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7 Real Ways to Get Blue Zone Healthspan Benefits Daily

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July 4, 2024
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We all want to live longer, and stay healthy for as long as possible, an idea that we’ve come to think of as healthspan. The Blue Zones embody this goal, as people in these places — Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; Sardinia, Italy; and Nicoya, Costa Rica —- live to be 100 at 10 times greater rates than those of us in the U.S., with a lot less chronic disease.

Though there are tons of influencers and others online peddling quick fixes to get some of those Blue Zone benefits, the reality is that there isn’t one thing that confers longevity and healthspan. But the good news is, there are simple shifts to your habits that can make a real difference — as long as you do them consistently.

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“Part of the magic of Blue Zones is that their healthy practices are integrated deeply, embedded in their cultural norms and day-to-day routines,” says Dr. Will Cole, functional medicine expert and author of Gut Feelings. “To harness the power of the Blue Zones, why not live like the Blue Zoners do and embrace small lifestyle changes to make healthy living feel effortless?”

You asked: What is Blue Zone behavior?

We tend to think of diet first when it comes to the Blue Zones and healthspan, and food is certainly important — but it isn’t the only factor. Other important elements include:

  • Community
  • Stress management
  • Frequent movement throughout the day

Though life in places like Costa Rica and Italy looks very different from the harried days we tend to have here in the U.S., there are ways you can shift your habits to reap the healthspan benefits. Here are Dr. Cole’s tips for integrating a bit of the Blue Zones into your days.

Related: A Powerful Longevity Habit That Has Nothing to Do with Food

1. Eat for your hunger

“Start tracking your meals, but not in the way you’re thinking,” Dr. Cole says. “Consider taking just 10 seconds at the start and end of each meal to consider how hungry you are, say on a scale from 1 to 5. Tuning in to your real hunger signals can help you eat in appropriate moderation, expanding length and quality of life.”

Related: End Overeating with the Hunger and Fullness Scale

2. Integrate more walking 

“Instead of planning to walk, walk to your plans,” Dr. Cole notes. “While an intentional workout is great, movement throughout your everyday life can be even better. Identify one or two daily tasks, habits, or plans that you could walk all or some of the journey. Think: your morning commute, your daily cup of coffee, your grocery run.”

Also, incorporate movement into your workday to boost healthspan. “If your work schedule keeps you tied to your desk more often than you’d like, consider adding a walking pad to your set up,” Dr. Cole says. “It may even help your focus and productivity.”

3. Try fun activities that move you 

Find one hobby or interest that you absolutely love that also gets you moving, even if it’s only a little,” Dr. Cole says. “This could be gardening, home DIY projects, woodworking, pottery, thrifting, bird watching — even cooking. Spending your downtime off the couch and off a screen will pay dividends in health benefits.”

4. Call a friend

One of the most important factors in longevity and healthspan is having strong social connections. Sometimes our days feel too busy to manage them, but here’s a way to carve out some time. “Swap one podcast a week for a quick phone call with a loved one,” Dr. Cole suggests. “We all love our podcasts and there are absolutely benefits to listening and learning or being entertained — especially when it helps you walk more or keep your brain engaged on long commutes. But pick one day of the week you’ll swap your podcast listening time for a call with a parent, sibling, friend from out-of-state, or anyone you wish you had more time to catch up with.”

Related: How Feeling Lonely Affects Your Body (and What to Do About It)

5. Swap out some social media

Social media can be fun and a way to keep up with far-flung friends and new trends — but it also can cause (or increase) anxiety and depression. You don’t have to give it up altogether, but swapping some scrolling for better-for-you mental health habits can help. 

“Move all your social media apps to the second swipe-through screen on your phone,” Dr. Cole suggests. “On your first screen have your essentials and a meditation or breathwork app. And try to make it a habit not to swipe to the second screen until you’ve meditated for the day. Because if you have time to scroll, you have time to breathe.”

6. Join (or start) a club 

Though they’re all over the world, one of the major characteristics all the Blue Zones have in common is an emphasis on community. Yet here in the U.S., 30% of adults report feeling lonely at least once a week, and 10% every day. 

One way to mitigate feelings of loneliness: Make meaningful connections by participating in activities you enjoy. “Find a book club, community service group, running club, triathlon training program, sewing class, rec sports league, aviation club — the sky’s the limit,” Dr. Cole says. “Even if you feel like you’ve got plenty of friends, there are added benefits to participating in a shared interest or practice over time.”

7. Cook as self care

The pressure to make beautiful meals is strong from our social feeds, but the truth is, your plate doesn’t have to look IG-worthy — it just has to nourish you. “Commit to making one meal a week from scratch,” Dr. Cole says. “Try to source the ingredients yourself from the farmer’s market or local CSA. Wash your product by hand, chop and stir, and try to enjoy the process from beginning to end. Bonus points if you invite a friend over to eat and visit.” Once you make cooking about self care and not comparison, you may find the whole process less stressful and much more enjoyable.

Read next: A Doctor’s Four Pillars for Longevity



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