Purpose: The Okinawans call it “Ikigai” and the Nicoyans call it “plan de vida;” for both it translates to “why I wake up in the morning.” Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy.
Downshift: Even people in blue zones areas experience stress. Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. What the world’s longest-lived people have that we don’t are routines to shed that stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians enjoy happy hour with enriched Cannonau wine.
80% Rule: “Hara hachi bu” – the Okinawan, 2500-year old Confucian mantra said before meals reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. The 20 percent gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it. People in the blue zones regions eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then they don’t eat any more the rest of the day.
Plant Slant: Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Meat—mostly pork—is eaten on average only five times per month. Serving sizes are 3-4 oz., about the size of a deck of cards.
Wine @ Five: People in the original blue zones (except Adventists in Loma Linda) drink alcohol moderately. Provided you have a healthy relationship with alcohol, you can drink up to 1-2 glasses per day (preferably Sardinian Cannonau wine), with friends and/or with food.
Belong: All but five of the 263 centenarians interviewed by Blue Zones researchers belonged to some faith-based community. Denomination doesn’t seem to matter. Blue Zones research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy.
Loved Ones First: Successful centenarians in the blue zones put their families first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home (It lowers disease and mortality rates of children in the home too.) They commit to a life partner (which can add up to 3 years of life expectancy) and invest in their children with time and love (they’ll be more likely to care for you when the time comes).
Right Tribe: The world’s longest-lived people chose–or were born into–social circles that supported healthy behaviors, Okinawans created ”moais”–groups of five friends that committed to each other for life. Research from the Framingham Studies shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. So, the social networks of long-lived people have favorably shaped their health behaviors.
Blue Zones Project took the learnings from Blue Zones research and started working with communities across North America to transform environments.
In 2009, Blue Zones, LLC worked in partnership with AARP and the United Health Foundation to apply the Power 9 principles to Albert Lea, Minnesota. It worked. After just one year, participants added nearly 2.9 years to their average lifespan. In addition to increased economic vitality, medical cost and lost productivity savings, and improved health outcomes in Albert Lea, Freeborn County jumped up 34 places in the Minnesota County Health Rankings.
The community continues to receive grants for its built environment work and is experiencing significant economic impact. Harvard's Walter Willett, writing in Newsweek, called the results "stunning."
Since the pilot program, Blue Zones Project has expanded to 51 communities across North America, impacting millions of people. Our work has produced double-digit drops in obesity, smoking, and body mass index, among other health and well-being improvements.