Want to Live beyond 100?: Lessons for Longevity from the World’s Blue Zones
By Debananda S. Ningthoujam, PhD
Do you wish to live past age 100? It’s rare to find centenarians (people who are 100 or more years of age) in most parts of the world. However, an intrepid traveler, National Geographic scholar, and explorer found regions of the world where there are exceptionally high densities of centenarians. He has called these places the Blue Zones.
Who is this amazing explorer?
Dan Buettner is an unusual man. He is a National Geographic Fellow, and a New York Times-bestselling author. He has been an explorer, educator, writer, producer, storyteller and public speaker. He has co-produced an Emmy Award winning documentary and he holds three Guinness records for endurance cycling.
Buettner has also founded two organizations: The Blue Zones and Blue Zones LLC.
Having heard about a high percentage of people living long, healthy lives in Okinawa, Japan; he and his team took an expedition to Okinawa in 2000 to find out their longevity secrets. He has subsequently identified other regions in our planet where there are unusually large concentrations of centenarians. He named these places “the Blue Zones.” He has subsequently written eponymous articles in National Geographic, eponymous books, and founded eponymous organizations.
What are the Blue Zones?
These regions are the hotspots of longevity in the world. These are the places where people live much longer than average. More importantly, they not only live longer but also lead healthier and happier lives. Besides Okinawa, Buettner has discovered 4 other zones of longevity. These five places currently constitute our Planet’s Blue Zones.
The currently known blue zones are the following:
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.
Loma Linda, California.
Interestingly, majority of these blue zones are located in islands or hilly terrains. Another interesting fact is that Loma Linda citizens are Seventh-day Adventists.
Secrets of the Blue Zones
Buettner and his research team have assiduously extracted 9 longevity lessons from their painstaking studies of the world’s blue zones. These longevity lessons are:
Have a Purpose.
Perform de-stressing rituals.
Follow 80% Rule (in eating).
Eat plant-based diet (cut down meat consumption).
Drink wine moderately but regularly.
Have a sense of belonging to a spiritual or religious community.
Spend quality time with near and dear ones.
Develop strong social networks.
People in the blue zones move naturally throughout the day as a part of their walking, gardening and household work activities. They have a strong sense of purpose in life. The Okinawans have a word for it, ikigai. Ikigai is ‘the reason for living’, what the French calls “raison d’être” and what the Nicoyans call ‘plan de vida.’ It’s the reason why you feel like getting up in the morning and carrying on with the day’s business: be it teaching, doing research, news reporting, presenting TV programs or doing social work etc.
Blue zone citizens add stress-relieving rituals into their daily lives. Loma Lindans, who are Seventh-Day Adventists pray, Ikarians take a daily nap, and Sardinians have what day call ‘the Happy hour.”
People in the blue zones stop eating when they are 80% full, consume mostly plant-based food especially beans, vegetables, fresh fruits, nuts and whole grains (they take meat sparingly), sip wine moderately but regularly.
They participate in a faith-based community, spend quality time with close family members (spouses, parents, grandparents, and grandchildren), and maintain close friendships and strong social networks.
Okinawans have a strong sense of ikigai; in fact, they don’t have a word for retirement, they have an unstoppable urge for working, not just working for money, but also working for serving others, serving friends and older people; and for betterment of the community.
The aforementioned 9 principles have been termed by Buettner as the Blue Zones Power 9.
Blue zones of the Future
Buettner has recently launched the Blue Zones Project in several cities spread across the United States. Forth Worth, Texas is now on the way to becoming a certified Blue Zone community. The citizens are increasingly moving towards lowered smoking rates, obesity, and chronic diseases. In Beach Cities in California, smoking, and obesity rates have declined to half the national average after launching of the blue zone project. In Albert Lea, Minnesota, in just one year of starting the project, citizens have added about 2.9 years to their projected life spans. Fifteen (15) Communities in Iowa have also committed themselves to the blue zone lifestyle with dramatic doubling in their health and well-being. Similar blue zone movements have been launched in selected cities in Oregon, Texas, Hawaii, Florida, Oklahoma, abd Wisconsin etc.
All these blue zone communities are now experiencing longer, healthier, and happier lives with dramatic changes in their school, college, work, and home lives.
Altogether, there are now 42 blue zone project cities across the US which are being developed as blue zone communities which are moving toward longer, happier and healthier lives.
If we want our city to be a blue zone community, the recipe is clear:
move naturally during the day: develop footpaths and cycling paths; nurture a sense of purpose (ikigai); pray/nap/relax; stop eating when 80% full or practice intermittent fasting; consume plant-based diet especially nuts, fresh fruits, beans, whole grains and fresh organic vegetables; drink wine moderately but regularly; belong to a spiritual or religious community, spend quality-time with your close relatives; and maintain healthy friendships and strong social networks.
Aspiring blue zone citizens: let’s together strive for a longer, healthier and happier life!
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