How to live a longer, healthier life: Wisdom of the Blue Zones and the Okinawans
Two important studies of centenarians point to a range of things that could impact how long we might live.
Welcome to all the new (and old) subscribers to Epically, the newsletter for modern ageing and longevity. This week’s Epically newsletter points to our feature article over on our sister newsletter, Epic Retirement, (because we won’t publish the same thing twice in full on both). It’s an exciting look at some of the things everyone can do to live a longer healthier life and it’s something you’ll certainly enjoy reading.
Building content for today’s modern retirees has kept me pretty busy in recent weeks. I have been finalising our first book, How to Have an Epic Retirement for print with the wonderful team at Hachette, and preparing for the filming of our flagship Pre-retirement Education Program which will soon be available for companies to roll out to their customers and members in partnerships. You can read all about the many ways we are developing valued and valuable content below. Be sure to be in touch if you are interested in developing pre retirement and retirement education that really engages people, spanning financial confidence, health and wellbeing, housing and property, and happiness and fulfilment (more details below).
Thanks for reading Epically! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Until next week, make it epic. Keep reading to see everything going on.
Bec Wilson Xx
How to live longer: Wisdom from the Blue Zones and the Okinawans
Over on the Epic Retirement Newsletter (epicretirement.net) today I dive deep into two pieces of remarkable research that have been done around the world on groups of people who have extraordinary longevity, The Blue Zones Study and the Okinawan Centenarian Study. These studies have looked at the lifestyles and behaviours of specific communities in an attempt to discover the keys to longer, healthier lives. And each have uncovered very similar sets of instructions for the things we should (and shouldn’t) do if we want to live to the ripe old age of 100 or thereabouts. So jump on over to read the big lessons we can all apply to our lives from these two studies.
The Blue Zones study is a pioneering research project conducted by National Geographic and author Dan Buettner. It identified five regions around the world where people tend to live longer and healthier lives: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California. Researchers analysed the lifestyle, diet, and social aspects of these communities to uncover the factors contributing to their longevity. They found commonalities, which we will dig into below, such as plant-based diets, regular physical activity, strong social connections, and a sense of purpose as key elements in promoting longer and healthier lives.
The Okinawa Centenarian Study is a long-term research project funded by the Japan Ministry of Health that focuses on the remarkable longevity observed among the residents of Okinawa, Japan. The study examines the lifestyle and habits of Okinawan centenarians to uncover the factors contributing to their exceptional health and longevity. The big findings include their adherence to a nutrient-dense, plant-based diet, the practice of hara hachi bu (eating until 80% full), regular physical activity through natural movements, strong social connections within close-knit communities, and the emphasis on stress reduction techniques like meditation and mindfulness. And scientists believe that these factors collectively contribute to the extended lifespans and vibrant health observed among the Okinawan population.
So let’s dig into the factors that increase longevity in a deeper way and see if there’s any you can adopt in your lives.
Embrace a balanced and nutrient-dense, primarily plant based diet
Okinawa, the land of centenarians, and the five Blue Zones both have much to teach us about nutrition. Both studies reveal diets that are low in calories but packed with nutrients, antioxidants and fibre. They focus on consuming plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, healthy oils and whole grains. Both embrace lean protein sources like fish and tofu and look to reduce the intake of animal products that are known to increase the risks of chronic diseases. This balanced and nutrient-dense diet is shown to provide our bodies the necessary fuel for both vitality and longevity.
Practise mindful eating or ‘hara hachi bu’
A crucial aspect of the Blue Zones and Okinawan lifestyle is the practice of mindful eating. Rather than rushing through meals, they engage in slow, deliberate eating, savouring each bite and paying attention to the body's cues of hunger and satiety. In Okinawa they practise something they call “hara hachi bu” which means eating until you are 80 percent full. This practice helps prevent overeating and promotes better digestion. And by cultivating a deeper connection with the food they consume, it is said that they foster a greater appreciation for nourishment and make conscious choices that support their long-term well-being.
Stay physically active
Both the Okinawans and the Blue Zones are communities where activity is boiled into everyday life rather than done as structured exercise for a targeted period of time. They engage in regular low intensity exercise like walking, because most people walk around their communities. They participate actively in gardening and food growing, providing incidental activities in their days, and they have a deep engagement with traditional martial arts. And each of these activities promotes muscle strength, cardiovascular health, balance and mobility. When we incorporate regular exercise into our daily routine, we can improve our physical fitness, prevent age-related diseases, and enhance our longevity, even if we do so in a less grass-roots manner.
Drink wine at 5
This is one that will bring many smiles. People in all Blue Zones (except the Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers outlive nondrinkers in these areas. The trick is to drink one to two glasses per day with friends and/or with food. And no, you cannot save up all week and have 14 drinks on Saturday.
Put your loved ones first
A very important message for those in the hardest working stage of their careers. Successful centenarians in the Blue Zones put their families first. This means keeping ageing parents and grandparents nearby or in their family home. They commit to a life partner (which according to the science can add up to 3 years of life expectancy to each life) and they invest in their children with time, care and love. In the Blue Zones they will be more likely to care for aging parents when the time comes in their ageing process too.
