See 14 Health Habits of the Longest Living People
While the most sought-after goal of a fitness and nutrition program often seems to be “weight loss,” isn’t the real reason to develop healthy habits to be stronger, happier, and live longer? Beyond perhaps a measure of vanity, what size you are or what you weigh on a scale really isn’t the biggest concern.
So, what is?
That is a great question, and fortunately, many habits are pretty common among people who enjoy longer health spans. There are even areas where people tend to live longer and better. These regions are referred to as “Blue Zones,” and they can teach us a lot about healthy living beyond just losing weight.
What are the Blue Zones?
In short, the Blue Zones are areas around the globe that have a higher population of folks who live into their 90s and beyond—with a large number of people living over 100 years old. The people in these areas tend to enjoy more productive lives, lower stress levels, decreased mental health incidents like dementia, reduced number of chronic diseases like obesity and pulmonary disease, and longer health spans. That’s something most of us would love to sign up for.
As referenced in the book of the same name, some of the most well-known Blue Zones include:
- Okinawa, Japan
- Nicola Peninsula, Costa Rica
- Loma Linda, California
- The island of Ikaria, Greece
- Specific areas of Sardina, Italy
While there are significant differences between each area, what’s interesting is their similarities and what those can teach us about living not only longer but better. While you may have heard of the Blue Zone Power 9®—referring to 9 lifestyle habits of the longest-lived people—there are even more habits that these long-living folks tend to have in common. What’s more, you may be surprised by how simple and common sense these habits really are.
14 Blue Zone Habits for a Longer Life
1. Eat Less
Eating less doesn’t mean going hungry, skipping meals, or going on a crash diet. Rather, when you are eating a meal, check-in with your hunger, and then once you’re about 80% full—satisfied rather than stuffed or still hungry—stop eating. In Okinawa, it’s called “hara hachi bu,” and people remind themselves by using the phrase before they eat.
Stopping at 80% works well because it can take up to 20 minutes for your belly to register that it’s full. So, by following this simple rule, you’ll enjoy greater satisfaction from meals without feeling uncomfortable. What’s more, you’ll likely naturally eat fewer calories to help you lose or maintain your weight (though that isn’t necessarily the goal).
2. Eat More Plant Foods
The folks in the Blue Zones don’t eat a typical western diet. They aren’t into just meat and potatoes or eating simply for convenience. Instead, they live on a mainly plant-based, whole-food diet. That doesn’t mean they’re all vegetarians or vegans. Many consume a Mediterranean-type diet with small portions of meat a couple of times a week. Yet the majority of their meals are made up of beans and legumes, in-season fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and plenty of spices to make their meals delicious.
Eating more beans and pulses may be particularly helpful as they’re high in fiber and protein, so they keep you fuller for longer, making it easier to control calories. In fact, beans are the top longevity food according to the research from the Blue Zones. 1 Black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, and others can be included in soups and stews, dips like hummus, and added to salad.
Don’t forget to eat a rainbow of colorful vegetables and fruits. Getting in 7 or more servings per day has been shown to decrease the risk of early death by as much as 42%. 2
Fiber-rich whole grains have also been shown to lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of early death from heart disease and some forms of cancer. 3 Shoot for at least three servings per day while ensuring you’re keeping portion sizes in check.
Nuts are another terrific source of plant-based protein, fiber, and healthy fats. When included in an overall healthy diet, they’ve been shown to help manage metabolic syndrome as well as support greater levels of health and longevity. 4, 5
Finally, use mealtimes to connect with family and/or friends. Sit down for breakfast together, lunch with co-workers, and dine as a family to build greater connections and support for each other.
3. Move More
For many of us, that can mean hitting the gym, going for a run, or enjoying a yoga session. But folks in Blue Zones rarely (if ever) mention their gym membership or fitness class.
Instead, they focus on natural movements like walking to and from work (often over hilly terrain), hiking through a forest, regular play with friends, children, and grandchildren, taking care of their homes—gardening, cooking, and doing housework or maintenance—gathering and cutting firewood, harvesting fruit, etc. In other words, regular activity is just a part of daily life.
Unfortunately, many of us don’t have active jobs and therefore move less than we need to. So, if you do work at a desk or in a car most days, remember to take breaks throughout the day to walk around, stretch, and move more in general.
4. Get Out and See More
One of the keys to a long, healthy health span is face-to-face interactions. So, even if you work from home, are a hardcore introvert, or are caring for small children in the house, seek out ways to get out into the world daily.
Then nurture those relationships as one of the most important indicators of long-term health is having close relationships. Who can you call on a bad day? When things get rough, who will support you?
Getting involved in the community is a great way to make new friends. What’s more, the happiest cities are the ones with the greatest community engagement and environments. To meet more people and make more friends, consider volunteering. People who volunteer tend to enjoy lower weight, have a lower risk of heart disease, and report they’re simply happier.
5. Decrease Stress by “Downshifting”
There are different types of stress, and some stress is healthy. Yet over time, chronic, ongoing stressors can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, and diseases like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
To help combat those ongoing stressors, learn how to develop an attitude to accept things as they come. You won’t always be in control (no matter how hard you try), so learning how to let things flow is vital.
