9 Traits To A Healthier and Happier Life from the Blue Zones


Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated. ~Confucius

I love to read a good book. One that inspires me to live a better and live a longer life with mental clarity and little if no disease. The book that has inspired me most recently (I’ve reread it for the second time!) is The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest by Dan Buettner. The book shows that by improving lifestyle, “people can look and feel better at every age and add 12 years to their life expectancy”. It’s a perfect book to start out the new year in a positive way if you’re looking to change your lifestyle and your health. In fact, I like it so much, I’m going to give the book away to one of you.

Dan Buettner started out by writing in 2004 by an aritcle for National Geographic about people who were living longer lives without debilitating diseases. He traveled around the world with lovgevity experts and found pockets in the world where people were living to 100 years – 10 times more often than people in the US. He and his team found five places in the world where this is taking place and tried to unlock their secrets to a healthy longevity.

The book is an easy read with lots of stories about the Centenarians. Here are the 5 identified Blue Zones Buettner and his researchers originally found:

Sardinia, Italy
This island is off the coast of Italy and is home to some of the longest living men. They come from an ancient culture, have respect for elders and loyalty to family. They also drink a stong wine called Cannonau.

Okinawa’s Ushi Okushima still gardening at age 109 from The Blue Zone

Okinawa’s Ushi Okushima still gardening at age 109 from The Blue Zone

Okinawa, Japan
Okinawa is part of small culster of islands off the coast of Japan. Here the researchers found Japan’s longest living people. They love family, small amounts of food and finding a purpose in life.

Loma Linda, CA
The Seventh Day Adventist’s community in Loma Linda, has the most centenarians in the US. Faith, purpose and eating a mostly plant based diet might be part of their secret.

Ikaria, Greece
Ikaria, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea is another Blue Zone. People here are three times more likely to reach age 90 than in the U.S. They don’t get as much cancer, heart disease or much dementia. This chapter started with one of my favorite stories. Short version: a man with cancer (who had immigrated to the US) came back to his old home, Ikaria, to die at 65. When Dan Buettner met him, he was over 100!

Nicoya Costa Rica
This area of Costa Rica has some of the healthiest centenarians. They were hard workers with many gardens, their family lived nearby and they have a “plan de vida”! (purpose)

9 Ways to Thrive and Live A Long Life!

9 Ways to Thrive and Live A Long Life!

Dan Buettner’s team of medical researchers, anthropologists, demographers, and epidemiologists found that all these cultures shared these 9 traits:

1. Move Naturally – Centarians don’t go to a gym. They move naturally, bending, walking often gardening. They are outside all the time, moving! Yoga is a great activity helps to keep moving naturally if we don’t do as much as these centenarians.

2. Have A Purpose – In Okinawa it’s “Ikigai” (icky-guy) and in Costa Rica call it “plan de vida”. In other words it’s… “why I wake up in the morning.” Know that a sense of purpose is worth more healthy older years.

3. No Stress – Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. I love what Dan Buettner writes:
“Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians do happy hour.”

4. 80% Rule – “Hara hachi bu” – the Okinawans say this before their meals. It’s translation means to stop eating when they are 80% full. It’s a 2500-year old Confucian saying said before meals. The 20% gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it. All Blue Zone people eat their largest meal at mid-day and their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening.

5. Plant based diet – Most Blue Zone people can’t afford to eat a lot of meat. Meat is eaten maybe five times per month. Most eat their own vegetables or buy them at a local market.

6. Wine @ 5
 – Most people in the 5 Blue Zones (not the Adventists) drink alcohol regularly, 1-2 glasses a day. They often have the drinks with friends, family and often with food. This time helps them let go of stress and keep them connected. An interesting fact: Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers.

7. Belong
 In A Community – Most centenarians were part of a community and connected to faith, whether it is a church based or praying to the ancestors. That didn’t seem to matter.

8. Loved Ones – Successful centenarians in the Blue Zones have close ties to family. Grandparents and other relatives are a big part of their children’s and grandchildren’s lives.

9. Be Part Of the Right Tribe
 – The centenarians chose to be with people who also have their healthy behaviors. Obesity, unhappiness, smoking and other bad habits can be contagious. So can positive thinking, eating healthy and exercising. Chose your tribe carefully.

