Melissa Meier is an online and Sydney-based Accredited Practising Dietitian. You can connect with her at www.honestnutrition.com.au or on Instagram @honest_nutrition.
Want to live to the ripe old age of 100? You might be surprised to learn that while genetics play a role, your lifestyle and environment have a major impact on your longevity.
So, what exactly should you change about your lifestyle to help you live a longer life? Take a leaf out of the book of the people who live in the ‘Blue Zones’. These are the places with the highest rates of centenarians (that is, people who live to 100 years of age). And not only do they live to 100, they do so in good health with a high quality of life.
In case you’re wondering, there are five ‘Blue Zones’ dotted across the globe. They are:
1. The island of Ikaria in Greece
2. Okinawa in Japan
3. Sardinia in Italy
4. The Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rice
5. Loma Linda in California – a community of Seventh Day Adventists
What’s interesting is that the scientists who studied these somewhat random groups of people found nine striking commonalities:
The people of the Blue Zones are constantly on the move – not competing in triathlons every weekend or pumping iron at the crack of dawn, but moving regularly while carrying out their daily activities.
And while that’s a hard ask for most of us who have nine to five desk jobs, you can do your best to apply the principal. For example, you could get up for a glass of water every hour and make the most of your lunch break to avoid long periods of sitting.
2. A purpose
It appears that having a reason to wake up in the morning can be good for your life expectancy, too. So, do whatever it takes to light the fire inside you and ignite your passion.
3. Low stress levels
While a little stress can be a good thing, constantly being stressed beyond your limits can seriously impact your mental and physical health. So, do like the people of the Blue Zones do and incorporate stress-relieving activities in your daily life.
4. The 80 per cent rule
This is a good one – and indeed, something that I try to encourage my clients to do, too.
Rather than scoffing down food until you need to undo your belt buckle, tune into your satiety cues and learn to stop when you’re only 80 per cent full. It’s a good trick that helps to avoid overeating and unwanted weight gain.
5. Plant-based diets
The people of the Blue Zones weren’t into keto diets, paleo diets, vegan diets or any other fad diet. Instead, that just focused on plants – and that’s one thing I’m a big advocate for.
FYI, that doesn’t mean a plant-only diet. It just means that fruit, veggies, legumes and wholegrains form the foundation. Foods like meat, dairy and seafood are not off the menu – they’re just limited. In fact, in the Blue Zones, meat is typically only eaten about five times a month.
6. Moderate alcohol consumption
Hello red wine – but not by the bottle like you’re probably used to on a Friday night.
In all but one of the Blue Zones, wine is enjoyed – but the catch is, it’s over food and with loved ones. The key word here is enjoyed, literally for the taste of it, not because they’re stressed, tired or had a big week.
7. Involvement in community
Each of the Blue Zone groups demonstrated a strong commitment to their faith-based community. But I’m not telling you that you have to go to church every Sunday. Some academics have proposed that any type of community, from a chess group to a book club, will do.
8. Family come first
That means your parents, your partner and your kids are your top priority. Not your work, your sporting club or your house.
9. The importance of a social life
Perhaps my favourite attribute of the people who live in the Blue Zones is their focus on developing meaningful relationships that are supportive of healthy habits. This is so important for the Japanese Okinawans, for example, that when they are born, they are placed into ‘moais’, or groups of five friends that are dedicated to each other for life.