Studies of the healthiest people in ‘Blue Zones’ around world, found that while their locations were geographically many miles apart, there were common diet and lifestyle factors that tied these people together. As we approach the New Year it can be tempting to embark on a new fad diet or make unrealistic fitness plans that are only likely to crash and burn before January’s out. Instead of getting sucked into ‘New Year New You’ extremes, try and work some healthier habits into your routine that will last long term.
Here are nine lessons from the world’s healthiest ‘Blue Zones’ inhabitants to kick start your New Year.
You won’t find the world’s healthiest people at the gym pumping iron, or training for an ultra-marathon. But nor will you find spending excessive time bingeing on Netflix. They live in active environments. Many of them work the land and live without the modern technologies that allow us to become lazy. So next time you need to pick up some essentials, walk instead of driving and identify ways you can build more natural activity into your everyday life.
Having a purpose to your day or reason to keep going is reportedly worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy. What was your reason for getting out of bed this morning? What’s your purpose? Figuring out the answer might just improve your life expectancy.
Coping with stress is essential to leading a healthy life. People in the Blue Zones have rituals and routines to combat stress, such as happy hour in Sardinia, a daily nap in Ikaria, or a prayer for ancestors in Okinawa. Try making time for meditation in your routine, or schedule regular breaks for self-care.
EAT UNTIL YOU’RE 80% FULL
A great tip for you if you’re planning to lose weight and improve your relationship with food. ‘Hara hachi bu,’ an Okinawan mantra said before meals, reminds diners to stop when they are 80% full. Overeating is a key cause of obesity, so eat slowly and chew thoroughly giving your brain time to recognise when your stomach is getting full. People in the Blue Zones also often eat their smallest meal of the day last.
It’s plant-based elements that link the diets of the healthiest nations. Beans, including fava, black, lentils and soy are at the centre of most centenarian’s diets. Meat is eaten on average only five times per month so think carefully about the quality and quantity of meat you’re eating.
The longest-lived people in the world (except the Seventh Day Adventists) actually tend to drink small amounts of alcohol, typically in a social environment. So, cancel your weekend binge (sorry) and enjoy one or two glasses of wine (choose a low-sugar option) a couple of times a week with a healthy meal and people you love.
Of those interviewed, 258 out of 263 centenarians were part of a faith-based community. In fact, it has been shown that attending these faith-based services each week could add upwards of four years to your life expectancy.
Those that lived longest in the Blue Zones kept ageing family members in the home or nearby and put the care of their children and family members at the top of their priority list. It’s not surprising that having loved ones around to help look after you can increase your life expectancy. And ‘family’ doesn’t always have to mean blood relatives.
THE RIGHT CROWD
People living in the Blue Zones were often part of social circles, by birth, or by choice, that encouraged and supported healthy behaviours. So choose friends who exhibit healthy behaviours, as smoking, obesity and even loneliness can be contagious, research suggests.
Dan Buettner is an explorer, award-winning journalist and author of The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. The five ‘Blue Zones’ are: Barbagia region of Sardinia; Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California; Okinawa, Japan