The number of Australian’s living to 100 (or more) has significantly increased in the last 50 years. But compared to populations in the ‘Blue Zones’, we still have a long way to go!
People living in the five places commonly identified as ‘Blue Zones’ have been noted to live longer and experience less chronic disease than the rest of us. But why is this so? Research tells us that there are four daily habits that all five populations in the Blue Zones share – and these could just be the true ‘secret’ to longer life. So what are they? And can they work for you too? In this article we take a look at the four daily habits the longest living people on earth share – and give you some quick tips to help you easily implement them into your own life.
Where are the Blue Zones?
The term ‘Blue Zones’ was first coined by Dan Buettner in an article for National Geographic in 2005. It followed on from earlier research conducted by Gianni Pes and Michael Poulain who identified five longevity hot spots. They are:
- Okinawa, Japan
- Sardinia, Italy
- Nicoya, Costa Rica
- Ikaria, Greece
- Loma Linda, California.
Why do people there live longer?
While your lifespan is influenced by a range of factors (such as genetics and susceptibility to disease) it’s clear that lifestyle choices play a key role. Those living in the Blue Zones share key lifestyle habits which although seem deceptively simple in isolation, together, they are powerful. Below, we look at each of the four habits more closely.
1. Eat plenty of plant-based foods
It’s no secret that eating a healthy diet is good for you. But with so many different opinions and fads, it can be difficult to identify exactly what a healthy diet is! Those in the Blue Zones keep it pretty simple, enjoying a diet that includes mostly plant-based foods such as vegetable, grains, legumes and seeds. They eat little in the way of processed foods and consume less dairy and meat than most other populations.
Tip: Next time you do your grocery shop, notice what’s in your trolley. Is there lots of fruit, veggies and grains? Or is it a little heavy on the cans, jars, boxes and other packaged food? If you think there’s room for improvement, try swapping out things one meal at a time. Dust off your cookbooks (or jump online) and find some healthy recipe inspiration. Whether you opt for a meat-free day, or just choose a recipe that includes plenty of plant-based ingredients, you’ll feel better and might just live longer.
2. Daily exercise and an active lifestyle
Exercise is another obvious healthy habit. But staying active doesn’t have to mean attending a class or forcing yourself to go the gym. The people in the Blue Zone opt for a more balanced and gentle approach. Many of their daily activities are movement-based such as walking, gardening or working on their farm. It is thought that because these activities are low-impact and part of their routine, they are easier to sustain.
Tip: Experts generally agree that 30 minutes (or more) of activity a day is ideal. If you struggle to maintain an exercise regime, why not re-frame how you look at it? When you include household chores, gardening, walking (whether it’s around the block, at the shops, or on the golf course), or the many other incidental activities that require you to be active, your 30 minutes a day suddenly becomes achievable.
3. Maintaining a connection to community
While eating well and staying active are hardly surprising additions to this list, when it comes to your health, the importance of strong social networks is something a little less obvious. When you feel supported and connected to people in your family, friends and wider community it’s great for your sense of wellbeing and your longevity. You’re less likely to experience stress and loneliness, which have both been linked to ill health and chronic disease.
Tip: Retirees are at a higher risk of isolation and loneliness once their working days are done, so maintain connections as a priority. Organise regular catch ups with family and friends, or if they’re not local, call them. Aim to make new connections too, by joining a club, group or volunteer organisation. The effort is well worth it, both in the short and longer term.
4. Having a clear sense of purpose
Another common factor is having a strong sense of purpose – in other words, something that gets you excited to get up in the morning. A great example of this is ‘ikigai’ in the Okinawa region in Japan. It translates roughly to ‘that which makes one’s life worth living’ and the concept is now gaining traction in the West, with a number of recent books published on the subject. Rediscovering a sense of purpose after work is something that many retirees struggle with and it’s important to spend some time exploring your hobbies, passions and interests to discover something that sparks your interest. Finding your purpose provides motivation to get up and enjoy each day, as well as being beneficial for your health.
Tip: It can be difficult to find a spark after so many years of focusing on work and raising a family. But don’t despair – your calling is out there! It may be a long-lost hobby, or something new. It could be gardening, painting, writing, volunteering… the possibilities are endless. Explore what’s out there and keep looking until you find it. Because a purpose in life makes a massive difference.
Simple, Effective and Achievable
While the above four habits are hardly a ‘secret’ the people in the Blue Zone are living proof of what adopting these daily habits can achieve. So if the prospect of living a longer, healthier and happier life appeals to you, look for ways to adopt these four habits into your daily life today!
Over to You
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