The Secrets to a Long and Healthy Life

We all aspire to live a long, healthy life, growing old with the ones we love, before peacefully drifting off into an eternal sleep, when we are called home.  However, for many Americans, this is not the case.  In reality, the average life expectancy is approximately 77 years old, which is far from what most would consider old age.  Furthermore, 6 in 10 Americans suffer from chronic illness, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or dementia, with 4 in 10 suffering from 2 or more of these illnesses.  Such statistics make it difficult to sustain the dream of living a long and healthy life, though it’s not impossible!


Dan Buettner, National Geographic Explorer, along with a team of demographers, scientists, and anthropologists have spent a great deal of time studying individuals who have defied these odds.  In fact, they’ve discovered towns around the world with a heavy concentration of centenarians, or individuals who reach 100 years old– or more!  These pockets, coined Blue Zones, include Sardinia, Italy, Okinawa, Japan, Loma Linda, California, Ikaria, Greece, and Nicoya, Costa Rica.


In an effort to learn more about these individuals, Buettner and his team have intensely studied their culture to identify the healthy lifestyle habits that enable them to live such fruitful lives.  His findings have been broken down into 9 essential principles known as the Power 9.  Below, we will take a closer look at the secrets of the world’s longest-lived people.


  1. Move Naturally

You won’t find Zumba classes, bodybuilders, or even world-class gyms in any of the aforementioned towns.  These centenarians, nor their younger descendants, spend hours at the gym pumping iron or training for marathons.  However, they do engage in daily exercise, naturally built-in to their lifestyles.  Many live in walkable towns where they stroll, often up and down hills, to access their essential needs.  They grow gardens, cook, and do chores around the house without the modern mechanical tools that we are accustomed to, encouraging them to move and exert energy in a natural way.


  1. Know Your Purpose

There is a value to living with purpose; in fact, it’s said you can add up to 7 years to your life expectancy if you know “why you wake up in the morning”.  Using your gifts or talents and doing what you love to fulfill your purpose serves you on many levels and attributes to a long, healthy life.


  1. Down Shift

Stress can run far and wide, taking over your mind, body, and soul, altering who you are as a person.  The all-consuming effects can not only steal your joy and well-being, but it can actually shave years off of your life.  Chronic inflammation, along with every age-related disease, is associated with stress.  The centenarians in these blue zones practice stress-shedding activities on a daily basis that we neglect to do.  Some spend time in prayer and meditation, while others partake in daily happy hours with their family, neighbors, and friends. They purposefully spend time in activities that bring them joy and remove stress from their lives.


  1. 80% Rule

Americans are known for over consuming, especially when it comes to food, which is why 39% of Americans are obese, 31% are overweight, and another 7% are severely obese.  Individuals have trouble knowing when to stop eating and/or how to serve healthy portions.  The Okinawans recite a mantra before each meal reminding them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full.  They do not gorge on food, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable after their meals.  Other groups engage in similar practices, allowing them to maintain a healthy and sustainable weight.  The various groups that were studied also eat their larger meals earlier in the day, with a smaller meal in the early evening.  Once that final meal is consumed, they do not eat another meal of snack in the late evening.


  1. Plant Slant

Centenarians’ meals are centered around beans, including lentils, fava, soy, and black beans, as opposed to meat, like most Americans.  They limit the amount of meat they have to about 4-5 small servings a month.  Their portions generally do not exceed 3-4 ounce servings of pork, the most common type of meat they eat.  The rest of their meal is locally sourced, seasonal fruits, vegetables, and grains, free of dyes and preservative.


  1. Wine @ Five

There’s something to be said about partaking in happy hour!  Not only is it thought to bring you happiness, but Buettner suggests it may add to your longevity as well.  It’s not just the wine that can contribute to your overall wellness, but the social aspect and relaxation that it brings.


  1. Positive Pack

Being part of a community that both supports and promotes healthy behaviors is a common practice among the centenarians which Buettner has observed.  These individuals come together as a group to lift up one another and encourage positive mental, emotional, and physical well-being.


  1. Belong

In all of the observed communities with high life expectancies, Buettner noted that being part of a faith-based group had positive effects on individuals’ health and happiness.  The specific denomination did not matter as long as they were engaging in religious or spiritual practices.


  1. Loved Ones First

The last component of the Power 9 principles focuses on prioritizing relationships with loved ones.  Spending quality time together and caring for your children, spouse, and aging parents is a common thread across all the Blue Zones.