Regional culture has a surprising amount of control over long-term health outcomes. For example, we know that certain areas of the Deep South are particularly prone to heart disease and stroke, which obviously leads to a shorter average lifespan. It's not all doom and gloom, though! There is exciting research exploring areas where inhabitants tend to live exceptionally long lives. Dan Buettner is an explorer, author, and National Geographic Fellow. He seeks out locations where residents routinely live beyond 100 years old and refers to them as Blue Zones.
Blue Zones are dispersed all over the world, but the lives of the people in these places share many characteristics. Buettner visited a number of these areas and sought to determine their similarities. Blue Zones that Buettner interacted with include Nicoya, Loma Linda, Icaria, Okinawa, and Sardinia.
Active Lifestyle for a Long Life
A sedentary lifestyle is the bane of health. People in Blue Zones are very active and often agrarian. People in these areas tend to walk and bike rather than use cars, and they work with their hands and bodies instead of being locked in an office all day. Farming and herding are common practices in Blue Zones.
Purpose and Meaning Breed Longevity
Purpose is the engine that drives longevity. The Will to Live is one of the most powerful motivators, and without it, even relatively healthy people can fall into decline. Blue Zone peoples tend to have ideologies that encourage purpose. Costa Rica calls it “el plan de vida,” and Okinawa calls it “ikigai.” These areas also tend to be highly interpersonal and social, with large family and friend groups.
Managing Stress to Protect Life Force
There are few things more hazardous to longevity than stress. Anxiety and stress eat away at the resources that the body uses to maintain hormone balance and sustain preservation mechanisms. Regions where people live longer usually move slower or have built-in means to curb stress, including siestas, meditation, light social drinking, prayer, or ritual.
Eat Well Bit with Self Control
People in Okinawa have a highly effective diet strategy that helps facilitate their long lives. They follow a Confucian belief that one should only eat until they are 80% full, known as “hara hachi bu.” This practice helps prevent gorging and builds willpower. Blue Zone Centenarians also tend to eat low or modest quantities of meat with an emphasis on complex carbs and vegetables.
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