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Want to Live Past 100? Eat Like the People in the Blue Zones

If you want to “live long and prosper” perhaps you need to adopt the lifestyle of people who live in the “Blue Zones” of the world. These four regions are areas where people live the longest and are the healthiest. So what is their secret to a long and happy life? Although the Blue Zones are far apart from one another and have some different customs, they do have several things in common that could explain their inhabitants’ longevity.

People in the Blue Zones certainly don’t feel blue about their life expectancy. The Blue Zones — five areas across the globe that boast the most centenarians (individuals who live past 100) — may hold the proverbial “fountain of youth."

The Blue Zone Project is actually the name of a collaborative partnership project between National Geographic, the National Institute on Aging, and author Dan Buettner, and it’s roughly used to characterize areas of the world where people live the longest. Speaking more precisely, the Blue Zones are “areas where we have a demographically confirmed, geographically defined, area where people are either reaching age 100 at extraordinary rates, have the highest life expectancy, or the lowest rate of middle age mortality.”

This group of journalists, medical scientists, and demographers traveled to the Blue Zones and developed a survey to pinpoint certain lifestyle habits that could explain the inhabitants’ longevity, including dietary habits, amounts and types of physical activity they get, aspects of how they socialize with one another, what types of medicines or supplements they take (if any), and other behavioral habits they have.

Regions that have been identified as “Blue Zones” include: the Italian island Sardinia; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California (USA); and Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula.

Researchers cannot fully explain the entire aging process, but these zones tend to have certain practices in common that may contribute their long lifespan, free of disease.

Mostly Plant-Based Diet

The main key to longevity? Veggies — lots of them. Include at least two vegetables at each meal (a double order of fries doesn’t count). Spry centenarians enjoy lots of leafy green veggies and deep-hued produce as well while also limiting their meat consumption. Those living in Loma Linda are vegetarian, and people in Okinawa, Costa Rica, and Sardinia only eat meat on special occasions.

Green tea, coffee, and olive oil are also enjoyed abundantly by Blue Zone residents.

Nosh on Nuts

People living to ripe old ages in the Blue Zones love nuts — so much so that they eat them four to five times a week in serving sizes of about two ounces. Nuts are rich sources of monounsaturated fat and also provide fiber and vitamin E — all essential to maintaining a healthy ticker.

Lean on Beans, Tofu, and Fish for Protein

The majority of Blue Zoners’ protein intake comes in the form of beans, tofu, or fish. Beans and tofu are low in fat and high in fiber. White fish is low in fat and provides ample muscle-maintaining protein, while fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, and sardines, provide protective omega-3 fatty acids.

Bursts of Physical Activity Throughout the Day

Rather than racking up an exact number of minutes on the treadmill and then being rather sedentary throughout the rest of the day like many Americans, people living the Blue Zones are much more continuously active throughout their entire day. They walk everywhere — to work, to the store, to visit friends, and so on. They have gardens that they tend to — planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting. They sit on the floor, knead bread by hand, and watch little to no television. Their houses and environments are set up so that they get small bursts of activity all throughout the day.

But Don’t Forget to Nap

People in the Blue Zones are big-time nappers. In fact, research has found that squeezing in a little 30-minute cat nap each day for five days a week can slash your risk of heart disease by a third.

And Have Sex and Wine

Just because you reach middle age doesn’t mean your sex life has to screech to a halt. Actually, you should be getting it on as often as twice a week (minimum) after age 50 if you want to cut your rate of all-cause mortality in half. Now those are some doctor’s orders you can enjoy!

If you want to live like people in the Blue Zones — that is, a long time and in good health — you get the green light to enjoy moderate amounts of red. It is a staple in the Blue Zones and moderate drinkers outlive those who don’t imbibe. Red wine’s health benefits have been attributed to its high amount of protective antioxidants and polyphenols. I’ll raise a glass to that!

Strong Social Network

Having a robust social life is integral to longevity. If you live in one of the Blue Zones, your social circle supports and reinforces your cultural customs through healthy habits such as cooking and enjoying healthy meals together, getting adequate sleep and physical activity, working at something you’re passionate about, and relieving stress. Blue Zone inhabitants have a purpose in life that they pursue every day but they also know how to relax and enjoy life.

[Image via Getty]

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