One way to help you do so is to integrate healthy rituals into your day. This could mean meditation or mindful prayer, tai chi, yoga, an afternoon nap, taking a walk or forest bathing, reading a book, practicing a hobby, playing with a pet or child, or meeting with friends or family for coffee, tea, or even a glass or two of wine with dinner to connect at the end of the day.
The best way to ensure you take the time to downshift throughout the day is to schedule it. First, decide how you’ll downshift, and then add it to your calendar just as you do any other appointment, meeting, or event.
6. Connect to What Matters to You
Another commonality for people in Blue Zones is the belief in life having purpose (called “plan de vida” in Costa Rica). Have a good reason to get out of bed every day (called “ikigai” in Japan) and cultivate meaning as you live for a longer, healthier life. What drives you, invigorates your soul, or gives your life meaning?
Even after retirement, you can continue to contribute to the people, causes, and events that are important to you. Perhaps you volunteer at an animal shelter or a local elementary school or senior center. Your purpose may (and likely will) evolve throughout life as you and the world around you changes. Develop new hobbies, interests, and connections to stay mentally and physically engaged and excited to be alive.
If you aren’t sure what drives you now, Ken Mogi, the author of Awakening Your Ikigai, recommends a process of “starting small, accepting yourself, connecting with others and the planet, finding joy in the little things, and staying present.”
7. Invest in Your Spirituality
The longest-living people tend to have strong faith and invest deeply in their spiritual community. That could mean attending regular faith-based services, potluck dinners, or finding other ways to build social ties with people who share similar beliefs. Having faith and a community to support you during tough times can help with resiliency to overcome grief, heartache, suffering, and setbacks that are common in life.
Spirituality can mean religion, but it doesn’t have to. Rather, it’s about having a belief in something larger (or beyond) yourself.
8. Build Strong Family Ties
In today’s day and age, work often seems to come first. Yet strong family ties—and living close to family—have been shown to decrease childhood mortality and help people live longer. So, cherish your family or, if relationships are challenging, build a family of friends who love and support each other, check-in, and spend quality time together.
9. Focus on Friendships
Speaking of friendships, having deep, long-lasting friendships is another key to living a long, healthy, happy life. We humans are social creatures, and we need each other. So, even if you’ve moved away from your childhood neighborhood, maintaining those long-lasting friendships reaps benefits for both (all) of you.
10. Adopt a Pet
Some of the best friendships/relationships are not human to human but rather human to animal. Pets can provide companionship, love, and affection. Plus, having a canine companion encourages people to walk more often and consistently. Why not invite in a hiking partner who’s always ready and willing to get out and go?
11. Start Your Morning Strong
In five of the Blue Zones, folks tend to start their days off strong with a delicious cup of coffee and consume up to three cups per day. They don’t typically load it up with tons of cream and sugar, though. Instead, they enjoy their coffee black or with a milk alternative (such as oat milk) and some natural sweetener. Tea is another common drink throughout the Blue Zones.
To make your coffee break even better, set aside time to drink it with friends and/or family.
Interestingly, most folks in the Blue Zones don’t skip breakfast. Instead, they enjoy something healthy and wholesome, such as a nice bowl of old-fashioned oatmeal topped with walnuts, dates, and a splash of milk or a milk alternative.
12. Be Kind
What better way to start the day than by saying something kind to someone? Smile and give a compliment or say something nice to greet people around you, starting with the first person you see in the morning—whether that’s family, a neighbor, or someone at the store. Kindness is contagious and will likely come back to you. 6
13. Practice Positive Sleep Habits
It goes without saying that a good night’s sleep is required for feeling good. To get a good night’s sleep, you need to practice positive sleep habits. This includes keeping your sleep schedule consistent, giving yourself time to wind down at the end of the day, sleeping in a cool, dark room, and avoiding overhead, especially blue, light in the evenings.
While many people claim to need only six to seven hours of sleep at night, according to the Blue Zones, for optimal results, people in those zones tend to sleep even more—between 8 and 10 hours per night.
Getting good quality sleep not only helps promote longevity, it also helps the brain function better, improves immunity, and leads to increased energy levels during the day.
14. Skip the Late-Night Snack
Avoiding overeating and snacking before bed can help you maintain a healthy weight. Many of the longest-lived people tend to eat smaller dinners early with larger meals at breakfast or lunch.
14 Habits for a Long Life: A Recap
If your goal is to live a longer, healthier, happier life, give up the outcome-based goals like “losing 20 pounds” and transform them into life-supporting habits. Pick just one or two of the proven healthy habits from the Blue Zones to incorporate into your life. Once they’re just part of your daily routine, pick another one to add.
If you are afraid that your genetics are what’s been holding you back from living a long, healthy life, don’t worry about it. Genetics affect maybe only 20 to 30% of your longevity. Your environment, diet, lifestyle, attitude, and habits play a much more significant role, and you’re in control of all of those!