Cultivate strong social connections and moais
Let's talk about the power of connection. Blue Zones and Okinawans teach us that building strong social bonds is the key to a long and happy life. They often live within small communities, with multi-generational families nearby.
The world’s longest lived people have their own social circles that support their very healthy behaviours, Okinawans live in “moais” which are groups of 5 friends that committed to each other for life and live together or nearby. Sometimes you are born into them. And some of the wider research in this space shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness can be contagious - so we need to shape our healthy behaviours and reduce exposure to unhealthy ones so the contagion is positive in our lives.
In both Blue Zones and Okinawan communities they intensely value relationships and friendships and spend time gathering. It’s a firm message that you should lean into your family, friends, and community for support and love in the second half of life and find ways to have regular social interactions that uplift your spirit and reduce stress. Being part of something bigger gives you purpose and a sense of belonging. So, let's cherish those relationships, nurture them with care, and create a vibrant network that will accompany us on our epic journey. It contributes enormously to our overall well-being and longevity.
Prioritise stress reduction and mindfulness
Take a deep breath and truly find ways to reduce the stress in your life! Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease.
Both the residents of Blue Zones and the Okinawans have found ways to manage stress. They swear by meditation, yoga, tai chi and connecting with nature to tame stress levels. And as simple communities, often outside of the urban lifestyles we are so familiar with, it is easy for them to stay grounded. These techniques help them manage stress, cultivate inner peace, and promote emotional well-being. The big messages is to make space for self-care, prioritise relaxation, and make stress reduction a top priority in your daily life. Take the simple paths. The scientists promise that a calm and serene mindset is one of the big secret ingredients for a long and healthy journey through life with less chronic disease.
The Blue Zones studies and the the Okinawan Centenarian Study are both fascinating sources for how we can adapt our western lives to live more simply and benefit through longevity - if we’re brave and able. And that longevity and longer healthspan will undoubtedly help you as you seek your epic retirement.
Keep reading - there’s heaps to explore below this week. And until Friday when my new podcast arrives for the weekend - make it epic!
Bec Wilson Xx
Enjoy my weekly columns in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age Money Section
There’s so much to talk about in retirement finances that I’ve started writing a weekly column for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age each Sunday. Here’s some links to my recent columns.
How to manage retirement with a low superannuation balance. This article helped less affluent retirees get their heads around their budget. Read it here.
Where the Aussie Dollar is telling us to travel this year. This article points out where people will get the best bang for their buck when travelling overseas this year. Read it here.
Keep an eye out on Sundays each week.
Introducing our new Retirement Diaries Podcast
New podcast: Retirement Diaries
Our rapidly growing Epic Retirement community has been asking me to tell real stories of retirees living out their epic retirement and learning lessons along the way for some time. So last week I kicked off a casual, relaxed and conversational podcast which will be made up of short, interesting conversations with retirees and pre-retirees and some of the experts with helpful information. I hope this is something you can enjoy on a walk or drive over the weekends. I’ll make sure we cover people from all stages of retirement and from all walks of life over coming months. I’ll try to release one each Friday.
Listen to our first edition here or wherever you get your podcasts. And sign up for the Epic Retirement newsletter to get these in your inbox weekly.
Got a story to tell? Want to support us as a sponsor from early on? - reach out.
How to Have an Epic Retirement has gone to print
I’m pleased to say that my book is now at the printers and if you’ve pre-ordered it will be in your hot little hands very soon. Here’s a little more about it for those who are new to the newsletter.
More than 500,000 Australians plan to retire in the next five years, preparing for the massive life change that signals their move from working every day to living as they choose. In the years before they retire, and the early years of retirement, people want to prepare well and set themselves up for the exciting journey ahead of them.
How to Have an Epic Retirement is filled with practical information, examples and questions covering the six key pillars of great modern retirement:
Building your financial confidence
Looking after your health
Understanding how happiness is created and finding fulfilment
Living out your travel dreams
Your home and how your needs change in all the different phases of retirement
It’s the first book of its kind to explain in detail how the systems that support a new age and modern retirement in Australia work, making what can be a complex topic seem easy to navigate.
*** We are able to offer bulk purchase deals with distribution and both online and live book events to companies who want to provide it and a taster to their members or customers. Contact us for more information.
Building the How to Have an Epic Retirement Flagship Courses and other content
Our education company is off to a running start, developing helpful and engaging online and offline education for modern pre and post retirees. With such a shortage of financial planners, there’s never been a more important time for companies to attempt to fill the gaps with quality and informative pre-retirement education. Consider us for the development of a range of different types of dynamic and engaging content:
Pre-retirement education courses (online and scalable)
Modern ageing and wellness programs (online and scalable)
Social media strategies to engage middle and older generations with high quality learnings.
Live presentations and guest speaking at events, openings and open days.
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