The Blue Zones® are five regions in the world where people seem to live the longest, and some researchers believe they may hold the secrets to healthy aging. In these regions – Sardinia, Italy; the Greek island of Ikaria; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica and Okinawa, Japan – residents share common lifestyle traits that have been identified as helping them to live healthier, happier and longer lives. Here’s how you can incorporate these traits, known as the Power 9®, into your daily life.
Healthy Aging with The Power 9®
While it’s surprising that residents in regions so geographically dispersed could have so much common ground in their lifestyles, even more surprising is how simple these traits are in practice. The Power 9® includes:
1. Move Naturally – Keep moving daily and avoid being sedentary.
Rather than pumping iron, running marathons or joining gyms, Blue Zones residents live in environments that often don’t have the modern conveniences we’re used to, so they do most things themselves which keeps them moving without thinking about it. In your life, simply reduce the amount of time you’re sedentary. Gardening, pushing a lawnmower, walking the dog or anything that can raise your heart rate and keep you moving counts.
2. Purpose – Find a reason to get up and out of bed every day.
It’s called “Ikigai” by the Okinawans and “Plan de Vida” by the Nicoyans; both translate to “Why I wake up in the morning.” And it’s this purpose that Blue Zones’ researchers say can add up to seven years to your life expectancy. To find or renew yours, make time to enjoy your favorite hobbies and try new things like joining a club, taking a class to learn a new skill or volunteering.
3. Down Shift – Create a daily routine that helps you reduce stress.
Certainly, Blue Zone residents have stress in their daily lives just like us, but where they differ is that they have set daily routines to help them reduce its effects on their health like taking moments each day to remember their ancestors (Okinawans), praying (Adventists), taking a nap (Ikarians) and enjoying happy hour (Sardinians). You might also consider meditation, mindfulness, keeping a gratitude journal and even getting more sleep, ideally seven to nine hours a night.
4. Hara Hachi Bu – Stop eating before you feel full, otherwise known as the 80% rule.
This is actually a 2,500-year-old Confucian mantra that’s said by Okinawans before meals to remind them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. According to Blue Zones’ researchers, that 20 percent gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference in losing weight or gaining it. Portion control is key to maintaining a healthy weight, particularly as you age. Also, try eating your smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening like Blue Zone residents do.
5. Plant Slant – Eat a mostly plant-based diet.
Beans – fava, black, soy and lentils - are a cornerstone of the diet in Blue Zones. In fact, meat is only eaten around five times per month and even then, it’s usually pork. This is similar to what’s often called a “Mediterranean diet.” In addition to beans, the diet also includes fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains and legumes. Don’t worry, it doesn’t mean that you should never eat meat or dairy, just that you are proportionately choosing more of your foods from plant sources.
6. Wine @ 5 – Drink alcohol regularly, but always in moderation.
In Blue Zones, wine is most often enjoyed with food and/or in the company of friends. Researchers cite Sardinian Cannonau wine most often, but the idea is that the powerful plant compounds in red wine have been linked with a variety of health benefits. What’s most important is that regardless of how regularly you drink it; you do so in moderation – one to two glasses a day, max.
7. Belong – Participate in some type of faith-based community.
Blue Zones’ researchers found that attending faith-based services four times per month will add four to 14 years to your life expectancy. Denomination doesn’t matter, just that you regularly participate. Now, many religious services can be found online as well as in-person which makes it even easier to attend, regardless of transportation or mobility challenges.
8. Loved Ones First – Put family first as you make decisions.
In Blue Zones, you’ll often find multiple generations of family in the same home or at least nearby. Residents also commit to a life partner which researchers say can add up to three years to your life expectancy. Regardless of your living situation, the key is to stay connected with family by making a point to spend quality time together, support each other, help each other and include each other in your daily lives.
9. Right Tribe – Have a circle of friends that shares your commitment to healthy aging.
“Moais” is the Okinawan word for groups of five friends who are committed to each other for life, and research in Blue Zones has found that whether they chose or were born into their social circles, the networks of residents have favorably shaped their health behaviors. Ideally, your network of friends will be as committed to healthy aging as you, but if not, consider opportunities to expand your circle. Ideas might be to create a neighborhood walking group, join a class at the gym or look for local events and activities in which you might meet new people.
Healthy Aging in Senior Living
Senior living communities like ours support healthy aging as well. Here you have a tribe of friends and neighbors, as well as a dedicated Lifestyle Director who plans a full calendar of fun and engaging options each month from fitness and enrichment programs to social events, activities and outings. Not to mention our chef-inspired dining experience and maintenance-free living!
For more information, download our Guide to Living Better or contact us today to schedule a tour by calling 540.777.7103.