Blue Zones: Life Hacks From The World’s Healthiest Countries
Let’s break this down.
Health is at the absolute center of who we are as human beings and with a constantly evolving and shifting world, the overall health of our societies continues to be the foremost challenge facing our populations. A majority of the aspects that dictate whether a country’s population is healthy or not depends on the infrastructure in place for them to live peacefully and access healthcare.
Many of the world’s populations do not have that privilege, but those that do have been able to find ways to thrive and nurture their communities while living unusually healthy and prosperous lives.
What is a Blue Zone?
A study conducted National Geographic set out to document pockets of the world’s healthiest people, with these areas qualifying as Blue Zones. Their criteria was centered around a long life expectancy or places with a large number of people who’ve lived to be over 100.
The four places that met the criteria of a Blue Zone were Sardinia, an island north of Tunisia in the Mediterranean sea, Ikaria in Greece, Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, and Okinawa, Japan. With a team of researchers, medical anthropologists, demographers and more they studied these populations to find similarities between them. Together they came up with nine factors for a healthy and long life.
The world’s longest living people don’t necessarily run marathons or lift weights at the gym. They live in naturally stimulating environments that force them to move. Never overburdened or at an extreme pace, their everyday work enables them to get a consistent amount of exercise.
“The Okinawans call it ‘Ikigai’ and the Nicoyans call it ‘plan de vida;’ for both it translates to ‘why I wake up in the morning.’” Purpose is extremely important to a healthy body, spirit and mind. It allows us to keep a positive perspective, and a growth mindset towards life.
Habits that enable us to take a few moments of mindfulness or prayer in some cultures are extremely beneficial stress relievers. Everyone around the world deals with stress but it’s the cultures and people that have rituals to occasionally downshift that stress that end up living the longest.
“‘Hara hachi bu’ – the Okinawan, 2500-year old Confucian mantra said before meals reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. People in the blue zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then they don’t eat any more the rest of the day,” the study explains. Overeating is a large cause for many of the healthy afflictions plaguing particularly western societies.
Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets.
Wine at 5
People in all of the blue zones studied drink a moderate amount of alcohol everyday. Approximately 1-2 glasses often around dinner time. The important thing to note is that any type of overdrinking is not considered healthy.
“All but five of the 263 centenarians we interviewed belonged to some faith-based community,” explains the Blue Zones study, “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.” Religion plays an important role in community, tribe and purpose. It provides a solid mindset to overcome life’s biggest challenges.
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 children in the home too.). They commit to a life partner (which can add up to 3 years of life expectancy) and invest in their children with time and love (They’ll be more likely to care for you when the time comes).” A loving and strong family system is extremely important to a long life.
Having social circles that prompted healthy behaviors is a major aspect in living a healthy life. Our social network is a large dictator of where we end up. “Okinawans created ‘moais’–groups of five friends that committed to each other for life. Research shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. So the social networks of long-lived people have favorably shaped their health behaviors.”
The focus around all of these places, and even in the large communities that surround them is that diet is one of the most important aspects to a long and healthy life. What we put into our bodies is the most significant characteristic that determines that state of our physical and even mental health. It’s important to remember that a natural diet will save you from a majority of life’s greatest illnesses.
Built To Move
Movement is also a major aspect to a healthy life as humans were not built for, and did not evolve to be sedentary creatures. Sitting at a desk all day looking over a screen with a hunched-over back is bound to have long term effects on individual and population quality of health.
It’s important to work exercise into your daily regimen as a natural movement. One that is consistent throughout the day. Skip the escalator to jog up the stairs, find easy ways to keep your heart rate at above average. Consistent and daily effort into your physical health is important for longevity.
Key Takeaways for a Healthy Life
Although many of the world’s healthiest countries rely on powerful institutions and government funding to achieve a high quality of life, there are important lessons to be learned from all corners of the globe. At its crux, a powerful and natural diet, consistent exercise, are the keystones to a long life. However, research also shows that many other important factors play a part, such as a feeling of belonging, a tribe to rely on, and knowing how to shift stress at the right time so as to not have a serious effect on our health.
It can be extremely difficult to take care of ourselves but without our health nothing is achievable. It’s important to note these lessons but also think of ways we can all add to a better global health system for all the world’s citizens.