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In the United States, the average person lives to be around 78 years old. But in five places, people regularly celebrate their 100th birthday. These areas where people live the longest and healthiest are known as Blue Zones: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California. This discovery as made by Dan Buettner, author of the Blue Zones: 9 Lessons from People Who’ve Live the Longest.
So what makes people in these regions so healthy? Researchers found that all Blue Zones share nine lifestyle habits that improve mental and physical fitness. Here’s what you should know about each:
There’s no need to spend hours at the gym for the sake of health. People in Blue Zones stay active by choosing to walk over drive, doing yard work, and moving more throughout the day. That’s because low-intensity movement burns more calories overall than the hour you spend at the gym. Instead of pushing yourself to run just one more mile, think of ways to increase activity by foregoing the elevator or by walking to the market.
Have a purpose
Having a clear reason that motivates you to get you out of bed and do your best increases your lifespan, according to the Blue Zones Project. In fact, a sense of purpose can add up to seven years onto your life.
And you don’t have to find meaning through large goals—like becoming CEO of your company. You can find purpose through small things like doing well on a work project or finding a creative outlet, reported NPR. In the Blue Zones Challenge, Buettner recommends placing a sticky note on your mirror with, as he says, “the default purpose: Grow & Give.”
People in Blue Zones aren’t without stress, which over time can lead to inflammation, high blood pressure, and possibly heart attacks. However, people in these areas have found ways to manage their stress. For example, Okinawans take time everyday to remember their ancestors, and Sardinians regularly participate in happy hour, according to the Blue Zones Project.
Running, meditating, or tackling a DIY project are simple ways to reduce stress. Buettner recommends meditation, yoga, and tai chi. And in the Blue Zones Challenge, encourages people to spend at least two hours in nature.
Don’t eat until you’re stuffed
Instead, eat only until you’re 80 percent satisfied, which is what the Blue Zones Project calls the 80 percent rule. Citizens in the Blue Zones have their smallest meals during the day or early evening and avoid grazing at night. A key way to eat better and enjoy it more: Avoid eating in front of a screen.
Eat less meat
People in Blue Zones eat a mostly plant-based diet loaded with fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Instead of relying on animal sources for protein, this group eats loads of beans, which contains protein and fiber. For example, a cup of canned chickpeas offers 18 grams of protein which contains the amino acids necessary for muscle growth.
Enjoy alcohol in moderation
There’s a lot of confusion about whether or not alcohol is actually good for us. Some studies say drinking wine is good for your heart, while other research links any alcohol consumption to a shorter expectancy.
Research in Blue Zones show that people drink alcohol regularly in moderate amounts. So, rather than drink six beers on Saturday, people typically have one to two drinks a day.
Belong to a community
Overwhelming, centenarians belong to a faith-based community. In fact, just five of the 263 centenarians interviewed by the Blue Zones project didn’t belong to a specific community. However, this doesn’t mean you need to head to church. Instead, you can find your own community through hobby groups, close friends, and family.
Prioritize family time
Family is important to Blue Zones centenarians. It’s common to live near older parents or to move them into your home. Adults also commit to one partner and spend quality time with their children.
Have a healthy social network
People who lived the longest surrounded themselves with others who practiced healthy habits, according to the Blue Zones Project. In fact, research from the Framingham studies-which looked at heart disease risk—shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness may be contagious. Buettner encourages you to take time to call, text or email a friend or family member you haven’t connected with recently. Another way to enhance your social network (and eat well, too): Host a healthy potluck.
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