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9 Lessons for Living Longer from the People who have Lived the Longest

At this time of year, most health and wellness blogs will post about new year’s resolutions; how to make them, how to keep them and whether they work or not.

A new year is as good a time as any to start new ideas.

I hope the following 9 practices from the Blue Zones might inspire and tempt you. Followers have been shown* to live longer and lead fuller lives when they adhere to these:

9 Simple Rules For Longevity

1. Move. Moving naturally and constantly throughout the day is an essential element of the Blue Zones lifestyle. Moving naturally means being active without thinking too much about it:

  • Take the stairs instead of the lift. If not both ways, then at least on the way down.

  • Try not to remain seated for more than 45 minutes at a time. Movement is vital for blood flow and pain-free joints.

  • Cycle or walk, when possible, instead of driving.

  • WALK MORE! Nearly all the Blue Zone centenarians walk every day. A small effort may be needed to change existing routines to use the car less, but the effects are big and quick. In a week you will definitely feel the difference.

  • Hobbies! If you don’t have one – find one that stimulates mind and body (gardening, painting, cooking, and so on)

2. Purpose. The Okinawans refer to it as ikigai and the Nicoyans (a blue zone region of Costa Rica) call it plan de vida. Having a reason to wake up in the morning makes you healthier and happier.

  • Set yourself some morning goals as part of your routine. These can be as simple as adding another 10 percent to your dog walk or doing some gentle exercise before breakfast. Oddly, if you write your own personal mission statement it sometimes helps to motivate.

  • Pick an activity that challenges you a bit – this can be anything, it can be fitness related, or perhaps you want to learn a new instrument, or how to cook, or even cycle/walk a couple of kilometres.

3. Down Shift. Blue Zone centenarians are not immune to stress, but they have built stress-relieving practices into their daily routines. This practice takes many forms: Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take an afternoon nap and Sardinians enjoy an early evening happy hour. However trite these may sound, they DO produce the needed calm.

  • Avoid rushing! Always plan on being 15 minutes early and give yourself some time.

  • Cut out the noise – choose a book over the tv, enjoy some radio-free time at home.

  • Take time to enjoy the simple things. A walk through a market, a visit to a bakery to buy bread, breakfast in a quiet environment with loved ones, pruning flowers, etc etc etc.

4. 80% Rule. An old adage that my great grandmother lived by and would often repeat: It is best to avoid feeling very full at the end of a meal, rather we should get up from table still feeling a little hungry. This is also referred to as the 80% rule – we should stop eating when we are 80% full. People in the Blue Zones will also eat their smallest and last meal in the late afternoon or early evening.

  • Serve yourself, put the food away, and then eat. (i.e. if the food is in front of you, the temptation is great…)

  • Try to use smaller plates, bowls and even glasses. Again, a little trite but it works in reducing intake.

  • If possible, try not to eat when you’re standing up, in the car etc. Sit and enjoy your food.

5. Plant Slant. A diet similar to the Mediterranean Diet was found to be a remarkable contributor to longevity. Beans are the foundation of most Blue Zone diets. Vegetables, fruit, and whole grains make up the rest of the diet and meat and fish are eaten in small amounts. Some other pointers:

  • Try to avoid cooking meat and fish at home – think of it more as a treat you have when you go out. If you are a big meat eater, this may be a challenge, but it will not be without reward.

  • Think of it as a cooking challenge, for those who are not so familiar with a (mostly) vegetarian diet it can be a fun task!

6. Wine @ 5. People in all Blue Zones (apart from the Adventists who are teetotal) drink alcohol on a regular basis, in small amounts.

  • Only drink with food and stick to two servings or less.

  • Try not to drink alone – a drink with friends and family brings other social benefits.

7. Belong. Perhaps a little bizarre but nonetheless a central part of the Blue Zone lifestyle: How people connect with one another is at the core of living a longer life. Research shows that being part of a tribe, spiritual community or religion increases productive life expectancy from 4 to 14 years. Choosing to surround yourself with the right people, with whom you can be yourself, and knowing that you always have their support is a fantastic component for good health.

  • Strengthen your existing spiritual commitment. For instance, if you go to church once a year, up the ante and go 3-4 times, or on anniversaries special to you.

  • Trying out new ideas, or the customs of others, often engages us in unforeseen ways.

8. Loved Ones First. Strong family ties are a major component of the Blue Zone lifestyle.

  • Create some family rituals – Sunday lunches, game nights, or even family holidays if you do not live so close by.

  • Show it off! Take pictures, frame them, email them, they will be a source of pleasure and discussion.

9. Right Tribe. Close friends and strong social networks, both of which support healthy behaviours, are a vital component to . Research shows that smoking, obesity, happiness and even loneliness are contagious. Therefore, your social network has a very large bearing on your behavior.

  • Recognise the value of your inner circle, the good, the bad and the ugly. We all have some of each! Try to limit time spent with people who bring you down.

  • Make an effort to be likeable.


*The Blue Zones are places where people are known to live longer and healthier than anywhere else on the planet. Journalist Dan Buettner has identified 5 Blue Zones:

  • The Italian island of Sardinia

  • Okinawa, Japan

  • Loma Linda, California

  • Costa Rica's Nicoyan Peninsula

  • Ikaria, Greece


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