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The Blue Zones

The Blue Zones Summary
Spirituality & Mindfulness and Health & Diet

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 1426209487

Also available in audiobook

Summary

“If you live the average American lifestyle, you may never reach your potential maximum lifespan. You might even fall short by as much as a decade,” writes National Geographic fellow Dan Buettner in “The Blue Zones.” Just ask the Sardinians, the Okinawans, the Seventh-day Adventists of the Loma Linda area, the inhabitants of the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, or those of the Greek island of Icaria! On average, they are healthier, slimmer, and mentally sharper – and they live far longer than you! It’s almost as if they exist in another dimension: the Blue Zone.

But what if you could pattern yourself after them? What if you could “get back that extra decade of healthy life that you may unknowingly be squandering?” What if you could live a longer and happier life? Well, that’s what “The Blue Zones” is mostly about, an exploration of the world’s confirmed longevity hotspots, distilling the world’s best practices in health and longevity while presenting nine lessons for a “de facto formula for longevity – the best, most credible information available for adding years to your life and life to your years.”

So, get ready to learn how to become a centenarian – and prepare to start your journey toward that coveted hundred today!

1. Move naturally (Or: Be active without having to think about it)

“Longevity all-stars don’t run marathons or compete in triathlons,” writes Buettner. “Instead, they engage in regular, low-intensity physical activity, often as part of a daily work routine.”

In Sardinia, for example, most of the people spend their lives working as shepherds, a profession that involves miles of hiking daily. In Okinawa, the centenarians garden for hours every single day. The Adventists of Loma Linda, United States’s only Blue Zone, often take nature walks. It’s your turn now. So:

  • Inconvenience yourself. Get rid of your remote control and use the bicycle as often as possible.
  • Have fun. Keep moving. Don’t force yourself to go to the gym, but do take a walking break instead of a coffee break at work.
  • Walk with a friend. Find a friend whose company you enjoy and arrange the first of thousands of walking dates.
  • Plant a garden. Gardening relieves stress.
  • Enroll in a yoga class. Practice it at least twice a week.

2. Hara hachi bu (Or: Painlessly cut calories by 20%)

“Hara hachi bu” is a Confucian adage all Okinawans know and practice. It means “eat until you are 80% full.” There’s a reason for that: it takes some time before the stomach tells the brain how full it is, so eating 80% is just enough. That is why the average daily intake of Okinawans is only about 1,900 calories.

Try it yourself:

  • Serve and store. Don’t give yourself a chance for seconds and thirds: serve yourself at the counter, then put the food away. People who do this eat 14% less than people who take smaller amounts several times.
  • Make food look bigger. A smoothie whipped to twice its volume – with the same calories as one – makes people feel fuller and eat less afterward. So, use small vessels. Buy smaller packages.
  • Make snacking a hassle. Put candy bowls, cookie jars, and other temptations out of sight. 
  • Give yourself a daily reminder. “Put the scale in your way so you can’t avoid a daily weigh-in.”
  • Eat more slowly. Eating faster results in eating more.
  • Focus on food. Don’t watch TV while eating.
  • Have a seat. Don’t eat on the run: eat purposefully.
  • Eat early. Interestingly enough, in the Blue Zones, the biggest meal of the day is eaten during the first half of the day. So, fewer dinners – more breakfasts.

3. Plant slant (Or: Avoid meat and processed foods)

In Genesis 1:29, God says to Adam and Eve: “Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you, it shall be for meat.” Unsurprisingly, the Adventists of Loma Linda, California, take this seriously and avoid meat altogether. The people of Sardinia, Okinawa, and Nicoya have been doing this for centuries as well, primarily because they’ve never had proper access to meat. So, they opted respectively for durum wheat (in Sardinia), sweet potato (in Okinawa), and maize (in Nicoya). A similar strategy can work for you as well:

  • Eat four to six vegetable servings daily.
  • Limit intake of meat. No portion of meat should be larger than a deck of cards – and you should allow yourself one twice a week at most.
  • Showcase fruits and vegetables. Hide the M&Ms but showcase the fruit.
  • Lead with beans. “Beans are a cornerstone of each of the Blue Zone diets,” writes Buettner. “Make beans – or tofu – the centerpiece of lunches and dinners.”
  • Eat nuts every day. The best way to switch from snacks to nuts is to always have some nuts around. So, stock up!

4. Grapes of life (Or: Drink red wine… in moderation)

A glass of red wine or sake with friends is more than “not bad,” it’s great for both your health and longevity. So:

  • Buy a case of high-quality red wine. For example, the Sardinians drink Cannonau in their Blue Zone. 
  • Treat yourself to a “Happy Hour.” “Set up yours to include a glass of wine, nuts as an appetizer, and a gathering of friends or time with a spouse.”
  • Take it easy. A serving or two per day is the most you’re allowed to; everything more is detrimental to your health.

