In a recent column, I wrote about the results of a survey of 70-year-old folks asking them if they wanted to live to be 100. Results were surprising because the vast majority said no.
Why? They viewed their quality of life as poor, living with chronic aches and pains, taking all sorts of prescription medications, suffering with a loss of mobility, etc., and life was certain to get worse with advancing years.
While the above attitude is understandable, there are places around the world where folks would respond quite differently to this survey. These folks are healthy and physically active in their advanced years, and many live to be 100. Such locations are referred to as Blue Zones, and include specific regions of Greece, Costa Rica, Japan, and Sardinia, plus one in the U.S., a community in Loma Linda, California with a high concentration of Seventh-Day Adventists.
What’s their secret? Scientists suggest that about 20% of the longevity effect is associated with genes. This means that to reach a healthy and active 100 years likely requires some sort of genetic advantage. Without such an advantage, you can still be robust in your 80s and 90s. The key is a healthy lifestyle, and one approach is to follow the Blue Zone Power 9 rules.
What are the Blue Zone Power 9 rules for a long, healthy life?
The Power 9 rules recognize that the body operates as one unified entity, taking into consideration not only the physical concerns of the body but also the emotional and psychological concerns. The first four of the Power 9 rules have to do with taking care of the body.
1). Regular exercise is critical
Regular exercise is critical and is built naturally into the lifestyle. This means lots of everyday movements with a purpose, like growing a large garden, yard work, doing household chores manually, walking your errands, etc. Because of the constant demands of such exercise, it works the entire body frequently throughout the day, challenging the muscles to stay strong, expending considerable calories, and keeping the joints mobile and responsive.
2). You must eat responsibly
Eat responsibly, and not with the goal of becoming full. Blue Zone folks eat most of their food when they are highly active, in the morning and early afternoon. Smaller meals are consumed later in the day, then they stop eating altogether. One aspect is not eating too much at one meal. Ancient Confucian teaching applies. Stop eating when you are 80% full because the 20% gap between being hungry and feeling full is likely the difference between gaining or losing weight.
3). Focus on plant-based foods
Focus on plant-based foods, with core items like beans (black, soy, lentils), nuts, fruits and vegetables. Modest fish consumption is OK, but meat, if consumed at all, is eaten rarely and with a serving of about the size of a deck of cards (3.5-ounces). A vegetarian lifestyle is popular in the Loma Linda community of Seventh-Day Adventists.
4). Everything in moderation
A common element in all Blue Zones is moderation, emphasizing moderate alcohol consumption, primarily red wine, a glass per day with meals, or with friends. Red wine has been touted as healthy for the heart due to the antioxidants contained in dark-colored grapes. The same is true for antioxidants in black coffee, consumed in moderation throughout the day.
And, of course, it goes without saying, no smoking.
What are the emotional, psychological Power 9 rules?
The last five of the Power 9 rules have to do with taking care of the body from an emotional and physical well-being standpoint:
5). Have a purpose in life
Have a purpose in life, a reason for getting out of bed in the morning. This is thought to be a major factor, especially considering that late in life we retire from the workplace, and when we do, we often lose our sense of purpose.
6). Cope effectively with stress
Healthy longevity demands that we cope effectively with stress, and not let it get the better of us. Varying strategies are employed in Blue Zones, including daily prayer, taking a mid-day nap, happy hour with friends and relatives, and taking time to remember ancestors. Another aspect is living a low-tech lifestyle, without being overloaded by constant input from TV, radio, and social media.
7). Cultivate a faith-based sense of belonging
Cultivate a faith-based sense of belonging. In their research of Blue Zones, scientists found that 258 out of 265 centenarians (100 + year old folks) belonged to a faith-based community. The denomination didn’t matter, nor the nature of the beliefs involved. The key was belonging and regularly gathering and sharing with others with similar beliefs.
8). Family ties are critical
Family ties are critical. In Blue Zones, the emphasis is on staying close, even keeping aging parents and grandparents in the home. Also, in Blue Zones there is a great commitment to a life partner.
9). Socialize with like-minded people
Social networking in small groups with others who share lifestyles that support healthy behaviors helps keep folks on the path. This also goes a long way toward combating the loneliness that is so common among the elderly.
How can I take the Blue Zone Power 9 quiz?
If you are curious about your odds of living to be 100, there is a quiz you can take that addresses how you are doing with regard to the Blue Zone Power 9 Rules. It’s called the True Vitality Test by Blue Zones. I took the quiz, which can be found at apps.bluezones.com/en/vitality/background, and I did pretty well, but no brass ring. I’m not predicted to reach 100, but some advice was provided for tweaking my lifestyle that can add a few years.
Reach Bryant Stamford, a professor of kinesiology and integrative physiology at Hanover College, at [email protected]