As I sit on my lanai in Hawaii writing this, it has got me thinking about why the average lifespan of a Hawaiian is about four years longer than that of someone on the mainland. Even people who have moved from the mainland to Hawaii, have a recorded longer lifespan. It is no secret that the Hawaiian lifestyle is filled with stress-free afternoon rainbows at lunch, and a slower-paced morning commute, but there has got to be more to it than just slowing things down a bit. Only 4,653 miles away, about a 10-hour plane ride, is the Japanese island of Okinawa. Okinawa is one of the five known “blue zones” on earth. “Blue Zone” is a non-scientific term given to geographic regions that are home to some of the world’s oldest people. So why are these people living longer than anyone else? And why does Hawaii host a longer lifespan than the mainland? Although there are many factors involved, I break down three of the major ones below.
Teach a man to fish
One of the major factors in common with the five blue zones is their diet. Although all of them are in different areas of the world, their diets are filled with similarities. People in the blue zones typically eat a 95% plant-based diet, including some fish and minimal amounts of meat. Staying away from meat has shown, in some studies, to lower the risk of death from heart disease and cancer. Blue zone diets are typically rich in vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts. When consuming meat, fish is the go-to source in blue zones. Fish is rich in Omega-3 fats, which are important for brain health and heart health, which is associated with slower brain decline and reduced heart disease. Another factor in their diet is the 80/20 rule.
“Hara hachi bu” – the Okinawan, 2500-year old Confucian mantra said before meals remind them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. The 20% gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it. People in the Blue Zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then they don’t eat any more the rest of the day.” (https://www.bluezones.com/2016/11/power-9/)
Exercise is life
For most of the mainland, exercise is seen as a means to an end — an activity with the purpose to lose weight and get in shape. We build it into our routine to go to the gym for an hour in the morning before heading to work, because most of our days are filled with sitting at desks, in our cars or on the couch. In the blue zones, exercise is just a part of life. Daily activities are filled with walking to work, gardening, and raising farm animals. Exercise has become a structured part of our lives on the mainland, but when it is built into everyday activities such as in the blue zones, it becomes just a part of life. It is no secret that exercise contributes to a healthier, and longer life, so maybe we should take a page out of the blue zones book, and start taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Life of purpose
The people of the blue zones wake up every day with a purpose to live. The Okinawans call it “ikigai,” which translates to “why I wake up in the morning.” This is associated with a longer lifespan because those who wake up with a knowing sense of purpose have a more positive outlook on life. This sense of purpose, along with means to reduce stress plays a major part in the longer lifespan of the people in the blue zones. Stress reduction is built into their daily routines. Whether it is to take a few moments a day to remember ancestors, meditate, take a nap or pray, these rituals are built into the daily lives of most who live in the blue zones. Whatever your means of stress reduction is, try and build it into your daily habits to extend your life.
It is fascinating to learn about other cultures, especially when you get to experience them first hand. Even though Hawaii doesn’t technically belong in the blue zones, its heavily Japanese influenced diet, along with the culture of living a positive life, has extended the lives of Hawaiians for years longer than those of us who live on the mainland. All you need to do is spend a little time in Hawaii to feel the difference of being here.
Please send me an email to [email protected] if you would like me to help you create your own blue zone inside of your life.