A new year is always a good time to reflect on how we want to approach the next twelve months. It’s a fresh start, a chance to press the reset button and focus on the things we believe to be important to us. If one of your intentions for 2022 is to simplify your life and get back to the basics, the inhabitants of the Blue Zone areas are a great source of inspiration.
The way of life that is adopted by the members of these communities is not only fascinating, but gives a lot of food for thought in regards to sustainability and life habits, especially in today’s fast-paced world. Upon observation, it becomes blatantly clear that these people do things their own way, far from outside influences, through practises that have been passed down from older generations. Their focus lies more on the simpler things in life, intentionality, and community – potentially proving that the small things are all we really need to be happy.
So what exactly are Blue Zones, and what can we learn from those that inhabit them?
Blue Zones are small pockets of the world where the population boasts higher amounts of centenarians than average. Currently, five of these zones have been identified across the globe: one in Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; California, US; Nicoya, Costa Rica, and Ikaria, Greece. Each has a different approach to life, but all are united by main common denominators that, when broken down and examined, seem to be the secrets to a longer, healthier life.
The first Blue Zone, located in Sardinia, was discovered by Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain in 2004. In the following years, Ted Buettner furthered the research, leading to the foundation of the Blue Zones Project: a social transformation program that aims to bring communities together and implement new habits to promote happier, longer lives for those within them.
Through observation, Buettner identified a core set of values that all seemed to find themselves in the different Blue Zones’ ways of life, dubbed by the researcher as the ‘Power 9’. This structure covers nine different practises, separated into four main aspects: movement, outlook, nutrition and social connection.
As it turns out, all the elements of the ‘Power 9’ are easily achievable goals – if you set your mind to it.
Whether it’s taking some and leaving others, or diving into incorporating all of these into your life, we can all take at least one thing from the Blue Zone way of life.
Members of Blue Zones, believe it or not, don’t really work out. Instead, they practice activities that encourage natural movement in the body, such as cooking or gardening. One way to implement this into our daily lives is to try walking or cycling to our destinations instead of taking the car or bus. If you really need to rely on public or private transportation to get to your destinations, try to schedule walks with friends on your days off, to not only encourage natural movement but also forming stronger friendships and bonds. Start a garden, or join a communal one if you don’t have the space for one at home. The key is to always stay in gentle movement.
Inhabitants of Blue Zones wake up every day with a sense of purpose; whether it’s helping and taking care of others, or waking up and going to a job they love, finding a sense of purpose can add up to seven years of life expectancy. Find a passion you want to pursue: try out a new dance class, or nurture a new talent on a skill learning platform. Never cooked a day in your life? Try your hand at it, you just might love it. Go out and meet new people, explore a new city, or learn how to play an instrument; the possibilities are endless, as long as you find something that drives you and gets you out of bed in the morning.
Stress, as we know all too well in our workaholic-focused society, is an everyday presence, and tends to cause inflammatory responses within our bodies, which has been linked to developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life. Whether it’s setting out time to take a daily afternoon nap like the Sardinians, or taking a moment to pray like the Okinawans, stepping away from the hustle, bustle and stress of daily life is essential to a Blue Zone lifestyle. Allowing yourself to disconnect and rest allows you to come back feeling more refreshed, and in consequence more equipped to tackle stressful situations. Practicing yoga, meditating, reading – anything that can help you escape, even for just a little while, is worth setting time aside for on the daily.
Before every meal, Okinawans repeat the “Hara Hachi Bu” mantra to remind themselves to stop eating once they are 80% satisfied. This not only allows for a more mindful eating experience, but also stops food overconsumption and excess, two things that often have a tendency to lead to health complications later on in life. Next time you sit down and tuck in, take a moment to check in with yourself as you eat, and aim to stop yourself before feeling completely full.
If we look at the data found in Blue Zones regarding nutrition, we realise that maybe the vegans really are onto something. Blue Zone centenarian diets mainly consist of plant-based ingredients, with a strong presence of lentils, soy, kidney beans and other legumes. Meat, if eaten, is only consumed 4-5 times a month, and portions are no bigger than a deck of cards. It isn’t essential to radically change your diet; even just making small swaps can make a difference in the long run. Try swapping out meat-based meals for plant-based ones a few times a week, or if you’re feeling daring, try Veganuary. If anything, you’ll broaden your food horizons.
As it turns out, sharing 1-2 glasses of wine a day with food and good friends might help to live a longer life. Most inhabitants of Blue Zones drink moderately and regularly; so incorporating a glass of red every evening, specifically Sardinian Cannonau wine, might not only be a great way to add pleasure to an evening meal, but also add some years onto your life expectancy too.
Belong & Loved Ones First
The 7th and 8th habits go hand in hand. Practising some form of faith or religion plays a massive part in these people’s lives, and here’s why: it consistently brings people together to share in one belief. Members of the Blue Zones believe that you are who you surround yourself with – your religious community and family are important units. Older relatives are kept in close contact with the younger ones, leading to longer life spans as well as lower rates of infant mortality.
As mentioned in the previous point, you are who you surround yourself with, so make sure those who are around you are the ones that count. Members of the Blue Zone areas all surround themselves with likeminded people, who practice shared values and good habits. Choose your friends wisely; be sure to surround yourself with people who bring you up, look out and want the best for you. Take care of those in your life, and in return, you’ll always have a community to fall back on if things get tough.
If you feel compelled to, take from the habits that resonate, and leave the ones that don’t – but either way, there is something for everyone in the Power 9. Whichever one you may choose to incorporate might be the start of a lifestyle change, or a more organic approach to living – something we believe is a step in the right direction for a more balanced world.