According to world Blue Zone research, the longest-living people on earth eat a fiber-rich diet and rely on locally grown fruits and vegetables. What began as a National Geographic expedition to uncover the secrets of longevity evolved into discovering the five places around the world where people consistently live over 100 years old, dubbed the Blue Zones. Subsequent studies indicate only about 20% of how long the average person lives is dictated by our genes, whereas our lifestyle dictates the other 80%. National Geographic and the National Institute on Aging researchers found the five demographically confirmed, geographically defined areas with the highest percentage of centenarians – Loma Linda, California; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; and Okinawa, Japan. Besides having a large percentage of people that live to 100, the aging population also remains active well into their 80s and 90s and typically does not suffer the degenerative diseases common in most of the industrialized world.
The top lessons from the world’s Blue Zones on living a long, healthy life are to move naturally, have a purpose, be in the right tribe, and eat wisely. Moving naturally throughout the day – walking, gardening, doing housework – is a core part of the Blue Zones. Knowing why you wake up in the morning makes you healthier and happier and adds up to seven years of extra life expectancy. The Okinawans call it ikigai (pronounced e-key-guy) and the Nicoyans can it plan de vida. In the United States, the common term is purpose – to have intention. Finding your tribe supports human nature to search for belonging by looking for people who share commonalities or possess the traits we aspire to adopt. The world’s longest-lived people have close friends and strong social networks. The last lesson, eat wisely, combines attitudes toward food and consumption behaviors. People living in the Blue Zones areas stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full and eat their smallest meal in the early evening. They select vegetables, fruits, and whole grains or beans as the cornerstone ingredients of most meals while meats are eaten in small amounts. Finally, the enjoyment of moderate consumption of wine with friends and/or with food is widely practiced.
Creating a Blue Zones lifestyle is possible with focused intention. Moving more throughout the day can be as simple as walking daily. Finding meaningful work and intentionally aligning values to everyday actions are steps to living with purpose. When creating your tribe, looking for people ‘instantly recognizable” or who feel “deeply familiar” is a very Western idea. The downside is pushing to the side the person you don’t feel an instant affinity with. Consider including in your tribe those you resonate with and those who challenge you to see the world in a new way. Most Americans find adding fruits to their meals easy, but we struggle with adding vegetables. Add a salad. Salads are a great way to add a good amount of nutrient-rich vegetables to your diet. Let’s start with three different salad recipes from EatingWell that will fill you up and delight your taste buds.