The average life expectancy in the United States is close to 79 years old. But in certain parts of the world — known as Blue Zones — people regularly live to the age of 100 or more. Not only is their lifespan longer, but so is their healthspan — the part of life characterized by good health. What are they doing differently? Is it genetics, or something else?

Five locations around the world have been identified as Blue Zones:

  • Okinawa, Japan
  • A region of Sardinia, an Italian island
  • Ikaria, Greece, which boasts one of the lowest rates of middle-age mortality in the world, as well as one of the lowest rates of dementia
  • The Nicoya Peninsula on the east coast of Costa Rica
  • A community of Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California, where residents live an average of ten years longer than other North Americans

A study known as the Danish Twin Study revealed that longevity is only about 20 percent genetic. The rest is influenced by lifestyle and environmental factors. Researchers studied the lifestyle habits of Blue Zone populations and identified nine commonalities, known as the Power 9, which could add 10-12 years to your life. Surprisingly, only one relates to exercise, and three to diet. The rest are related to spiritual and emotional health.

The Power 9

  1. Move naturally. People in Blue Zones don’t have gym memberships or run marathons. Instead, they have lifestyles that encourage daily, moderate activity. This may mean working in the garden or walking everywhere they go. They may also lack modern conveniences, requiring them to manually complete housework and yardwork, such as washing clothes and chopping wood.
  2. Follow the 80 percent rule. Stop eating when you are 80 percent full. Eating until you are completely full puts too much strain on your digestive system. People in Blue Zones eat a small meal early in the evening and then don’t eat for the rest of the day. This practice, known as time-restricted fasting, allows the digestive system to rest so that the body’s natural repair and rejuvenation systems can engage, which helps repair cellular damage and prevent disease. Time-restricted fasting has been shown to promote weight loss, reduce blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and improve immunity.
  3. Eat a plant-based diet. Blue Zone inhabitants eat a diet high in plant foods, particularly beans. Meat is eaten only rarely — perhaps once a week — and in small portions of 3-4 ounces.
  4. Drink red wine — in moderation. Most people in Blue Zones, with the exception of the Loma Linda Seventh Day Adventists, drink alcohol moderately, and research shows that moderate drinks live longer than non-drinkers. The resveratrol in red wine has numerous health benefits, and can even help with weight loss. Limit alcohol consumption to 1-2 glasses per day, preferably red wine from Sardinia.
  5. Know your purpose in life. Having a reason to get up in the morning could add up to seven years to your life. Research shows that people who retire early have an increased risk of death. If you’re nearing retirement age, make sure you have hobbies, clubs, volunteer work, or something else that provides you with a sense of purpose.
  6. Stress less. The health consequences of untreated stress cannot be overstated. Not only is stress related to weight gain, it also contributes to degenerative diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Stress is an inevitable part of life, but Blue Zone inhabitants have routines that help them downshift and diminish stress, whether through prayer, an afternoon nap, or even happy hour.
  7. Have faith. People in Blue Zones belong to some sort of faith-based community and regularly attend services. Research indicates that attending faith-based services every week can add 4-14 years to your life, regardless of the denomination.
  8. Put family first. Family bonds are strong in Blue Zones. Aging parents and grandparents usually remain nearby or in the home, which also helps lower mortality rates of children in the family. Blue Zone inhabitants commit to a life partner, which can increase life expectancy by up to three years, and invest time in their children.
  9. Find your tribe. The world’s longest-living people belong to social communities that support healthy behaviors. Okinawans form moais — groups of friends who commit to supporting each other emotionally, socially, and even financially. Research shows that you adopt the habits of the people you spend the most time with, so strong social networks of like-minded people are important for supporting healthy behaviors.

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