What's the secret to live to a healthy 100? No one knows for certain, but who better to learn from, than those who do it?
There are a few places in the world, called "Blue Zones", which are geographical areas where people are known to have low rates of chronic disease and live longer than anywhere else.1
The term was first used by researcher Dan Buettner, who was studying places containing extremely high rates of nonagenarians and centenarians, which are people who live over 90 and 100, respectively.
Some might be quick to jump to genetics as an explanation for this phenomenon, but interestingly, research suggests genetics probably only account for 20-30% of longevity.1
That's good news, for all of us, because that means we have a lot more control over our futures than we perhaps give ourselves credit for.
Read on to learn the seven questions author and TedX Speaker Clay DeStefano asks as a quick personal checklist for your health status, aimed to help you live a longer, and healthier life in a "Blue Zone" of your own making.
1. What are your work and home environments like?
In his Ted Talk, DeStefano talks about how dark, cluttered, dusty, and moldy spaces can lead to chronic health conditions that impact your longevity. Of course, not everything about your environment is under your control, but being intentional about caring for the spaces you inhabit and seeking exposure to natural light can only help.
2. How much Vitamin G do you get?
It's not your fault if you haven't heard of 'Vitamin G'. This is DeStefano's shorthand for getting outside and into green spaces. Being present in nature is good for our hearts and souls, and many of the "Blue Zones" around the world studied by Buettner are societies that are centered around gardening, farming, and physical, outdoor jobs that keep you moving.1
3. How much do you move in a day?
Modern technology and sedentary work environments are hard to overcome, but the case for incorporating physical activity in your daily routine is overwhelming. Take, for example, a study of men in the Blue Zone of Sardenia, Italy. It was found that living on steeper slopes in the mountains and walking longer distances to work was associated with longer lives. In another study of over 13,000 men, the distance they regularly walked and number of stairs the climbed each day served as a similar predictor of how long they would live.1 Most people in blue zones don't necessarily go out of their way to exercise, but it is just built into their routine. What can you do to add a little but more movement in your days? Park the car in the back of the lot? Take the stairs?
4. How is your attitude?
DeStefano says, "A negative attitude often begets a negative outcome. Positivity begets positive outcomes." Beyond just thinking postively, most people in Blue Zones tend to have a life purpose, known as "ikigai" in Okinawa, Japan, or "plan de vida" in the Nicoya Peninsula or Costa Rica.1 Possibly through improved psychological well-being, this approach to life with a sense of purpose is associated with a reduced risk of death.1
5. How are you sleeping?
Most of us have heard that consistently getting at least 7 hours of sleep in a cool, dark and quiet environment is good for our health. Oftentimes it is recommended to go to sleep and wake up on a routine as well. Interestingly, people in Blue Zones tend not to go to sleep, wake up, or go to work at set hours. They just sleep as much as their body tells them to.1 While that is a luxury many of us don't have, another Blue Zone sleeping habit is a 30-minute daytime nap. Taking these short naps may reduce the risk of heart disease and death1, and perhaps could be worked into your routine.
6. Are you stressing over your stress?
DeStefano emphasizes the importance of having healthy mechanisms for handling stress. Creative outlets such as painting, or passive movements like dance, yoga. For example, Okinawa is home to the world's oldest women, who consistently practice tai chi as a meditative form of exercise.1
7. How much do you socialize?
Humans are social creatures who benefit from face-to-face interactions. In Blue Zones, grandparents often live with their families, and studies have shown that grandparents who look after their grandchildren have a lower risk of death. Your greater social network, known as your "moai" in Okinawa, can also impact your health. Surrounding yourself with people who make the lifestyle choices you would like to make may help you follow suit. Conversely, if your friends are obese, you have a greater risk of being obese, possibly through social acceptance.1
Ultimately, as DeStefano put it, "For most people, genetics loads the gun, and lifestyle pulls the trigger." What we learn from our gracefully aging friends in the Blue Zones of the world is that the lifestyle choices we make today will have a profound impact on our long-term health and wellness. We challenge you to choose even just one of these seven questions to make some small changes in your life that will hopefully result in even more healthy tomorrows for you and your family.
Footnotes and Sources
1. Healthline.com, February 2023