The Blue Zones

Americans spend close to $110 billion dollars a year on gyms, supplements, and diets in the hope that they will help us feel better and maybe even look younger.  For ages people have been searching for the “fountain of youth”, the secrets to looking and feeling younger and living longer.

Earlier this month I attended a conference where the keynote speaker was Dan Buettner a researcher, explorer, and New York Times bestselling author of The Blue Zones, 9 Lessons For Living Longer From The People Who’ve Lived The Longest.

The Blue Zones are places around the world with the highest number of centenarians - people living to and beyond the age of 100.  The author and his colleagues have discovered that people living in Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; and Ikaria, Greece are living not only longer, but healthier lives than anywhere else in the world.  What they eat and their level of activity were found to be significant contributors to their good health; along with some other interesting lifestyle habits.  One of the most interesting things to me about the people of these regions is that none of them had ever been on a “diet”, and none of them were ever obese.

The book outlines nine lessons learned from the people of these areas and practical, easy tips on how to put those lessons into practice to live better and healthier.  Here are some highlights…

1.  Be active without having to think about it
Engage in regular low-intensity physical activity often as part of your daily routine.

2.  Hara Hachi Bu (this is one of my favorites)
Eat until you are 80% full.  Instead of eating until you are full or stuffed, eat like the Okinawans, and stop when you no longer feel hungry.  This requires being mindful and aware when you are eating and paying attention to your body’s signals of hunger and fullness.

3.  Base your food choices on plants and unprocessed whole foods and less on meat and processed foods
Focus more on beans, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and nuts.

4.  Drink red wine in moderation
This is a favorite tip for many, but moderation is key.  Have a glass of wine with dinner.  Red wine is an especially good choice.

5.  Find your purpose
Figuring out your sense of purpose or  “why I wake up in the morning” may help to reduce stress and reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and stroke.

6.  Take time to relieve stress
Meditation and yoga are great ways to do this.  Whatever you do, find a way to de-stress and relax.

7.  Participate in a spiritual community
Whatever your beliefs, belonging to a religious community can help you live longer.

8.  Make family a priority
Spend quality time with your family.  Disconnect from the phone, computer, TV, and social media and be together.

9.  Surround yourself with people who support healthy habits
We are influenced by those around us.  Think of family and friends who share a positive outlook and have healthy habits and spend time with them.

I highly recommend Blue Zones if you want to know more about the lessons learned from some of the world’s healthiest people and how to incorporate their habits into your life.  Start today and pick one of the lessons to focus on and gradually begin to make healthy habits your way of life.

For many of us, when it comes to food our focus is on being on a diet or simply meeting the needs of our growling stomach and exercise is about burning calories.  It is important to remember though that food and exercise is about so much more than just calories.  Good food and moving our bodies regularly is medicine and has the potential, along with other healthy lifestyle habits, to protect us from disease and help us live longer, healthier lives.