You may have heard about the Blue Zones, the areas of the world where people live longer and happier lives. (Click here for an article on how the Blue Zones came about.) You also may be wondering just what their secret for healthy aging is. We can tell you it’s not a magic potion or fountain of youth. The answer is how they live—lifestyle traits that residents of Blue Zones share in common—known as the “Power 9” by researchers.
In this article, we’re taking a look at the first 5 of these 9 lifestyle traits. As you consider your approach to successful aging, see how you can find ways to work them into your daily life.
Lifestyle Traits in the Blue Zones: First Five.
There are 5 Blue Zones around the world where people benefit from extreme longevity. They are: Barbagia; Ikaria, Greece; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; and Okinawa, Japan. Here are the first 5 of the 9 lifestyle traits people in these areas share.
1. Move Naturally
Residents of the Blue Zones are on the move. Literally. They don’t spend a lot of time sitting still. They incorporate natural movement in their daily lives. They garden. Ride bicycles. Walk. Hike. Swim. They do their own housework, tend their own lawns and gardens, and perform household maintenance and repairs for themselves. Those who have dogs walk them several times a day.
Their approach to successful aging is finding ways to keep movement in their daily routine and avoid being sedentary. And it’s good medicine. The Centers for Disease Prevention (CDC) reports that taking more steps a day helps lower the risk of premature death from all causes. Just 10 minutes a day can make a world of difference—something to keep in mind when you realize you’ve been sitting too long.
2. Living with Purpose
Blue Zones researchers say having a purpose can add as much as seven years to your life expectancy and is key to successful aging. Dozens of studies have shown that seniors with a sense of purpose are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, disabilities, heart attacks or strokes. It’s just plain good for you to have a reason to get up and out of bed every morning.
Having a purpose can be as simple as joining the walking group for a daily jaunt around the park. Meeting a budding entrepreneur and offering your wisdom. Volunteering in the library. Making sure your pets are fed and exercised. Morning yoga. Lunchtime with a friend.
A person without any sense of purpose is most likely isolating themselves from others. And research tells us that lonely, isolated seniors experience more health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and depression. Earlier mortality is another consequence. Healthy, positive socializing is common in the Blue Zones, and it’s high on the list of successful aging tips.
3. Down-Shift and De-Stress
Stress can be found everywhere, even where the view is magnificent and smiles are common, including in the seemingly idyllic Blue Zones. But there’s a key difference. People living in the Blue Zones know how to outfox stress in a healthy way, every day. For some, that means praying or meditating. Others include a restorative nap in their daily schedule. Yoga, which also helps relieve the painful symptoms of osteoarthritis, is another stress reliever that is a staple of Blue Zones lifestyles.
You’re getting the picture: you can’t escape stress. But if you follow the example of those living in the Blue Zones, you can learn how to shake off its negative effects so it doesn’t interfere with your successful aging.
4. “Hara Hachi Bu”
This Okinawan mantra is one Blue Zones residents say prior to eating a meal to remind themselves to stop eating before they feel full. Instead, they stop when they are no longer hungry. Blue Zone researchers call it the “80% Rule.” It’s practiced throughout the Blue Zones. It signifies eating only until your stomach feels almost full. It might feel odd at first, since so many older adults were raised with the notion of always “cleaning their plates.” But the gap between when you are no longer hungry and when you feel full can help you maintain a healthy weight and avoid obesity.
According to Cleveland Clinic, hara hachi bu originated in the city of Okinawa, where people use this advice as a way to control their eating habits. It’s a big reason why they have one of the lowest rates of illness from heart disease, cancer and stroke, and a long-life expectancy: a great combination for successful aging.
5. Plant Slant
Blue Zones residents eat a primarily plant-based diet. Beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole grains are the core of it. If meat is consumed, it is only a small amount, no more than four or five times a month. Yet eating a plant-based diet doesn’t mean you have to forgo getting adequate levels of protein, calcium and iron. (Think beans, broccoli, spinach, and more.)
This Mediterranean-style diet is a lifestyle trait that is gaining worldwide popularity. It is linked to lower rates of Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
How You Can Create Your Own Healthy Aging Zone.
When you look at these 5 Blue Zones lifestyle traits (and there are 4 more, we’ll review those in an upcoming article), you can see what kind of lifestyle works best for healthy aging—one that is active and engaged, filled with purpose, friends and fun activities. Where people are moving consistently, participating in activities, walking, exercising, and doing tasks. And where eating means not overdoing, and stress is shunned in favor of peaceful reflection.
The good news is you don’t have to pack your bags and fly to an island to achieve successful ageing. You can simply choose a retirement lifestyle that is dedicated to mind, body and spirit, such as you’ll find at a Senior Star Community. We are innovators at creating an atmosphere of healthy aging. And we welcome you to learn more.
Stay tuned for an upcoming article reviewing the next 5 Blue Zones lifestyle traits.
Each day offers something new at Senior Star! Live life on your own terms and fill your days doing what you love most, knowing you’re in an environment dedicated to healthy aging. Questions about senior living? Contact us to learn more. Download our free guide Step-by-Step: Successful Transitions to Senior Living for more helpful information.