For starters, eat lots of beans.
It seems like every other product at the grocery store boasts its power to increase our lifespans and boost our health. Most are scams or gimmicks. Most of us could stand to be a bit healthier, but we’re just too busy! But not in the so-called “Blue Zones.” These are five specific regions throughout the world—Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Ikaria, Greece—boasting large populations of people who are living measurably longer lives than the rest of us. Researchers wanted to know what secrets these elderly (and often quite happy!) residents had up their sleeves, so they studied each region and came up with some surprising results.
The amazing thing about these regions is that the people lead relatively simple lives, and longevity is simply a natural outcome of their healthier lifestyles. There’s certainly more to it than kale and cauliflower. Here’s what the Blue Zone people all have in common:
1. They stay connected
Residents in each of these communities have strong social networks, and they make their families and friends priorities in their lives. Multiple studies have proven that being lonely is as bad for our health as obesity, and truly can shorten our lifespans. In Okinawa, children are in enrolled in “Moai’s,” which are sort of a friendship cohort consisting of five people that commit to each other for life. Each zone has an emphasis on being interconnected and maintaining a strong sense of family and friendships—most of the octogenarians (and older) have committed and enduring marriages and have invested deeply in their children and grandchildren. Put down the Facebook, pick up the landline and call your mother!
2. They go outside, not just to get into their cars
The residents of the Blue Zones are incredibly active, but unlike some of us, they don’t spend time throwing medicine balls or sweating on the elliptical. Their lifestyles are entwined with movement. Author of the The Blue Zones Dan Buettner says residents “tended to live in houses and environments that nudged them into bursts of physical activity in kind of an effortless way.”
MORE TO READ: The loneliness antidote: 11 habits to feel less alone
3. They really try to reduce stress
Stress really can take years off your life. We all experience it, yet the people in the Blue Zones find ways to relieve stress, and their lives aren’t built around routines that habitually cause it. Letting go of stressors, changing toxic routines, and practicing self-care can all lead to lower stress (and thus lower levels of cortisol), and help us all chill out a little bit. So how do they do it in the Blue Zones? Well, Sardinians love to drink good red wine and frequently participate in happy hour. Ikarians take daily afternoon naps. Okinawans take time out of every day to remember their ancestors, and the people of Loma Linda—who are largely Seventh-Day Adventists—have rich prayer lives.
4. They stay in church & remember their purpose
Of the 263 centenarians interviewed by the Blue Zone project, 258 belonged to a faith community. Maintaining a connection with a church community and keeping spirituality as a central feature in your life truly can increase longevity. The people of the Blue Zones also have a deep and enduring sense of purpose—there are even words in some of the communities that translate to “why I wake up in the morning.” What a great reminder to get ourselves to church in order to cultivate our relationships with God and with others, both of which will undoubtedly help us find and hone our sense of purpose each day.
MORE TO READ: 100 life lessons from a 100-year-old woman
5. They eat lots of beans
The Blue Zones are so fascinating because the common denominators between the five regions are so often unrelated to food. But that doesn’t give us a free pass to binge on pizza and sweets every day—far from it! The diets of all these people are heavy on vegetables, and specifically beans. While there are variations in diets across the zones, most eat very little meat, and rely on plant sources—largely legumes—for the majority of their protein intake. So, remembering the legacy and longevity of these sage and wise older generations, perhaps a good place to start is to try that recipe for lentil stew we’ve been meaning to get to, or hit up the local farmer’s market on a hunt for some Blue Zone favorites, fava beans. And rather than cut out all meat, or try to change our diets completely, simply adding more vegetables can most definitely increase our healthfulness, and hopefully our longevity, too.
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