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In his 2011 book, "The Blue Zones," author Dan Buettner poured over census data to identify regions in the world with the longest life expectancy. He found that residents in certain places did indeed live longer than others on average: Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; Sardinia, Italy; and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. What can we learn from the people who live in these corners of the planet? Researchers have found they do share some commonalities.
Practicing low-impact, but regular, physical activity is common. People tend to eat a diet rich in plants, but low in meat. There's also a value on developing meaningful interpersonal relationships, both within and outside the family. Finally, these people tended to find some kind of sense meaning or purpose in their lives-doesn't that sound nice? In Sardinia, for instance, the younger generation cares for and takes advice from the seniors in the community. In the Nicoya Peninsula, every year, residents build a garden-a project that enriches their lives with structure, purpose, and meaning.
So, should we all pack and move to Sardinia? Not necessarily. We can all learn from people who live in these "blue zones." There's a massive body of scientific research out there that says eating a plant-heavy diet, supplemented with complex grains, is the healthiest choice. In Okinawa, it's common to practice hara hachi bu, a method of eating until you're about 80 percent full. Happiness is also crucial, according to a great deal of research. So, while you may not be able to live in any of these happy, healthy places, we can all certainly learn a thing or two.
Happy People Live Longer (Science Magazine)
"There is a longstanding idea that happiness causes people to live longer, healthier lives. However, convincing evidence that subjective well-being (the more scholarly term for happiness) contributes to longevity and health has not been available."
Can 'Blue Zones' Help Turn Back the Biological Clock? (NPR)
"Sardinian sheepherders, Japanese grandmothers and Seventh-Day Adventists in Los Angeles don't seem to have that much in common. But within these groups there are some of the longest-lived people in the world."