Call off the search for a fountain of youth. Making simple tweaks to your everyday lifestyle can tack eight to 10 years onto your life, says Dan Buettner in his National Geographic bestseller, The Blue Zones.
With a team of demographers and doctors, the explorer traveled to four corners of the globe—Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; and, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica—where high percentages of the population are laughing, living and loving well into their 100s.
As he got to know the village centenarians, interviewing them and observing their daily routines, Buettner unraveled these six secrets to their supercharged health and longevity. Read on to discover the good habits that can lengthen your life.
Laugh out loud. "One thing stood out in every group of centenarians I met—there wasn't a grump in the bunch," says Buettner. Laughter doesn't just reduce worry. It also relaxes blood vessels, lowering the risk of heart attack, says Buettner citing University of Maryland research.
Make exercise a no-brainer. None of the centenarians Buettner and his team encountered ran marathons or pumped iron. The people making it into their 100s had low-intensity exercise—walking long distances, gardening and playing with kids—woven into their everyday routines. As a result, they exercised regularly without ever thinking about it. To seamlessly work exercise into your schedule: hide the TV remote, opt for stairs over the elevator, park farther away from the mall entrance and look for occasions to bike or walk instead of guzzling gas.
Use smart eating strategies. A Confucian phrase common in Okinawan culture, Hara Hachi Bu, means 'Eat until you are 80 percent full.' It takes your belly 20 minutes to tell your brain that you're satisfied, so if you cut yourself off before you feel stuffed you can avoid overeating. Another trick? Set up your kitchen for healthful noshing by stocking cabinets with smaller plates and removing the telly. Having meals while watching TV, listening to music or fiddling with the computer, says Buettner, leads to mindless consumption. Focus on the food, he says, to eat more slowly, consume less and enjoy flavors and textures more.
Grab your nutcracker. Researchers who studied a Seventh-day Adventist community in Loma Linda, Calif., found that those who ate nuts five times a week had about half the risk of heart disease and lived two years longer than those who didn't. "Just eating a small portion—one or two ounces—does the trick," says Buettner. Stash snack packets in your office drawer or purse for mid-afternoon nibbling. Or add toasted walnuts or pecans to green salads, toss roasted cashews in chicken salad or top fish fillets with finely chopped nuts, suggests Buettner.
Be choosy about your circle. "Select your friendships carefully," says Buettner. "Gather people around you who will reinforce your lifestyle." Okinawans, some of the world's longest-living people, have a tradition of not just forming strong social networks (called moais) but also nurturing them. Kamada Nakazato, 102, never goes a day without meeting her four closest friends—from childhood—for a juicy gossip session. After you identify your inner circle, keep it from dwindling. Make an effort to hang on to good friends by keeping in frequent contact and spending time with them.
Live with intention. In Costa Rica it's called plan de vida. In Okinawa, ikigai. "Across the board, those living the longest had a clear sense of purpose," says Buettner. "You have to know why you get up every morning." Pinpoint your drive by taking time to reconnect with your values and reassess your passions and strengths. Then look for activities or classes to join where you can do more of those things that make you happiest in life.
Bonus: What are your odds of living to 100? Go to www.bluezones.com and take the longevity quiz.