The ‘Power 9’ rules for long and healthy living
Have you ever heard of the Blue Zones? I hadn’t, until recently and when I did, I got very curious. Blue zones are the five regions in the world where people live the healthiest and longest life (statistically).
Where are the Blue Zones?
The five blue zones are Okinawa in Japan, Barbagia region of Sardinia in Italy, Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica, Icaria in Greece and Seventh Day Adventists living in Loma Linda in California. While all the areas have the highest number of healthy and independently living 90-year-olds and centenarians in the world, Icarians have about 20% lower rates of cancer, 50% lower rates of heart disease and almost no dementia.
What helps residents of these zones to live healthy and long life free of common lifestyle diseases? It’s exactly that….the lifestyle. Although the blue zones are so far away from each other, they all share nine lifestyle characteristics that contribute to their longevity, health and happiness. These so-called ‘Power 9’ have been determined by a team of medical researchers, anthropologists, demographers and epidemiologists.
1. Constant and Natural Movement
Blue Zoners engage in moderate, regular physical activity without thinking about it. Instead of going to gym or running marathons, they walk everywhere, carry shopping, and clean and maintain their houses and gardens. Pretty much what people used to do before they came up with all the technologies to make our lives more comfy and convenient.
2. Life of Purpose
Numerous studies have suggested that finding a purpose in life lowers risk of mortality above and beyond other factors contributing to longevity. The Association of Psychological Science firmly stands behind a theory that finding a direction in life, and setting key goals for what you want to achieve can help you actually live longer, regardless of when you find your purpose. 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.” Apparently, knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy. What’s your why???
3. Stress Reduction
We all know that constantly stressing is bad both mentally and physically as it leads to chronic inflammation associated with many lifestyle diseases and premature aging. Although Blue Zoners are not immune to stress, they have some excellent stress-management techniques, which they practice daily. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians do happy hour.
4. Moderate Calories Intake
Pretty much all Blue Zoners live by the well-known saying: Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper. They eat until about 80% full, have a very small early dinner and fast until the next morning. Moderate to low-calorie intake has been linked to longevity decades ago and recent research suggests that having a last meal at around 4-5 pm is one of the best anti-inflammatory and anti-ageing methods. This is due to the circadian rhythm including the ‘gut clock’. Our stomach needs to be empty after dark to be the most efficient in producing cell-repairing and anti-ageing chemicals. Fasting during the day and eating in the evening is therefore not very efficient if you are after longevity and anti-ageing.
5. Plant-iful Diet
According to science, the best is diet is mainly plant-based, with small amounts of good quality animal foods and ‘good fats’, as it is low in calories and high in nutrients. Think fresh fruits, vegetables and legumes with moderate amounts of organic grass-fed meat/fish/poultry/eggs/dairy (80g per serving), some nuts and seeds, good quality oils (i.e. olive oil) and no or minimally processed foods and artificial additives. Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the foundation of most centenarian diets.
6. Moderate Alcohol Intake, Especially Wine
Blue Zoners don’t binge on beers and spirits and neither they drink to de-stress after a 14-hour day at work. They have daily 1-2 glasses of natural good quality wine free of additives. They drink their wine slowly with friends and/or with dinner, enjoying every sip.
7. Spirituality or Religion
Spirituality and religion can provide a sense of belonging and purpose, faith, gratitude, forgiveness, and feelings of hope, optimism and altruism, which impacts our mental well being by reducing anxiety and related disorders. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy. Furthermore, numerous studies propose, that regular prayer, meditation and belonging to a faith community can lower blood pressure, boost immune function, improve sleep, enhance recovery from illness and reduce risk of heart disease and cancer. Spiritual practices also thicken the brain cortex making us more resistant to depression.
8. Family Life
Blue Zoners are family-oriented. They don’t move out of their village because they want to stay close to their aging parents and grandparents. They often even live under one roof with them, which also lowers disease and mortality rates of children in the house. Blue Zoners generally don’t stay single and divorces are rare. They commit to a life partner (which can add up to 3 years of life expectancy by the way) and invest in their children with time and love. Being surrounded with loved ones and feeling the security of having someone to care for you when you get very old has a similar calming effect as belonging to a religion.
9. Right Tribe
Choosing the right tribe (ore being born into it) is one of the key factors for healthy and long life as research shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. As they say, we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Social relationships are thought to help improve health either by soothing individuals in stressful situations or creating a norm of healthful behaviours. A recent meta-study revealed that adults get a 50% boost in longevity if they have a solid social network.