Blue Zone lessons

Dan Buettner, National Geographic Fellow, and New York Times best-seller, started the Blue Zone project which identified five hot spots for the longest living people in the world. Through his team’s research, they studied the lifestyles of people who were living to remarkable ages and doing it with quality health. I would argue the latter part is more important than the former, but if we can do both that’s awesome. Let’s take a dive into where these Blue Zones exist in our world.

The five locations identified were Ikaria, Greece, Loma Linda, California, Sardina, Italy, Okinawa, Japan, and Nicoya, Costa Rica. In Loma Linda, California, a primarily Adventist area, you can find their estimated lifespan to be 89 years young for women and 87 for men, 9 years longer than the average American’s. Why were all of these areas constantly pumping out centennials? Immersed in the Blue Zones’ lives, the researchers, led by Dan Buettner, studied their habits with the intention of figuring out what exactly the long-living humans were doing. With the data and findings, the researchers identified 9 common denominators. They called these the Power 9.

The power 9 are Move Naturally, Purpose, Down Shift, 80% rule, Plant Slant, Wine @ 5, Belong, Loved ones first, and Right Tribe. I am going to break these down and give examples for each of these dynamics. It is important to note that these habits won’t directly make you live until 100 years of age, but they can help! Many of the Power 9 as described by the Blue Zones project coincide with what I’ve been trying to teach through my writing.  

Move Naturally: people in the blue zones are constantly walking. This is partially due to their environment, as many of them live in rural areas with hills. They will tend to their gardens, gather their food, and walk to and from work. What this tells us is that walking could be a great exercise to help promote longevity. Implementing walking into your daily life is an excellent health habit.  

 Purpose: This power 9 pillar is a powerful aspect of what I believe contributes to the populations’ longevity. The people of the Blue Zones know their worth and are able to verbalize their 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.”  We can practice habits like goal setting and journaling to help create our own purpose. Reminding ourselves daily what we are put on this earth to do can help us wake up each morning with great focus and mental fortitude. I recently heard a quotation that resonated with me, from David Goggins, where he said we have to read our own book. We can read as many books about self-improvement as we want, but if we aren’t internally reflecting then it is difficult to move forward. This can be done through reflecting, journaling, and mindfulness. 

Down Shift: In many of the blue zone areas, the citizens will take naps, pray, and even pause for a moment of gratitude. I have spoken at great lengths about the power of meditation and breathing, these two techniques are a great method to “downshift”. It would be great if we could destigmatize the notion that napping is lazy. If I were a CEO of a large company, I would have nap pods allowing for daily naps for whoever wants one. Studies show that an afternoon nap may improve productivity. Naps can’t make up for chronic poor sleep, but it can help put a bandage on a bad sleep. Attempt to keep your naps relatively short and prior to 4 PM so that it doesn’t interfere with your nighttime sleep. 

80% rule: This common denominator amongst the Blue Zone people refers to the practice of not overconsuming food. In Okinawa, Japan they have a saying they use prior to eating “Hara Hachi bu” which loosely means stop eating when you’re 80% full. This is a great reminder to practice mindful eating and eat food in a relaxed state when possible. Practicing mindful eating can help aid in digestion as well as reduce the amount of food consumed.  

Plant Slant: The primary diet of the Blue Zone populations is plant-based. I am not recommending implementing this, nor am I qualified to give nutritional advice, but the main takeaway I gathered from my research is to eat real foods. Does a green bean have ingredients on the label? Does a grass-fed steak have a huge list of unknown products woven into it? My point is that I think the best diet is real foods, ones naturally created from the earth.  

Wine @ 5: In the Blue Zones they regularly drink alcohol in moderation. This means one to two small glasses of wine per day. The wine is organic and locally sourced, so it is full of polyphenols specifically resveratrol. This is a powerful antioxidant compound found in organic wine. This doesn’t mean go HAM on drinking, nor am I advocating to do so, but in moderation quality wine can provide health benefits

Belong: “All but five of the 263 centenarians we interviewed belonged to some faith-based community.” The brain is such a powerful participant in longevity and our thoughts can help promote our health. I have written about the health benefits of optimism and the quality health outcomes this mindset induces. Belonging to a faith-based community has a powerful purpose-inducing effect. Personally, I find strength in my own faith, which helps me know that God has a plan for me. Having this belief helps me persevere through adversity with confidence.    

Loved ones first: Many centenarians put their loved ones first. They keep aging parents and grandparents close to them and care for them. By investing in their kids regularly, the thought process is that they will return the favor when they age.

Right Tribe: Luck of the draw! Some people are born into healthy families and “tribes”. I personally grew up with a health-conscious mother who happened to be a massage therapist as well as a physical therapist. My dad was active, he instilled the quality habit of consistent workouts into me, and I’m grateful for that “good hand”. But if your immediate tribe isn’t practicing quality health habits then it isn’t the end of the world for you. You still have the ability to choose your friends and influence your family.

    The exciting part of the Blue Zones data is that there are people out there living to great ages. We can learn from these civilizations and adopt some of their healthy habits. How can we create our own Blue Zones in our immediate community? Fortunately, there are Blue Zone movements in the United States where people are changing the physical makeup of their environment. We can create larger parks, larger bike lanes, walk-friendly routes, encourage our loved ones to get a little healthier each day, and much more. 


Sources (Blue Zones main page) (Healthy aging and longevity) (Slowing eating rate) (wine study)

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