Avoid the Blues By Staying in the Blue Zone

Why It Matters

• Centenarians have much to teach us.

• The right friendships add length and quality to our lives.

• Loneliness can have an ill effect on your life—and actually shorten it. Plus it’s contagious.

• It takes a village to get to triple digits.

Lori Mayfield tkc.profilePicture Written by: Lori Mayfield | Transamerica
May 31, 2017

2 Min readClock Icon

Financially speaking, especially as you inch toward retirement, we all know aiming to stay in the black instead of the red is sage advice. But did you know staying “in the blue” could be equally as important?

Blue Zones Project® according to its website, is a community-led initiative designed to influence a city’s environment, policy, and social networks to make healthy choices easier.” Established in 2010, Blue Zones Project is inspired by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and New York Times best-selling author who identified five regions of the world—or Blue Zones®—with the highest concentration of people living to 100 years or older,” the website says.

The name “blue zone” comes from the blue circles drawn in a Venn diagram from three of the five populations of centenarians studied. Buettner identifies Sardinia, Italy as the population of the oldest living men; Okinawa, Japan for the oldest living women; and Loma Linda, California, as the hot spot for long-living folks of both genders in North America. In the “blue zone” or sweet spot of the Venn diagram, he identified commonalities of the three populations.

A team of medical researchers, anthropologists, demographers, and epidemiologists looked at the blue zone and came up with nine common denominators they call, “the Power 9® lifestyle.” So, what are these nine traits you can adopt to add years to your life?

1. Move Naturally

Far from being gym rats, these triple digit folks simply live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving unconsciously. They tend their own gardens and keep up their homes—inside and out, well into their platinum years. This is right on par with the American Heart Association’s recommendation of getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week. Consider taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Parking your car further away to get in a few more steps. Or better yet, biking to the store.

2. Find Purpose

It turns out that finding a reason to get out of bed in the morning can add up to seven years to your lifespan, according to the researchers in the Blue Zone study. To keep yourself from getting stuck in a rut, seek out volunteering opportunities in your community, like-minded groups of people to enjoy activities with, or even a part-time job in retirement.

3. Down Shift

Chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease, can come from stress. The world’s longest-lived people have developed ways to shed stress effectively. Okinawans carve out time daily to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a siesta, and Sardinians do happy hour. Consider your daily rituals and make time for stress-relieving reflection or meditation every day.

4. 80% Rule

“Bon appetit”? No way. Instead, Okinawans bid a healthy “Hara hachi bu,” a 2,500-year old Confucian mantra to remind them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full. The 20% gap could be the difference between losing or gaining weight. Largest meals are consumed before early evening and then nothing more the rest of the day.

5. Plant Slant

With the exception of vegetarian Adventists, blue zone peeps eat mostly pork, only five times a month in serving sizes of just 3-4 ounces, Buettner found. The rest? Veggies and fruit. Consider cutting back on how much red meat you consume and incorporating a diet rich in plant-based food.

6. Wine @ 5

Alcohol for all blue zoners (except teetotaling Adventists) is consumed in moderation and regularly. Curiously, moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. The key is only one to two glasses per day (preferably Sardinian Cannonau wine), with friends and food. This is similar to what is suggested in the federal government’s 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines.

7. Belief and Belong

The Blue Zones Project researchers found most of the centenarians they interviewed were part of faith-based communities. It’s about connecting to fellowship and something bigger than yourself.

8. Loved Ones First

Family first. In Blue Zones, aging elders are kept nearby, they tend to have a life partner, and to invest in their children.

9. Right Tribe

Long lifers have social circles that support healthy behaviors, the Blue Zones Project found, which echoes research by other experts. Add longevity to your life by cutting ties with Debbie Downers and embrace friends who lift you up.

This movement is sweeping the nation to get people connected in their communities, moving, and finding purpose. It’s more than building walkable neighborhoods. Even in established suburbs, it’s about building bridges across generations to unite people in a positive way. As the saying goes, money may make you wealthy, but friends make you rich. Interested in learning more about how you might start the trend in your neighborhood? Check out The Blue Zones Project.

Things to Consider:

• Find a reason to get up each day.

• Choose friends wisely and ditch frenemies or other friends with bad habits.

• Get moving more often and stay active every day.

• Eat healthy (more plants, less animals.) Quit before you’re full.

• Drink only two glasses of alcohol a day. Wine, preferably with food and friends.

• Find a higher power. Connect with it and a fellowship of like-minded people.

• Shed stress. Find a practice to let go, whether it’s meditation, yoga, or something else.

• Cherish loved ones— young and old.

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