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Blue Zones, Okinawans & Longevity

Dan Buettner with Okinawans The much sought-after “fountain of youth” may not exist, but there are lifestyle choices that we can make to live longer, happier lives. Dan Buettner, a longevity expert, has spent over a decade studying the longest-living and healthiest people of the so-called “Blue Zones”. The longevity hotspots include Okinawa, Japan; Ikaria, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; and Nicoya, Costa Rica, and are on average home to more centenarians than anywhere else in the world. From Buettner’s research, he derived four longevity-boosting secrets that we would like to share:

  1. Be a Part of a Social Group

Individuals within your social circles often have the biggest impact on your overall health. Habits—both good and bad—are easily spread throughout groups of friends, so surrounding yourself with individuals who support healthy lifestyle behaviors increases the likelihood that you will adopt these positive habits as well.

Buettner found evidence of the longevity-boosting effects of social networks when he studied the Okinawans in Japan; they form moais, or groups of lifelong alliances, which provides them with security, financial and emotional support as well as a sense of belonging.

  1. Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet

Most centenarians eat diets that are 95% plant-based with a very small amount of meat, mostly consisting of fish. Increasing the amount of vegetables and fruits in your diet can reduce cancer and cardiovascular disease, which are two leading causes of death. Protein from animal sources activates genes that accelerate aging and is linked with higher cancer and mortality rates. Centenarians are also known to have a glass of wine a day, which research has shown can boost lifespan.

It isn’t all about what you eat—when and how much you eat are important too. People in the Blue Zones eat their largest meal in the morning, decreasing the amount that they eat throughout the day. Okinawans are also mindful of what they eat as they remind themselves to stop eating when they are 80% full by using a 2,500-year-old Confucian mantra before every meal.

  1. Discover Your Purpose

People living in the Blue Zones commonly have an activity, career, or passion that motivates them and provides them with meaning and purpose. In Okinawa, this is known as their ikigai, and in Nicoya, it is called their plan de vida. One 14 year study found that participants who passed away had originally scored lower on ratings of life purpose and social relationships compared to those who survived. Research suggests that life-purpose boosts longevity by lowering the stress hormone cortisol; stress often leads to inflammation, which is associated with almost every age-related disease.

Finding your sense of purpose may be difficult, but it is important to remember that it can come from a wide variety of sources such as singing, volunteering or being a grandparent—anything that brings you joy. If you are not sure where you passion lies, try different activities until you determine which one, or ones, you enjoy most.

  1. Live an Active Lifestyle

Blue Zoners often engage in a lifestyle that promotes daily physical activity. Their exercise is commonly unstructured, but gym classes and other forms of organized exercise have been shown to increase life expectancy by 4.5 years. Physical activity, whether in a gym or less structured setting, will always be beneficial. If you are the type of person who prefers physical activity that doesn’t feel like exercise, activities like gardening, baking and walking to the store or work will provide health benefits while also reducing stress.

Buettner has used these four lifestyle behaviors, among others, to set up “Blue Zones” across various cities. These habits can be fun and are easy to incorporate into your daily routine.

Want to try implementing some of these tips into your lifestyle? Try forming a moai where people gather once monthly to have a healthy potluck and sample new foods, or a moai that meets weekly to go hiking or volunteer. Individuals who have taken part in Blue Zones in the U.S. have already noticed that they are healthier and leading more satisfying lives.

At Home Care Assistance, the Balanced Care Method™, which is also based off of studies of the Okinawans, is a unique approach to senior care that promotes longevity-boosting lifestyle behaviors for healthier and happier seniors. To learn more about the Method, contact your local office.

Map of Blue Zones