California native Marge Jetton became a celebrity for pumping iron, riding her stationary bike eight miles per day, driving her Cadillac, and volunteering—all at 104 years old. Marge died at 106, part of a rare cohort of centenarians who remain active, healthy, and mentally sharp.
Dan Buettner discovered Marge, and others just like her, when he wrote a feature for National Geographic magazine exploring which populations live the longest while still staying healthy. He identified five centenarian hotspots around the planet where people lived, on average, 10-12 healthier years more than the typical American. These hotspots or Blue Zones are Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Ikaria, Greece; the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica; and Loma Linda in California.
Five regions in the world where people consistently live over 100 years old. They include: Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Ikaria, Greece; The Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica; Loma Linda, California.
Here are eight practices you can incorporate from Blue Zoners to help increase your chances of thriving well into your 100s too:
1. Move, a lot
Physical activity is so ingrained into daily life that Blue Zoners move every 20 minutes or so, according to Buettner. They spend time outside. They cook, clean, and canoe. Some herd sheep. And they walk—a lot.
Tip: You don’t need to quit the gym, but move more when you’re not exercising. A one-hour workout won’t compensate for a sluggish rest of the day. Make regular physical activity, like walking, a critical part of your day.
2. Find purpose
When the elderly in the Blue Zones wake up in the morning, they have stuff to do. Some call it a “plan de vida”—others, a reason to live. It all comes down to having a purpose.
Tip: Figure out your purpose and live it. Give back every day. If you are unsure, reflect on your talents and gifts. Figure out how you can use them for good. Volunteer. Mentor. Babysit the grandkids.
3. Slow down
The modern work culture scrimps on vacation time. And a large chunk of people don’t even use the vacation days they have.
Tip: Decompress, meditate, pray, practice deep breathing. Make it a regular part of your days, several times a day. Walk in nature. Take vacations. Take naps. Turn off your phone.
4. The 80% rule
Eating less has well-documented benefits on health and aging. The Okinawans make a point to stop eating sooner rather than later, aiming to eat until they’re around 80% full.
Tip: Starting with smaller portions and using smaller plates can help you eat less. Eat more whole, unprocessed foods, especially whole plant foods, which are high in water and fiber and are naturally low in fat.
5. Wine at 5
All the Blue Zoners, except for the tee-totaling 7th Day Adventists in Loma Linda, drink some alcohol regularly—mostly red wine.
Tip: Have your wine and drink it, too. Just keep it moderate and make sure the foods you eat are highly nutritious.
Almost all the centenarians were a part of a faith-based community. In one study, women who attended a religious service more than once a week had a 33% lower risk of death from heart disease and cancer compared to those who had never attended services.
Tip: Ramp up your church-, temple-, or mosque-going. If organized religions aren’t your thing, nondenominational services may also provide a way to meet like-minded people, give back to the community, and reconnect with your spirituality.
7. Loved ones first
Blue Zoners forged strong family ties and lived with or near relatives. Aging parents or grandparents were included in the lives of the younger clan and revered for their wisdom.
Tip: With immediate family who live nearby, it’s usually easy to feel like you are making them a priority. But are you fully present? Love and and focus on the ones you’re with.
8. Right Tribe
People in the Blue Zones don’t just stay close to family, they stay close to a strong network of friends.
Tip: Research has shown positive links between social relationships and longevity. Take the time to cultivate new friendships and spend time nurturing those you have.
In our frenzied, urban world, living healthy is a choice you have to make. While you might only take a short vacation to Sardinia, you can still create your own Blue Zone at home and improve your chances of living longer and healthier.