A few years ago my husband and I had the great opportunity to meet Dan Buettner who is a world cyclist, adventurer, researcher and author of health books The Blue Zones and Thrive.

His talk was about his research into the healthiest communities in the world.

He started out by asking the audience of 100 adults a powerful question:

“Did you walk or bike to school as a kid?” Every one of us raised our hand.

“Do your kids walk or bike to school now?” Not one person raised their hand.

That got our attention Dan!

His research was inspired by the Danish Twin Studies, among others, which established that only 25% of how long the average person lives is dictated by genes. In other words almost 80% of how long and how well you live is up to you. 

Beginning in 2004 Dan, along with longevity geneticists, medical researchers, anthropologists, demographic scientists, epidemiologists funded by National Geographic, identified pockets of people across the world who live the longest and are the happiest.

Then they went to visit them!

They were searching for evidence-based common denominators among all places.

They termed these healthy pockets “Blue Zones.”

In these Blue Zones they found that people reach age 100 at rates 10 times greater than in the United States! And they have astoundingly low incredible lower rates of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, those big and nasty killers in the US. Here is what else they found.

9 common traits in Blue Zone members:

1. They move naturally all day.

The world’s longest-lived people don’t just pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about.

Think: Do I really need to drive to the library or grocery store? Can I walk or ride a bike? Can I get a stand up desk? Take a walk at lunch outside? Get a dog and walk it?

2. They know their Purpose. 

The Okinawans call it “Ikigai” and the Nicoyans in Costa Rica call it “plan de vida;” for both it translates to “why I wake up in the morning.” Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy!!!

Identify what you are passionate about and pursue it as your purpose daily.

3. They take time to Down Shift.

They experience stress like we do. But they take time to relax every day. Okinawans take a few moments each day in the am to remember their ancestors, Seventh DayAdventists (Lomo Linda, CA) pray, Ikarians (Greece) take a nap and Sardinians (Italy) do happy hour with friends.

Take time to relax, meditate, and give thanks daily. We know stress leads to chronic inflammation which contributes to very major age-related disease. Why feed the monster?

4. They stop eating when they are just 80% full.
“Hara hachi bu” –Is the  Okinawan, 2500-year old Confucian mantra said before meals which reminds Okinawans to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full.

Think. Do you really need that extra helping?

5. They eat a lot of beans and plants.

They have a “Plant Slant.” They eat what they grow too. Vegetables and beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the basics of most centenarian diets. Meat—mostly pork—is eaten on average only five times per month.

Start small: Double daily intake of beans and veggies.

6. They enjoy wine moderately. 

People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly with friends and/or with food. Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers in these zones. The trick is to drink 1-2 glasses per day (preferably Sardinian Cannonau wine says Dan).

If you can drink just 1 or 2, do.

7. They have a faith-based community. 

All but five of the 263 centenarians they interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. Denomination doesn’t seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy!

We need God and each other. Find a faith community and connect.

8. They put loved ones first. 

Successful centenarians in the Blue Zones put their families first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home (It lowers disease and mortality rates of elders and children).  Neighbors of all ages are also active in visiting other families and learning from elders.

Have you talked to or hugged your family lately? Checked in with your neighbor?

9. They have like-minded friends

Dan said,

“The world’s longest lived people chose–or were born into–social circles that supported healthy behaviors, Okinawans created ”moais”–groups of five friends that committed to each other for life.

Research from the Framingham Nurses Studies shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. So the social networks of long-lived people have favorably shaped their health behaviors.”

Connect with a healthy, caring tribe daily.

It is so interesting that 6, 7,8 and 9 are all about the power of connecting in community.

Try to apply some of these tips today and let me know how it goes.

Check out Dans new mission – Creating Blue Zones across the US! http://www.bluezones.com/live-happier/thrive-centers/

Fin! Amy