Living longer: Can we learn from others?

Living longer: Can we learn from others?

What is the secret to a long and healthy life?

To answer the question an America explorer in 2004 studied five regions of the world that stood out for their extraordinary longevity and vitality. The intent was to identify lessons or principles that could be applied to build healthier communities and help people live longer and better lives.

Dan Buettner, National Geographic Fellow and award-winning journalist and producer, identified five “blue zones” around the globe where people are living to age 100 or more. These blue zones included cities large and small: Ikaria, Greece; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; and Sardinia, Italy.

With funding from the National Institute on Aging, Buettner concluded that only 20 percent of longevity is dictated by genes, while 80 percent is influenced by lifestyle and environment. He identified nine common lifestyle characteristics across all five blue zone environments, which he called the “Power 9” principles. Each principle was categorized into Activity, Outlook, Diet, and Connections.

According to Buettner, Connections emphasize the importance of social engagement for healthy aging and include the following:

Loved Ones First—Centenarians (age 100 or older) put their families first. This includes keeping aging parents and grandparents in or near their home; being in a positive, committed relationship; and investing in their children with time and love.

Belong—People in blue zones tend to belong to a faith-based community. They regularly attend a faith-based service and live four to 14 years longer than their counterparts.

Right Tribe—The world’s longest-lived people embrace social circles that support healthy behaviors and avoid harmful ones (obesity, smoking, excessive drinking, loneliness, unhappiness).

Other lifestyle characteristics contained in the Power 9 principles include:

Activity—The world’s most elderly people do not “exercise,” but instead are nudged into moving about every 20 minutes.

Outlook—Those in blue zones employ daily rituals to reduce stress — including prayer, napping, and paying respect to deceased ancestors — and have an ability to articulate their life’s purpose.

Diet—People in blue zones consume only moderate amounts of alcohol, eat a plant-based diet, and avoid overeating.

According to Buettner, adopting a blue zones lifestyle could increase the average person’s life expectancy by 10-12 years.