Here is Dan Buettner when he spoke at TED in 2009. This video is 22 minutes long but totally worth it! You’ll feel better after watching it.

I’m giving away a copy of The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest away! Leave a comment below to win Dan Buettner’s book and let me know what you do or would like to do to live a longer and happier life.

***I found this information and the images found http://www.bluezones.com

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14 Responses to 9 Traits To A Healthier and Happier Life from the Blue Zones

  1. Evelyn Lim says:

    How interesting! The areas indicated seem like places I would love to visit 🙂

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  2. Suzie Cheel says:

    I would love to read this book as it highlights a couple of places i hadn’t heard referred to before- I have started eating our larger meal early afternoon and a lot of plant based locally sourced food. Thank for sharing the tedex talk xx

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  3. Angela says:

    Nick and I need to read this book! I love your blog highlights! What great reminders that we need to incorporate into our everyday lives. Thank you so much for sharing!

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  4. Trisha says:

    This is the 2nd time I’ve read about the Blue Zones in the last month! I have vowed to find out what it causing some of my health issues. My 6 year old & I also talk about living to be 100. He often asks, “When you are 110, how old will I be? I want you to live until you’re 120!” I told him, “Me too, kiddo.” So glad you liked the book, & thank you for sharing about the Blue Zones.

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  5. Tom Moberg says:

    Zen Mama,
    Thanks for sharing this. I already subscribe to some of the suggestions in Mr. Buettner’s book (I’ve been an ovo-lacto vegetarian for almost 30 years and we grow many of our own vegetables and berries). But some of the other ideas are certainly worth incorporating. I will view the TED talk and it came at a perfect time since a group I am involved in (a Theosophical Study center) just assigned finding a TED talk to share at out meeting next week. I would love to read the book. I have two other suggestions that are related but not specifically mentioned in the 9 cultural attributes; meditation and avoiding pharmaceuticals. Yoga is great for the physical limbering but meditation helps relieve stress and keep the mind in perspective for what is really important in life. Pharma solutions may be necessary and beneficial for some (e.g. insulin for diabetics) but we are a “Prozac nation” to borrow a coined phrase. Many/most ailments can be cured or corrected through natural remedies or life style changes instead of drugs. Lastly, living to 100 is not a goal I have unless it is accompanied with mental acuity and pain-free living. If I become unhappy via illness or dementia and life becomes a struggle then it’s time to check out of this incarnation and await the next. One other point to longevity is to not fear death and come to the realization of the unity of all things.
    Peace, Tom M
    PS. I love your blog.

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  6. Mary says:

    Your post and book recommendation comes at the perfect time. I was recently diagnosed with cancer and am ready to embark on a journey of life improving changes. This book would be the perfect jump start to making these improvements.

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  7. I recently bought The Blue Zones and found it so interesting as well. It’s helpful to know that regular movement, healthy eating, as well as genetics, among other things, help with your longevity. The book is a great reminder and gives the reader a clear roadmap on how to live in a healthier way. Thanks for sharing, Betsy!

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  8. Samantha Briley says:

    I try to live healthy by moving naturally. I love going for walks and practicing yoga! I definitely need some tips on how to reduce my stress and improve my diet, though.

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  9. Ashley Quinn says:

    Betsy,
    I think this is so true and a great reminder to calm down and appreciate every day we have! Thanks for a great blog post.

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  10. How inspiring, Betsy! Thanks for giving us a glimpse of these different cultures and highlight for where to focus if we want to live longer. I love these kinds of stories too.

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  11. Fascinating, Betsy. I love learning about the habits of the Blue Zone centenarians. We all have a lot to learn from their living habits. I know I do! I’m doing pretty good on the eating and moving. I could do better on the others. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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  12. Paige Burkes says:

    As I recently turned 50, I looked to this book to help guide me on my next 50 years. My new year’s resolutions are to live more like those in the Blue Zones. Great book!

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  13. Thank you for reviewing this awesome book. I will be getting my hands on it soon enough.
    xoxo, Z~

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  14. Elle Sommer says:

    Interesting Betsy…Okinawa is where people drink golden milk daily. I wrote about it here https://livepurposefullynow.com/golden-milk-how-to-spice-up-your-life-and-live-longer/ And these folk live 8 – 12 times longer than the rest of us.

    Another book to be added to my library. Thank you. 🙂

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