A few years back Dan Buettner found four areas on our planet where people live long (think centenarians) and active lives. He studied them to find ‘the world’s best practices in longevity’. He called them Blue Zones (also the title of his book).

In case you’re wondering, he found them in: the Barbagia region of Sardinia in Italy; Okinawa in Japan; Loma Linda in California; and the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. That’s quite a cultural mix.

What he found, he says, helps provide ‘the best, most credible information available for adding years to your life and life to your years’.

He divided his findings into four categories and makes the following suggestions:

1. Move naturally

You don’t have to be an elite athlete to live long. Rather it’s more about low-intensity physical activity that’s a part of the daily routine.

Most of us have labour-saving devices in our homes, including the TV remote. We could make it harder but better for ourselves by walking to the TV to change channels.

Buettner suggests that we add natural exercise to the everyday. Walk where you can; ride a bike; at the office take a walk break instead of a coffee break; get out and about with people who also want to be more active; plant a garden and work on it regularly. Don’t enrol in a gym if it’s a chore—but do enrol if you enjoy it.

Yoga class of older people sitting on yoga mats with colourful t-shirts on.
Photo: Anupam Mahapatra

2. Develop the right outlook

Have a purpose that gives you a reason to get up in the mornings. That can range from using your talents and time for something that’s fulfilling, or helping a grandchild grow up well.

This could be the time to learn something new and challenging, but satisfying. If it was something like a new language or a musical instrument it will also help with mental sharpness.

Downshift your lifestyle to be a more relaxed person. Find quiet spaces in your life—turn off aural and digital clutter to have more time for introspection and thought. Plan to be early for appointments. Make it early enough to enjoy the getting there and take away any stress when you arrive.

3. Eat wisely

He suggests that starts with eating 20% less. Hint: research has shown that those who serve their food at the counter and put the other food away before taking their plate to the table eat 14% less. Use smaller plates. Make it hard to snack. Buy smaller packages.

FYI: Those in the zones tend to eat their biggest meal at or by lunchtime.

Vegetables rule. Blue Zone people include at least two vegetables at each meal. Back off on the meat—limit it to twice a week with no serving larger than a deck of cards.

Have fruit freely available, and eat nuts every day (60 grams a day).

Man in black shorts, light green t-shirt running along a beach away from the camera
Photo: Aan Nizal

4. Belong

Put family first and signal that this is so in family rituals (such as dinner with grandma every Tuesday night) and photos around the house. Purposely celebrate holidays and family events.

Build up your ‘inner circle’ of friends who have healthy habits and challenge you mentally. Establish a regular time to meet and share a meal together.

Be likeable. ‘Of the centenarians interviewed, there wasn’t a grump in the bunch.’

A fascinating Blue Zone fact: ‘Healthy centenarians everywhere have faith.’ What that faith is varies dramatically, but they all belong to strong religious groups that meet regularly. This is about faith and community.

Two life options

This is quite a list, but the Blue Zone research offers several clues for not only living longer but living more. Buettner says we have a choice: ‘We can live a shorter life with more years of disability, or we can live the longest possible life with the fewest bad years.

‘As my centenarian friends showed me, the choice is largely up to us,’ says Buettner. Go here for more Blue Zone information.

Bruce Manners is the author of Retirement Ready? and Refusing to Retireand founder of RetireNotes.com

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