The longest living people in the world all adhere to the ‘Power 9’ rule

By | February 27, 2024

Getty Images; Gabe Conte

Every day we are inundated with the “right” things to do to live longer lives. Drink eight glasses of water a day, they say. Go to the pharmacy for an off-label prescription, advise others. And others task us with the impossible – but promising – task of simply maintaining a positive attitude.

Today, the average life expectancy of an American is 76.4 years, and in 2023, more than 70,000 Americans will reach their 100th birthday. But in the Blue Zones, or regions of the world where people live exceptionally long lives, individuals are ten times more likely to live to be 100 years old. These places – specifically the Barbagia region of Sardinia, Italy, Okinawa, Japan, the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica ; and Ikaria, Greece – are full of centenarians.

It was only a matter of time before medical researchers, demographers, epidemiologists and anthropologists dug in to discover the common denominators between these places. Thus emerges the Blue Zones ‘Power Nine’ – or nine things that the five places with the highest percentage of people living to the age of 100 – have in common. National Geographic’s Dan Buettner published these findings in his book: The blue zones: lessons for living longer from the people who have lived the longest. We engaged our own longevity experts to assess each of the nine pillars.

1. Move naturally

Studies show that sedentary behavior, such as sitting for 13 hours per day or walking fewer than 4,000 steps per day, can reduce the metabolic benefits of acute exercise, while occasional activity can help lower insulin levels after meals. In fact, researchers found that “soleus push-ups” (which for most of us is a calf raise) performed in a seated position have been shown to boost metabolism for hours. In other words, you don’t have to set aside 90 minutes every day to exercise day in and day out. Snacks, or small movements throughout the day, have been proven to be just as effective as larger, planned workouts – and much more accessible to most.

So, where does one start? Dr. Kien Vuu, founder of Vuu MD Performance and Longevity, author of Thrive State, says it starts with thinking differently about your workday. Do you have a bicycle? Choose to walk or cycle short distances, including to the office if that is an option for your commute. Once you’re at your desk, try leg lifts or sitting exercises, take the stairs to grab a coffee, or opt for walking meetings if you’re chatting with someone who is also in the office. Just a few minutes of activity to break sedentary behavior can bring many benefits.

2. Say yes to happy hour

By now, almost everyone has indulged in a non-alcoholic beverage, whether or not you’re participating in Team Dry January/Sober October. While there is a lot of research extolling the benefits of cutting out alcohol altogether, a glass of wine is praised in Blue Zones. Not necessarily because of the health benefits of the wine, but mainly because of the socialization that goes hand in hand with drinking it every now and then. “In cultures of longevity, moderate alcohol consumption often takes place in a social context, emphasizing the role of community and celebration,” says Dr. Vuu. “The key may lie more in the positive social interactions and less in the alcohol itself. Positive relationships contribute to mental and emotional well-being.”

3. Take the time to downshift

We’ve all heard it before: stress is not good for us. Yet it is often unavoidable. “If you feel your body tense or your emotions rising, take a deep breath, hold for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly through your nose,” says Dr. Michelle Loy, an integrative medicine specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and assistant professor of pediatrics in clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. “The more you practice this, the better it becomes. It can be done anywhere, anytime and there is no interaction with medications or supplements.”

Not sure where to start? Start before bed and take a few extra minutes before you fall asleep to practice. Then bring it to other parts of your day.

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4. Give your diet a plant-based twist

Rich role. Chris Paul. Justin Fields. Kevin Hart. We’ve discussed many, many men who stick to a primarily plant-based diet (and have also exhausted the benefits of a plant-based diet). Blue Zone researchers agree and recommend that individuals seek out plant-based protein sources such as beans, including black, soy, fava and lentils, instead of meat. And if you’re in the mood for an animal-based option, opt for a 3- to 4-ounce portion of pork.

5. Find your crew

If there is one thing that many have learned in recent years, when it has sometimes been taken out of our daily lives, it is the extreme power of connection and friendship. Those who live the longest identify close friends and commit to those relationships for life. “Love and positive social interactions have been shown to release oxytocin, known as the ‘love hormone,’ which plays a role in bonding and reducing stress levels,” says Dr. Vuu. “So, loving, supportive relationships can lead to long-term improvements in emotional state and physical health.”

6. Stick to the 80% rule

Researchers found that people in Blue Zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening, and then eat nothing for the rest of the day. This falls under what’s called the ‘80% rule’, which recommends people stop eating when their stomach is 80% full. If you are not good at exercising this kind of restraint. Dr. Loy has a tip: “If you start to feel full, put some of your meal away in a Tupperware, or ask the waiter to wrap it up,” she says.

7. Put your loved ones first

Investing time in your family is something that is not only rewarding emotionally, but also in terms of longevity. Successful centenarians keep aging parents (or grandparents) close, commit to a life partner, and if they have children, make an effort to spend time with them.

8. Find a place where you belong

Research shows that attending a faith-based service four times a month can extend your life expectancy by four to fourteen years. If religion isn’t your thing, there’s always the opportunity to dive deep into your own personal well-being. Find a team that makes you feel accepted and seen, whether that’s your local CrossFit gym or a weekly trivia ritual at the restaurant down the street.

9. Know your ‘why’

If you know why you wake up in the morning and have a purpose in your daily life, research shows that you can add up to seven years to your life expectancy. The Japanese concept of Ikigai encourages individuals to find their personal calling or purpose, adds Dr. Loy, who recommends asking yourself four questions and looking for where these answers intersect:

  1. What do I love? (Passion)

  2. What am I good at? (Profession)

  3. What does the world need? (Mission)

  4. What can I get compensation for? (Calling)

“It may take some soul searching, but it is worth taking the time to engage in this personal search because when you find your Ikigai or multiple Ikigai, it brings clarity to how you live your life” , she says.

Originally published on GQ

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