For two decades, I’ve embarked on a global journey exploring the enigmatic Blue Zones—regions where inhabitants enjoy remarkably prolonged lives: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California.
In my extensive dialogues with 263 centenarians, a set of principles emerged, forming what I term the “Power 9.” These non-negotiables serve as the backbone for those who have mastered the art of longevity. Let’s delve into these transformative guidelines.
The longevity elites don’t engage in rigorous workouts; instead, they inhabit environments that seamlessly encourage physical activity. Whether it’s tending to gardens or relishing in joyous walks to work or social gatherings, constant movement is embedded in their daily lives.
“The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving.”
Referred to as “ikigai” in Okinawa and “plan de vida” in Nicoya, a sense of purpose beyond mere employment pervades the lives of these individuals. Research underscores that having a clear purpose can extend one’s lifespan by up to seven years.
“Residents in every Blue Zone I visited had something to live for beyond just work. Research even shows that knowing your sense of purpose can add up to seven years to your life.”
Acknowledging stress as a potential harbinger of age-related ailments, Blue Zone residents adopt routines to alleviate stress. From Okinawans remembering ancestors to Ikarians indulging in a nap, these practices counteract chronic inflammation.
“But they have routines that shed stress: Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap, and Sardinians have happy hour.”
4.The 80% Rule
Guided by the ancient Confucian mantra “hara hachi bu,” Blue Zone dwellers practice mindful eating, stopping when their stomachs are 80% full. Meals are smaller in the late afternoon or early evening, with no further intake for the rest of the day.
“Hara hachi bu” — the 2,500-year-old Confucian mantra that Okinawans say before meals — reminds people to stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full.”
Central to Blue Zone diets are beans—fava, black, soy, and lentils—while meat consumption is limited to about five times per month, in small three to four-ounce servings.
6.Wine at 5 p.m.
Moderate and regular alcohol consumption, even among some Adventists, is a common thread. The key lies in enjoying one to two glasses per day with companions or meals.
“People in Blue Zones, even some Adventists, drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers outlive nondrinkers.”
A striking majority of the centenarians I interviewed belonged to faith-based communities, irrespective of denomination. Regular attendance at faith-based services has been linked to an increase of four to 14 years in life expectancy.
“All but five of the 263 centenarians I talked to belonged to a faith-based community. Denomination doesn’t seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month can add four to 14 years of life expectancy.”
8.Put Loved Ones First
In Blue Zones, centenarians maintain close proximity to aging relatives, reducing disease and mortality rates for their offspring. Committing to a life partner and showering children with time and love are additional longevity-boosting practices.
“Centenarians in the Blue Zones keep aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home, which studies show can lower the disease and mortality rates of their children.”
9.Find the Right Tribe
The world’s longest-lived individuals consciously select or are born into social circles that promote healthy habits. In Okinawa, this takes the form of “moais”—groups of five friends committed to a lifelong bond.
“The world’s longest-lived people choose (or were born into) social circles that support healthy behaviors. Okinawans create “moais” — groups of five friends that commit to each other for life.”
While adherence to these principles doesn’t guarantee a century of life, it certainly enhances the likelihood of a more joyful and prolonged existence.