A group of National Geographic researchers traveled the world to study communities with high percentages of centenarians (people who live to be 100 years old or more) and low incidences cancer, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
With anthropologists, demographers, and epidemiologists among them, they found five communities that met their standard: Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan, Loma Linda, California, Ogliastra region, Sardinia; and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.
The communities, which became known as Blue Zones, are separated by thousands of miles, but there are some notable similarities when it comes to their lifestyle and diets.
The Blue Zone researchers call them the Power Nine, referring to nine lifestyle habits that seem to lead to longer, healthier lives:
1. Incorporate organic vegetables, fruits, and a variety of beans into your diet.
2. Integrate natural movement into your everyday life.
3. Have a purpose to live for beyond work.
4. Find a way to downshift as part of your everyday routine.
5. Stop eating when you are 80 percent full.
6. Commit to a healthy social circle that supports you.
7. Believe in something (research says it can add years to your life).
8. Adopt a family first mentality.
9. Drink alcohol moderately, but regularly.
When it comes to diet, specifically, the Blue Zone researchers discovered some simple food guidelines, categorized as four foods to have on hand every day, and four foods to avoid entirely. The four to always have include organic vegetables, nuts, beans and fruit. The four to avoid are sugar-sweetened beverages; salty snacks; processed meats; and packaged sweets.
When it comes to overall diet, they recommend a diet comprised of 95 percent plant-based foods. The Blue Zone communities all had gardens full of a variety of vegetables, always organic and free of pesticides. Leafy greens, spinach, kale, chard, and collards, were particularly prominent in the diets of Blue Zone communities, with beans also serving as a cornerstone of their meals.
Many of these insights are commonly known in the health community, but it’s intriguing and inspiring to see the benefits manifested in the century-long lives of the members of these communities.
Something else that these people shared, the researchers observed, was that not only were they surviving, they were thriving. Living with joy, fervor, and intention. Sounds like a pretty good deal to us.