Would you like to live to 100? It’s a far-fetched plan for many of us; hitting centenarian status happens for less than 2 out of every 10,000 people in the United States. And experts agree that when it comes to years, quantity doesn’t matter if you don’t have quality.
“The question is if you live to be 100 years old, what sort of 100-year-old are you going to be? Are you going to be bedridden and unable to take care of yourself? Or are you going to be reasonably independent and alert?” said Steven N. Austad, Ph.D., who studies the cellular and molecular mechanisms of aging at the University of Texas Health Center at San Antonio. “To me, that’s what the best health practices can really have an impact on.”
So, how do you live for more than 100 years in a healthy happy way? People in five distinct regions of the globe seem to have an answer. They’re called the Blue Zones: Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Ogliastra Region, Sardinia; Loma Linda, Calif.; and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. And while their strategies are different and unique, they have one thing in common: lifestyle. They don’t reach that age because they’re following some diet or exercising religiously. They get there because the way they live optimizes the length of time the body and mind can exist on this plane.
According to Blue Zone researcher Dan Buettner, people in the Blue Zones make nine lifestyle choices that help them live a long, healthy life. These evidence-based common denominators are called the Power Nine.
1. Move in normal life.
While we spend a lot of time and money worrying about gym memberships, body fitness routines and strenuous activity that we need to make space for in our busy lives, people living in the Blue Zones don’t work out, they move naturally, without thinking about it. Their lifestyles push them to move throughout the day, whether that’s hiking mountains while herding goats, or tending the gardens that provide their vegetables. Figure out ways to move more throughout the day in your own environment, rather than scheduling time to do an hour of fitness after 12 hours of sitting.
2. Create purpose in your life.
In Blue Zones, people know why they wake up in the morning. They feel content in their lives, they know where they are going and why, and they are not in a hurry to get there. They don’t have to prove themselves to anyone. Feeling the purpose in your life can add up to seven years of life expectancy.
3. Less stress.
Stress leads to chronic inflammation, and that inflammation is associated with every single age-related illness. There is nowhere in the world where people don’t experience overload and stress, but the difference is that people in the Blue Zones know how to decompress before burnout. Some take naps throughout the day, some pray, some just take a few minutes to remember where they came from.
4. Follow the 80 percent rule.
Give up those late-night snacks, and eat dinner early. People in Blue Zones eat their smallest meal of the day in the early evening, and eat nothing else for the rest of the day. They stop eating when they feel about 80 percent full. The gap between not feeling hungry and feeling full helps with weight consistency and keeps the body healthy.
5. Eat more plants – especially beans.
To get enough protein, many of us eat a lot of meat, but Blue Zone people eat meat only about five times a month. Research shows that eating red meat can lead to premature death. You can keep a mostly plant-based diet, however, by including more beans in your meals: fava, lentils, black beans and soy beans are particularly nutritious. You should eat about a half cup of beans a day to keep up your longevity.
6. Drink some wine.
Wait, is this a trick? Nope! People in all Blue Zones except one drink alcohol regularly … in moderation, of course. Turns out, moderate drinkers outlive nondrinkers, but, again, this must be done with purpose. Those with the longest lives drink one or two glasses of wine a day, with friends and with food. Not drinking all week and then bingeing on the weekend doesn’t count.
7. Keep the faith.
Unfortunate news for all you atheists out there: according to research, people who attend some kind of religious service once a week live four to 14 years longer than those who don’t. The type of faith doesn’t matter. Experts think this could have to do with a feeling of belonging to a community larger than yourself.
8. Family first.
In our society, so much emphasis is put on our own selves, our ambitions, our fulfillment, but centenarians keep their communities close to them. They make life decisions based on generations of family. They keep their aging parents and grandparents close by or even in their homes, which has been shown to lower mortality rates for the entire family. They invest in their children, and tend to have one life partner, which research shows can add up to three years of life.
9. Don’t forget your chosen family.
Blood is thicker than water, but true friendship can save your life, literally. Those who live to more than 100 create social environments of support and commitment with a small group of people around them. These tightknit social networks impact the behaviors that elongate your life.
While you may not live in Japan, or Greece, or even California, you can live like you do by making these small daily changes. And remember, enjoying life is the best way to make it as long as possible.
Darlena Cunha is a freelance writer and a professor at the University of Florida, with degrees in communications and ecology.