More than two decades ago, researcher Dan Buettner identified five places around the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives. These places became known as the Blue Zones, and studying how people live there uncovers some lifestyle habits that may lead to their success.
“Only about 20% of how long you live is dictated by your genes. The other 80% is something else, and a lot of what produces healthy longevity surprises people. People in the Blue Zones are achieving an extra 10 years without disease, and it costs them nothing. Their journey to a healthy age 100 is joyous,” Buettner tells TODAY.com. “In fact, there’s about an 80% overlap where what drives longevity also drives happiness.”
In an Instagram video posted on Sept. 8, Buettner boils it down to five essential tips. TODAY.com spoke to him to learn more.
1. Eat a whole-food, plant-based diet.
The traditional diets in all five Blue Zones are 90 to 98% whole-food, plant-based. They do eat meat, but only about five times a month, on average. They might eat 10 or 11 pounds of meat a year, compared to 220 pounds for the average American.
Their diets focus on whole grains, corn, rice, greens, tubers like potatoes and yams, beans, and nuts as snacks. They eat about a cup of beans a day. “They know how to make them taste delicious,” Buettner says. They might eat fish three times a week, and they have little or no dairy.
They drink an average of six glasses of water a day, plus herbal, green and black tea, coffee and a little bit of wine. “Well over 80% of people making it into their 90s and 100s who are still healthy drink every day of their lives. So, I know a little bit of healthy alcohol consumption is not mutually exclusive with living a long time and staying sharp until the end,” Buettner says.
2. Try to get eight hours of sleep a day.
“Sleep is very important,” Buettner says. If you aren’t sleeping enough, you can do three simple things to get more sleep:
- Turn the thermostat down to about 68 degrees.
- Cover your windows with dark curtains or shades to block out light.
- Take the electronics out of your bedroom.
3. Know and be able to articulate your sense of purpose.
One study found that people who have a sense of purpose live longer than people who are rudderless in life.
If you’re not sure what your purpose is, he suggests writing down your values, passions and what you love to do. “Look for the trends and then make sure there’s an outlet for them,” Buettner says.
Don’t assume you’ll find your purpose at work. That’s only true for fewer than 30% of Americans. “It could be at your church, it could be with your family, it could be with volunteering,” Buettner says. “But when you have a sense of purpose you’re more likely to get out and move every day. You’re more likely to find friends and be a good friend. You’re more likely to eat healthy. It’s far more powerful than we think.”
4. Move naturally all day long.
“I’m not talking about going to run marathons or doing CrossFit,” Buettner says. People in the Blue Zones move every 20 minutes or so. They aren’t exercising, they’re moving because their life is underpinned with purpose. Their idea of recreation is walking or gardening. They’re getting the right amount of physical activity without even thinking about it.
In Okinawa, Japan, one of the Blue Zones, people sit on the floor all the time. Getting up from the floor builds their lower body strength and increases their flexibility, which may make them less likely to fall. “It’s not a bad idea to have a beanbag chair,” Buettner says.
Walking or taking the bus to work can nudge you to get 4,000 or 5,000 steps a day without thinking about it. And Buettner recommends having comfortable shoes as a way to make it easier to get in some physical activity almost effortlessly.
5. Curate four or five friends who have healthy habits.
“When it comes to longevity, there’s no short-term fix. Friends are long-term adventures. Surround yourself with the right ones and you have a good chance of making it to 100,” Buettner says. “Making those friends is going to do more to make you healthy than any biohack or anti-aging nostrum.”
Health habits are contagious. That goes for bad habits like drug and alcohol use as well as good habits. Friends have a measurable impact on your healthy behaviors, so choose friends whose idea of fun is playing pickleball, bicycling, gardening or checking out a museum.
Buettner also recommends adding a vegetarian or vegan to your immediate social circle: “They’re going to show you where to find delicious, plant-based foods and introduce you to recipes or foods that are way better than the greasy steak you’ve been eating.”