Have you heard of the Blue Zone? Nothing political or outer space related — blue zones are regional pockets where residents statistically live longer and healthier lives.

Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and Explorer, Emmy Award-winning journalist and producer, classified five places in the world as “Blue Zones.” Residents in the Blue Zones enjoy a longer, healthier and more enjoyable life, with the majority living 90 to 100 years and beyond. For comparison the average United States life expectancy is about 79 years, depending on the reporting agency.

The specific Blue Zones are Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and the Seventh-day Adventist religious community in Loma Linda, California.

Buettner’s Blue Zone Project’s goal is to work with U.S. communities to make it easier to eat healthy foods, enjoy nature, be physically active and form strong social bonds. Now working with health insurance companies, governments and large employers, Buettner is applying Blue Zone lessons to improve the health of more than 5 million Americans. Examples of the project’s success include a 40 percent decrease in healthcare claims in Albert Lea, Minnesota; 13.5 percent reduction in smoking rates in Ft. Worth, Texas; and a 64 percent lower rate of childhood obesity in Beaches Cities, Calif.

While the Blue Zone Project centers on communities, individuals can follow Buettner’s Power 9® diet and lifestyle habits to enjoy a healthier and longer life.

Plant-based eating

Eating a plant-based diet is a common thread in the Blue Zones. Look for more ways to add plants to the daily diet, reducing the number of meals or days weekly that include meat. About two-thirds to three-quarters of your plate should be covered with plant foods: veggies, fruit, whole grains and legumes. Focus on minimally processed foods, avoiding packaged foods.

Eat most calories early in the day instead of in the evening. This will allow the body to utilize the calories during the day with less chance of storing fat by eating before bed.

How we eat matters as well — mindful slow meals focusing on every sensation of the meal experience makes you more aware of feeling full. In Okinawa the approach they practice is eat until you are 80% full.

Physical health

Fill your day with physical activity that involves a constant flow of natural movements. Going to a gym isn’t necessary if you can mimic “survival” moves, climbing, walking, kneeling, pushing and pulling.

Sleep has become a highlight to better health. Blue Zone residents typically sleep the recommended 8-10 hours and even an afternoon nap. Research has found that people sleeping less than 7-8 hours a night are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and early mortality.

Psychological health

Find a purpose and embrace it. A hobby or volunteering can improve mental well-being. Create a sense of purpose – a reason to live. Keeping psychological health in check reduces stress and depression and increases social activities.

Blue Zone people typically spend time outdoors. Americans average 87 percent of their time indoors and 6 percent in a vehicle. Green space with natural vegetation for at least 2 hours a week can greatly enhance sense of well-being.

The average American spends 4 hours a day staring at a device. Curtailing the use of devices and connecting with others face to face help with loneliness, depression and anxiety. Blue Zone residents also have communities that focus on face-to-face interactions — not Facebook likes — and provide support during stress as well as having shared healthy behaviors.

Build these simple values into your life — it’s not too late to create the most fulfilling life possible. For more information on Buettner’s Blue Zone project visit www.bluezones.com.

Robin Gaudette is the aquatics wellness coordinator at the Redmond Area Park and Recreation District. Contact her at robin.gaudette@raprd.org.

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