In 2004, Dan Buettner and National Geographic teamed with the best longevity researchers to identify places in the world where people live longer and better than the rest. They found five areas where people live to age 100 at rates 10 times greater than the rest of the world. These people did not just live longer, they lived without health problems, such as heart disease, dementia, obesity or cancer. After many years of research, Buettner and his expert colleagues identified lifestyle choices that are common among Blue Zone regions. He labeled them the Power 9®, and they are:
- Move naturally: The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it. They grow gardens and don’t have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work.
- Know your purpose: Also called why I wake up in the morning, knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy.
- Down shift: Even people in the Blue Zones experience stress. Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. The longest-lived people have a routine to shed stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians do happy hour.
- 80% rule: Before meals Confucian mantra reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. The 20% gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it. People in the Blue Zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening, and they do not eat any more the rest of the day.
- Eat plants: Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Meat—mostly pork—is eaten on average only five times per month. Serving sizes are 3-4 oz., about the size of a deck of cards.
- Moderate use of alcohol: People in all Blue Zones, except Adventists, who do not drink alcohol, drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. The trick is to drink 1-2 glasses per day with friends and/or with food.
- Belong: All but five of the 263 centenarians we interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. Denomination does not seem to matter.
- 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. They commit to a life partner, which can add up to 3 years of life expectancy, and invest in their children with time and love.
- Find your people: The world’s longest-lived people chose, or were born into, social circles that supported healthy behaviors. Okinawans created groups of five friends that committed to each other for life.
Companies that incorporate Blue Zone strategies into their culture do not focus on all the Power 9®. Instead, they focus on what can be implemented and what is important to employees and leadership. Examples include:
- Focusing on environment: adding elements of nature to a workspace
- Encouraging movement: walking meetings, stretch breaks or encouraging exercise during lunch
- Mediation: offering classes or opportunities for a mindful break
- Cooking demos: these can include healthy, non-meat focused meals
Want to learn more about creating a Blue Zone office? Watch this Blue Cross® Virtual Well-Being webinar. In this webinar, your Virtual Well-Being coordinator teaches how to create a Blue Zone culture that will help your employees thrive. You can also sign up for future employer-focused and general interest webinars here, where you’ll also be able to check out past sessions and resources. Related:
- Encourage Vision Well-being
- Help Your Employees Prevent and Better Manage Diabetes
- Keeping Employees Motivated
Photo credit: Mumemories