5. Purpose now (Or: Take time to see the big picture)

There’s a word in Japanese the Okinawans seem to love very much: “ikigai.” Loosely translated, its meaning corresponds to the French “raison d’être,” a reason for being. More literally, it can be translated as “the thing that you live for” – which is pretty much what the term “plan de vida” (a life plan) means to the Nicoyans of Costa Rica. To Buettner, both expressions refer to a simple question that you must answer if you want to make your life worthwhile: “Why do you wake up in the morning?” And how you can do that:

  • Craft a personal mission statement. This is not only for your resumé: if you want to get up with a purpose every day, you must really think about why you get up in the morning daily.
  • Find a partner. Humans are social animals, and a purpose not communicated with someone is a purpose barely existent.
  • Learn something new. Taking up a musical instrument or learning a new language is the best way to preserve your mental sharpness.

6. Down shift (Or: Take time to relieve stress)

They don’t call it the silent killer for no reason: stress is everything you don’t need in your life. “People who’ve made it to 100 seem to exude a sense of sublime serenity,” writes Buettner. “Part of it is that their bodies naturally slow down as they have aged, but they’re also wise enough to know that many of life’s most precious moments pass us by if we’re lurching blindly toward some goal.”

Meditation, mindfulness, yoga – they are all great! Choose whichever one of them works best for you so that you can slow down to the speed of life as soon as you can. Tortoises live longer than you for a reason. Take a look at Buettner’s quick guide to stress reduction:

  • Reduce the noise. Television, podcasts, the internet – we know they take up a big portion of your time. Apparently, you should take that sentence quite literally, because minimizing your time spent with them seems to lengthen life by 50%.
  • Be early. Plan to arrive 15 minutes early wherever you go. This minimizes stress and anxiety.
  • Meditate. At least 10 minutes a day. If possible, even 30.

7. Belong (Or: Participate in a spiritual community)

Centenarians in the Blue Zones seem to share another thing between them: faith. They believe in many different things, and they do so in many different manners. It doesn’t even matter if you are a Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or Hindu; what does matter is that you believe and firmly belong, through believing, to a strong religious community.

To Buettner, “the simple act of worship, is one of those subtly powerful habits that seems to improve your chances of having more good years.” Here are three strategies on how to achieve this:

  • Be more involved. Take a more active role in the organization you are already a member of.
  • Explore a new tradition. “If you don’t have a particular religious faith,” suggests Buettner, “commit to trying a new faith community.” It doesn’t even have to do a lot with god: Unitarian Universalism, for example, is a liberal religion that is characterized as a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”
  • Just go. Whatever you choose, however, don’t be a believer in the solitude of your thoughts: visit religious services and do so with an open mind.

8. Loved ones first (Or: Make family a priority)

“The most successful centenarians we met in the Blue Zones,” says Buettner, “put their families first. They tended to marry, have children, and build their lives around that core. Their lives were imbued with familial duty, ritual, and a certain emphasis on togetherness.” And these four tips can help you create a Blue Zone for your family:

  • Get closer. Building a family is not the same as having a family; create an environment of togetherness within a smaller house.
  • Establish rituals. “One family meal a day and one family vacation a year” is the minimum.
  • Create a family shrine. Choose at least one day a year during which you’ll project photographs of your family on the wall and discuss them with your loved ones.
  • Put family first. That’s self-explanatory, but it seems that in the 21st century, it just needs to be repeated over and over again.

9. Right tribe (Or: Be surrounded by those who share Blue Zone values)

You know what they say: your immediate surroundings make a large part of who you are – even more than your family. That’s why finding your tribe is perhaps “the most powerful thing you can do to change your lifestyle for the better.” A thorn between roses starts smelling better, but a rose between thorns withers away.

So, build up the inner circle of your Blue Zone using these three strategies:

  • Identify your inner circle. Find the people who reinforce your good habits and put an X next to those who do the opposite.
  • Be likable. Grumpy people live shorter – science says so.
  • Create time together. Spend at least 30 minutes a day with members of your inner circle: a meeting, a meal, a brief discussion. After all, these are the very guys you want to take on your walking date from lesson one!

Final Notes

Ever since its publication, “The Blue Zones” is a bestseller about longevity and aging nutrition. And for a reason: it’s research-based, science-backed, and actionable as hell! What more can one ask for from a book?

12min Tip

The secret to a long life is rather simple. Eat your vegetables. Have a positive outlook. Be kind to people. Smile. 

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Who wrote the book?

Dan Buettner is an explorer, an award-winning journalist, an American National Geographic Fellow and a New York Times bestselling author. He is best known as the discoverer and popularizer of the Blue Zones, the five areas in the... (Read more)