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Want to live to 100? Steal a few tips from Dan Buettner, the author of longevity-focused books including "The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest".
Buettner has traveled the world researching communities where people tend to lead long, healthy lives. But you don't have to live in one of Buettner's Blue Zones (which include Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; and Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula) to boost your longevity.
"The secrets of long-lived areas are portable and you can put them to work in America, and you can see measurable results," Buettner said.
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But there's no need to wait for a community-wide initiative to start Blue Zoning your life — you can start making changes now. Here are seven things you can start doing today to boost your longevity. There's a major bonus, too: Buettner says most things that boost longevity also boost happiness.
1. Organize a happy hour.
Community and companionship are a big part of life in the Blue Zones.
"The opportunity to be lonely almost doesn't exist," said Buettner — and holding a happy hour is a great way to foster friendships. Red wine is part of the Sardinian longevity diet, but if you don't drink alcohol, get together for tea or coffee — the important thing is gathering, not what you're imbibing.
2. Swap your activity monitor for a human.
Whether it's the Sardinians herding sheep or the people of Loma Linda who do their own yard work well into old age, moving around is part of daily life in the Blue Zones. While there's nothing wrong with using an activity monitor if it motivates you, Buettner pointed out that most people stop using monitors in less than a year.
"If you want to live a long time, you have to look at things that you do for most of your life," he said. "I'd rather see you make the effort to make a friend to walk with." And with friends, "you don't have to put a battery in them."
3. Eat plants — and share them.
In all of the Blue Zones, healthy grains, fruits, vegetables and beans are the cheapest and most accessible foods, Buettner pointed out. People in the Blue Zones eat meat fewer than five times a month, which slashes your risk for diabetes, heart disease and cancer. While you might not be able to remove all the fast food restaurants from your town, you can put the healthy foods front and center in your own home.
But it's not just what the Blue Zoners eat, it's how they eat: slowly, together and with gratitude. "Their social networks are such that they gather around these foods," said Buettner. He added that people in Blue Zones generally "stop, slow down and show gratitude before they sit down to a meal," which lowers stress and aids digestion.
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4. Find ways to shed your stress.
Stress is a part of life, even in the Blue Zones. But people there tend to have "cultural ways to shed stress," said Buettner. He gave the example of Okinawans, who spend a few minutes a day in front of an ancestor shrine, relinquishing the worries of the day to an ancestor. Experiment to find the stress relievers that work best for you.
5. Cultivate a sense of purpose.
People in Blue Zones have a "vocabulary for purpose," said Buettner, and they have a reason to get up in the morning beyond just bringing home a paycheck. "They don't have this existential uncertainty." In Blue Zones, having a sense of purpose continues throughout life and is closely tied to — you guessed it — family and community. "It is absolutely lethal to live a purposeless life," said Buettner. "When you are part of a family or part of an extended family, it is harder to do that."
Buettner noted that although older people retire, they're still active — their responsibilities just change slightly. "When you turn 70, instead of moving [to a] warm place, you are living with or near your kids. You still have the responsibility of raising your grand kids — cooking for them, growing the garden, passing on surviving and coping skills. In return, these older people get care." Volunteering for an organization you care about is a great way to foster a sense of purpose.
6. Make a friend at work.
Most of us spend a lot of time at work, and having workplace friendships can be a big stress reliever. Don't have any work pals? Buettner suggested making it your focus for a week to get to know somebody better: "Invite them to lunch. Talk your immediate boss into hosting a happy hour."
7. Make healthy choices the default.
Perhaps the most surprising thing that all the Blue Zones have in common is "they don't try to live a long time," said Buettner. Their healthy habits are a natural part of their day-to-day lives.
Buettner advised "designing your life" around healthy habits, which can range from something as simple as putting a bowl of fruit on your kitchen counter to bigger undertakings, like choosing to live in a neighborhood with sidewalks.
For more small tweaks you can make to live your healthiest life, check out our One Small Thing newsletter.