Where you live might have a profound impact on how long you live.
These regions — dubbed Blues Zones — are places people live longer and better, enjoying a high level of activity and mental acuity well into their golden years. They also produce a larger than average number of centenarians, but also see fewer cases of life-threatening diseases that are common in developed countries.
In his book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, author Dan Buettner recounts his visits to each of these long-living regions and the similarities he found in inhabitants’ lifestyles. The most typical parallels include none-too-surprising behaviors, like eating a primarily plant-based diet, daily physical activity, and — as to be expected — no smoking. But perhaps not so predictable are characteristics such as strong family and community ties and consuming an abundance of legumes and nuts.
While everyone’s health foundation starts with their genes, you can build upon that base by following these lifestyle tips from residents of various Blue Zone locations:
Drink Wine, Exercise (Repeat)
Daily exercise and a dedicated circle of friends have been cited as reasons that so many residents of the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, Italy, have lived past 100. A daily glass of local red wine — which can help keep arteries from clogging — certainly doesn’t hurt.
Have a Sense of Purpose
Whether it’s a scheduled hobby like yoga or chores such as catching fish for the evening meal, people in Okinawa, Japan, make regular physical activity part of their daily routine. Fostering and maintaining relationships is also a prominent trait, as is ikagai, a term that roughly translates as “sense of purpose.” The Japanese believe that everyone has an ikagai, although discovering what it is can require much soul-searching and introspection.
No Caffeine or Junk Food
Similar to those in Okinawa, a community of Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, Calif., believes that having a sense of purpose, as well as eschewing caffeine and junk foods, has helped up their life expectancy from four to 10 years longer than that of their Southern California neighbors.
Sunshine, Family Make You Stronger
The residents of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula are said to embrace the country’s pura vida culture so much that they are four times more likely than the average American to reach the age of 90. Plenty of sunshine, strong familial and communal bonds, and light dinners have been cited as possible reasons that residents not only live longer but stay active well into their golden years.
Climb Every Mountain
Mountain living in Icaria, Greece, comes with automatic health perks: A typical day finds residents gardening, climbing hills to visit friends or run errands, and participating in any number of other activities that get the blood pumping and keep muscles limber. Because a lower caloric intake has been associated with longevity, Icarians’ regular fasting is also believed to contribute to a boost in their health.
To calculate your own life expectancy, take the test on Buettner’s website and get tips on how to increase your years.