The blue zones are these truly fascinating areas of the planet where people live longer and healthier lives than other places. They were identified by National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner as having more people aged 100 or older than other areas. (Note: We are fans of the blue zones, but are not affiliated with Mr. Buettner or his company.)
And, the big kicker to me about the blue zones is: The people living there are, whether they are 89, 99, or 109, healthy, happy, have a sense of purpose, and are still mentally and physically active. They are not in nursing homes - most of them still live in their own homes or with family. They are not dementia patients - most of them can recall their childhoods and still remember what they did yesterday. They are not bed-ridden - most of them still walk and move about regularly, some even gardening and lifting.
As a follower of the blue zones research for many years, I have become very interested with getting these results as I age. But, what exactly are these pillars that the centenarians in the blue zones have been able to abide by to stay so young even at an advanced age?
The Nine Pillars
Moving naturally: Their lifestyles prompt them to move naturally - about every 20 minutes or so. They are not sitting at a desk all day (like I am) nor are they spending hours pumping iron at a gym - their lives push them to move naturally.
Purpose in life: They know why they are here. They feel a sense of purpose each day when they wake up. It keeps them going.
Down shift - de-stress: Stress is associated with inflammation, which is responsible for nearly every disease of aging. Blue Zones people are able to de-stress and turn themselves off when needed.
80% rule: Hara hachi bu. I remember the first time I heard this phrase. I thought it was like a Japanese version of a prayer. It is and it isn't. What it means is to eat only until satisfied. It shows respect for the human body and respect for the food by not over-consuming, which would make the human heavier and would leave less food for others to enjoy. It simply means eat until you are about 80% full. Simple.
Go mostly plant-based: Most of the blue zones are in areas where people still tend their own gardens and live a simple, somewhat meager life. The centenarians living there remember times when there was little food. It has given them more respect for what they themselves can create. Thus, their diets focus more on whole foods - foods grown naturally in their own or neighborhood gardens, breads cooked daily by the local baker (not full of preservatives or wrapped in plastic), and lots of beans. Plant-based eating is not only better for your body, it is better for the world as it creates fewer greenhouse gases and less pressure for resources.
Wine @ 5: Most of the cultures in the blue zones enjoy socializing, and one of the ways they do this is to enjoy happy hour with friends. It's a pretty easy way to shake off the stress of the day, gather for fun and laughs with your pals, and indulge in a bit of wine.
A sense of belonging: Many of the blue zones cultures are still church-going people. Their churches provide a sense of belonging - a group to worship with, but also a community to help thrive. Many churches offer events for the community and provide another way to get to know your neighbors.
Focus on families: Families are not often separated by far distances in the blue zones. It is very common for parents, children, and grandchildren to live very close by if not with each other. This provides extra hands to help with children, passes down family history and stories, and provides a safe place for aging parents to enjoy their retirement and their grandchildren.
Social circles: Finding your tribe or your group of people is so important in blue zones. These are the people you will rely on outside of your family. You will join them regularly for walks, for art classes, for Wine @ 5, and they will be an extension of your family. In some cultures, these dedicated groups are called Moai. You might have heard of the Moai rock sculptures - a popular tourist destination on Easter Island. These social circles are similar - a group, bound together, in friendship and love.
By adopting some or all of these principles, each of us can improve our own lives - our health, our happiness, our sense of purpose and belonging. And, while perhaps we don't live to be 100, we can certainly improve our health enough to enjoy whatever years we have remaining!By adopting some or all of these principles, each of us can improve our own lives - our health, our happiness, our sense of purpose and belonging. And, while perhaps we don't live to be 100, we can certainly improve our health enough to enjoy whatever years we have remaining!
To Your Health!
Source material on the 9 Pillars: https://www.bluezones.com/2016/11/power-9/