If you’re looking for the secret to a longer, healthier life, you may not have to look any farther than Blue Zones. These communities, identified by explorer and National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner, are known for having high numbers of inhabitants who live past the age of 100—and who do so with lower rates of degenerative diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
In studying the populations of Blue Zones, Buettner and a team of researchers discovered that they all have several lifestyle habits in common, which the researchers named the Power 9. These commonalities—which incorporate mindset and community connections, as well as diet and exercise habits—may hold the key to health and longevity.
Where Are the Blue Zones?
Five places in the world meet the definition of a Blue Zone:
- Sardinia, an Italian island with the world’s highest concentration of male centenarians
- Okinawa, Japan, home to the world’s longest-lived women
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica, which boasts the world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality
- Ikaria, Greece, an island with one of the world’s lowest rates of dementia
- Loma Linda, California, home to a community of Seventh Day Adventists who regularly live 10 years longer than the rest of Americans
Blue Zone researchers are also using information gathered from these locations to promote healthier habits in additional communities throughout the United States, including areas in California, Minnesota, Iowa, and Texas.
The Power 9
Many of us assume that our genes largely determine how long we live and that we can expect to live roughly as long as our parents. But a 1996 population-based study of Danish twins revealed that only about 20 percent of longevity is genetic. The rest is largely influenced by lifestyle factors—and they may not be what you expect. Of the nine lifestyle habits that are common among Blue Zone inhabitants, only two are related to food, and one to exercise. One involves alcohol. The others have to do with community and mindset.
1. Move Naturally
Blue Zone inhabitants typically don’t engage in intense workouts or run marathons. Rather, they have lifestyles that naturally incorporate daily movement. This may mean tending a garden, chopping firewood, walking to the market, or completing housework without the help of modern conveniences. In Loma Linda, residents take long daily walks.
2. Have a Purpose
Having a sense of purpose in life is a key Blue Zone trait. One 2019 study found that having a sense of purpose was associated with a lower risk of death from all causes. People with a clear sense of purpose also tend to have better physical health, more optimism, and a greater sense of satisfaction in life. It’s especially important for people who are recently retired to find a new sense of purpose in life if their career has previously been their primary focus.
Chronic stress is extremely detrimental to our health. While it’s virtually impossible to live a stress-free life, it’s important to find ways to manage stress so that it doesn’t create severe physical and mental health issues. Blue Zone inhabitants have routines that naturally help them shed stress, whether that’s through prayer, napping, or even happy hour.
4. Stop Eating When You’re 80 Percent Full
The first of the Blue Zone habits involving food is the practice of eating only until you’re 80 percent full. People in Blue Zones don’t eat to excess, which may help them maintain healthy weights. They also typically eat small dinners early in the evening and refrain from late-night snacking.
5. Eat a Plant-Based Diet
People in Blue Zones tend to eat plant-based diets, with most of their proteins coming from beans and legumes. While they may eat some meat, it’s usually in small portions and may only be consumed once a week.
6. Drink Wine in Moderation
Alcohol is a regular part of Blue Zone life, except for the Seventh Day Adventists. Research shows that people who drink alcohol in moderation have a lower risk of early death. The key is to not overdo it. Stick to 1–2 glasses a day, preferably wine.
7. Belong to a Faith-Based Community
The final three Blue Zone habits are centered on community and interpersonal connections. Blue Zone inhabitants typically belong to some sort of faith-based community. Research suggests that attending religious services is associated with a longer lifespan. The exact religion or denomination doesn’t seem to matter.
8. Keep Family Close
People who live in Blue Zones put family first. They commit to a life partner and spend quality time with their children. Aging parents or grandparents tend to live nearby or in the house, which is also good for the health and well-being of children.
9. Find the Right Tribe
Finally, Blue Zone inhabitants have strong community ties. Their social circles support healthy behaviors, and they often remain friends for life. Research shows that behaviors can be socially contagious, so surrounding yourself with people who support your goals and share your values can go a long way toward helping you improve your health and your lifestyle.
As data from Blue Zones indicates, improving your health and increasing your lifespan doesn’t have to be complicated. Be proactive about incorporating more of the Power 9 habits into your daily routine, and you, too, can start reaping the benefits of greater health and happiness.
Karen Eisenbraun is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant. She holds an English degree from Knox College and has written extensively about topics related to holistic health, clinical nutrition, and weight management.