June 3, 2021
by Mona Jauhar RDN, LD
Lifestyle lessons from world’s healthiest, happiest, and longest-living populations
A team of anthropologists, demographers, and scientists studied the world’s longest-living populations, collectively called the Blue Zones, and they found many habits that people of these regions have in common, like eating a plant based diet, enjoying midday naps and prioritizing tight-knit social networks. The following lifestyle commonalities between the Blue Zones — Loma Linda, (US), Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica), Sardinia (Italy), Ikaria (Greece), Okinawa (Japan) — contribute to emotional well-being, disease prevention, and longevity.
Whether in Sardinia in Italy or Ikaria in Greece, people in most Blue Zones engage in regular physical activity and avoid too much dependence on modern conveniences like cars, vacuum cleaners or washing machines. While older Ikarians are likely to remain physically active well into the 80s and 90s, Sardinians walk significant distances through hilly terrain each day, promoting heart and bone health.
Plant centric eating
The vast majority of individuals living in Blue Zone regions consume meals consisting of mostly plant-sourced foods. Animal proteins are generally consumed in small amounts and are often reserved for special occasions. There is enough research to back the fact that a plant-heavy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, is associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality, lower incidence of depression, and reduced cognitive decline.
Sense of purpose
What would one live for if there wasn’t a purpose? Referred to as Ikigai in Okinawa and plan de vida in Nicoya (which translates to “why I wake up in the morning”), a sense of purpose contributes to human longevity and overall health and well-being. It could be a hobby, a great career, or responsibility to care for loved ones — having a goal in life is associated with numerous psychological benefits, including improved happiness, self-esteem, gratitude and positivity.
There must be a reason why most of the world’s longest-living people prioritise activities such as napping, praying, and attending happy hour with friends over work and worrying. It is because it makes them happy and stress free, leaving not much scope for problems of the heart or mind. Also the common thread of seeking social connectedness says a lot about the role of social love and support in maintaining psychological and physical well-being.
Okinawans follow the principle Hara Hachi Bu, which means “eat until you’re 80% full”. Similarly, most of the other Blue Zones dwellers stick to the simple rules of eating small meals, eating mindfully and eating an early dinner, all factors supporting health and longevity.
The world's happiest people live in close knit families where three generations live harmoniously together, helping out in household duties and caring for each other. Parents invest time in their children and individuals have committed life partners. Putting family first automatically creates a positive, stress free atmosphere.
A number of studies have indicated that religion can be beneficial to health. The effect of religiosity or church attendance on health may be mediated in part by a healthy lifestyle, social cohesion or other factors such as mitigating stress. Most people living in Blue Zones belong to a faith-based community, and religious affiliations vary among the populations.
- Blue Zones: Lessons From the World’s Longest Lived. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6125071/
- The Nicoya region of Costa Rica: a high longevity island for elderly males. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4241350/
- Resilience in Elders of the Sardinian Blue Zone: An Explorative Study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5867483/
- First Autopsy Study of an Okinawan Centenarian: Absence of Many Age-Related Diseases. https://academic.oup.com/biomedgerontology/article/59/11/1195/589784