a seamless part of your life.

  1. Move Naturally

The societies who live the longest live in environments where they ‘work the land.’ They don’t have to think about exercise, rather it is a part of their working day. For most of us living in towns and cities this is hard to emulate. Instead, how about looking at your life and working meaningful exercise into your routine. Riding your bike to and from work, catching up with friends for a walk instead of at a cafe, running around with the kids, joining a sporting team. 

  1. Find your “Ikigai” or Purpose

Finding your Ikigai (Pronounced “icky-guy”), is what the Japanese Okinawans say ‘knowing what your purpose is’. The Nicoyans call it “Plan de Vida” (Why I wake up in the morning). Researchers believe this adds up to seven years to life expectancy. Our purpose will always be something that: 

  • We feel that we are naturally good at and enjoy doing. 

  • We feel passionate and care deeply about. 

  • We feel fits our values and ways we prefer to operate in the world.

What is your unique purpose for getting up each day? If you need help connecting with and unlocking your true purpose, use this guide

  1. Downshift

It’s refreshing to know that even the Blue Zone societies experience stress, stress can’t be avoided. But chronic stress leads to inflammation which is associated with every major age related disease. Learning effective strategies to shed stress and downshift are common themes amongst these cultures. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians do happy hour. How do you downshift - every day?

  1. 80% Rule

This refers to stopping eating when you are 80% full, and this is common amongst the Blue Zones. “Hara hachi bu”  the Okinawan, 2500-year old Confucian mantra says ‘eat until you are eight parts full.’ Over time, this could be the difference between being a healthy weight, or overweight. Try it for a week and watch your appetite adjust. 

  1. Plant slant

Plant based foods are a big part of all the Blue Zone cultures, with meat and dairy eaten less frequently, in smaller amounts (a serve is around the size of a deck of cards). interestingly beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils are the most common food amongst all the cultures. Try switching your focus from building your meal around meat, to building your meal around a main vegetable. EG Sauteed mushrooms, with some seeded bread, feta and spinach. 

  1. Wine at 5

With the exception of Adventists, all the Blue Zones drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Interestingly moderate drinkers outlive non drinkers. 1-2 glasses per day consumed with food and friends (what a combo!) is their habit, rather than the weekend binge. 

  1. Belong

Out of the 263 centenarians interviewed, all but five belonged to a faith-based community. Denomination didn’t matter, but attending faith-based  services four times per month is expected to add 4-14 years of life expectancy. What ‘higher order’ community can you belong to? If Church isn’t your thing, how about philosophy classes? Finding a community that focuses on life’s bigger questions will go a long way to feeling like we belong. 

  1. Loved Ones First

Family always comes first in the Blue Zones. Parents and Grandparents stay close by (or even  in the home), which not only increases life expectancy but also lowers disease and mortality rates of children too!. They commit to a life partner (which can add up to three years life expectancy), they invest in their children with time and love.  How can you create more space and time for your family? What activities can you include them in? Can you pick up the phone more often?

  1. Right Tribe

Okinawans created ”moais” groups of five friends that committed to each other for life. Studies show that habits from friends are contagious (positive and negative), so surrounding yourself with friends who exhibit favourable health behaviours can add years to your life. 

Amelia Phillips is a nutritionist, exercise scientist and online health coach who has helped thousands live a healthier life through optimised nutrition and targeted supplementation. 

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