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10 Secrets to Living 100+ Years From the Blue Zones

There are five places in the world where a long life isn’t just desired, it’s expected. Called the Blue Zones, these regions host the highest concentrations of centenarians in the world. They are Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California (where a community of Seventh-day Adventists live); Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; and Icaria, Greece. Dan Buettner, author of “The Blue Zones” and “Thrive,” has spent years studying these populations. “From all of our research we have found that there are lessons from the Blue Zones that we believe are what produce such longevity,” says Buettner. Take it from the people who are living the dream: You, too, can easily incorporate the lessons into your lifestyle.

1. Incorporate Movement Naturally

“The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms,” says Buettner. “Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it.” For instance, he says, they grow gardens and do their own housework – without all the modern conveniences. In fact, Blue Zone residents move every 10 to 15 minutes. Try to emulate them by getting rid of your remote, making it necessary to get up and walk across the room to change the channel. Better yet, swap your TV time for a bike ride or walking the dog. And replace your power tools with hand tools when possible.

2. Have a Sense of Purpose

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“The Okinawans call it ‘ikigai.’ The Nicoyans call it ‘plan de vida.’ Both translate to ‘why I wake up in the morning,’” says Buettner. Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy. Take a simple inventory of your likes and interests and figure out what you’re passionate about -- then do something about it. Do you love animals? Volunteer at a humane society. People who volunteer have lower rates of cancer, heart disease and depression.

3. Find Ways to Shed Stress

Everyone experiences stress, even people in the Blue Zones. “Stress leads to chronic inflammation, which is associated with every major age-related disease,” says Buettner. “What the world’s longest-lived people have that we don’t are routines to shed that stress.” Make like an Okinawan and take a few moments each day to remember your loved ones. Take a nap like an Icarian. Or do happy hour like a true Sardinian.

4. Stop Eating When You’re Mostly Full

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“‘Hara hachi bu’ -- the 2,500-year-old Confucian mantra said before meals by the Okinawans reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full,” says Buettner. “The 20 percent gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight and gaining it.” Slow down when you eat in order to feel the effects your food is having on your hunger. And have your meals with other people to encourage conversation and discourage overeating.

5. Taper Off Meals Throughout the Day

“People in the Blue Zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening,” says Buettner. “And then they don’t eat any more the rest of the day.” Stick to three meals and try to schedule them all to occur within eight hours. Have a big breakfast (in which you consume about half of your daily calories), a medium-size lunch and a light, early dinner.

6. Eat Beans in Bulk and Meat Very Sparingly

“Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets,” says Buettner. “Meat, mostly pork, is eaten on average only five times per month. Serving sizes are three to four ounces -- about the size of a deck of playing cards.” Stick to single-ingredient foods, and avoid processed stuff. Cook at home to ensure you’re in charge of what you’re eating.

7. Drink a Glass of Wine Every Day

People in the majority of the Blue Zones drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers outlive nondrinkers. “The trick is to drink one to two glasses per day with friends and/or with food,” says Buettner. And, no, you can’t save up all week and have 14 drinks on Saturday.

8. Join a Community

“All but five of the 263 centenarians we interviewed belonged to some faith-based community,” says Buettner. “Denomination doesn’t seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add four to 14 years of life expectancy.” Not particularly religious? There are plenty of ways to connect with others: Try entering a community like a knitting club, Toastmasters or even an atheist group.

9. Put Your 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. “A Blue Zone resident will commit to a life partner -- which can add up to three years of life expectancy -- and will invest in his or her children with time and love,” says Buettner. Bonus: Your kids will be more likely to care for you when the time comes.

10. Find the Right Tribe

The world’s longest-living people choose or were born into social circles that support healthy behaviors. “Okinawans create a ‘moai’ -- a group of five friends that commit to each other for life,” says Buettner. Research from the Framingham Heart Studies shows that smoking, obesity, happiness and even loneliness are contagious. The social networks of long-lived people have favorably shaped their health behaviors.

Related: Check out The Blue Zone website’s Vitality Compass to estimate your potential life expectancy.

What Do YOU Think?

Know any centenarians or friends or family living to a ripe old age? What are their secrets? Tell us in the comments!

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