I always thought that barring risky behavior and runaway buses, lifespan was a matter of genes. But I just came across an article called “9 Habits that the World’s Healthiest and Longest-Lived People Share.” The author, Dan Buettner, claims that genes are responsible for only about 20% of the average person’s lifespan. I’m relieved to know I might have some say about how long I’m around. I’m so far behind that an average lifespan will never be enough for me to get everything done.
More than 20 years ago, Buettner studied locations around the world where there are low rates of chronic disease and lots of spry centenarians: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California. He and his colleagues named the sites Blue Zones and identified nine habits people living in them shared, none of which was lying on the couch eating ice cream and watching NCIS reruns.
As you’d expect one of the habits is exercise, but you’ll be relieved to know that Blue Zoners aren’t running marathons and training for Ironman Triathlons. Buettner says they simply live lifestyles that encourage movement naturally. They garden, walk where they need to go and don’t rely on mechanical gadgets to do their work. I don’t mean to brag, but I get a lot of exercise naturally too. I mash my potatoes by hand, regularly run to the kitchen for snacks and often go up and down my stairs for exercise. Also, because I keep forgetting why I went downstairs in the first place.
Folks in the Blue Zones have purpose in their lives. The Okinawans use the phrase “ikigai” and the Nicoyans call it “plan de vida.” Both translate to “why I wake up in the morning” and I don’t think the answer is “because my alarm clock went off” or “I had to use the bathroom.”
People in Blue Zones eat a lot of veggies. They also tend to eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then they don’t eat again until morning. I wonder if that explains the real reason they wake up in the morning: breakfast.
Blue Zoners don’t overeat. Okinawans even recite a Confucian-inspired adage before dining, hara hachi bu, which loosely translated means just because it’s there doesn’t mean I have to eat it. Actually, it’s their reminder to stop eating when their stomach is 80 percent full. I don’t know how to tell if my stomach is 80 or 90 percent full. But I know for sure I always stop eating before I’m 100 percent full because I could always make room for pie if it was offered.
The longest-lived people in the world experience stress like the rest of us do, but they make it a habit to relax. Some pray, Okinawans take a few moments daily to remember their ancestors, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians have happy hour. I’ve been known to indulge in all of the above. I expect to live forever.
I’m kidding about the happy hour though. One glass of wine and I’m ready to nap. If I drank wine daily as most Blue Zoners do, I’d sleep through any extra years it got me. But if you want to make this a habit yourself, keep in mind moderation is the key. Blue Zoners stick to one or two—glasses, not bottles.
Rounding out the habits of long-lived people are the social ones. Having close family connections and friends that support healthy behaviors can add years to your life. So choose your friends carefully. You may have them for a long time.
Finally, the majority of Blue Zoners belong to some kind of faith-based community. This could be a big selling point for churches everywhere. How’s this for a marketing slogan: We believe in eternal life. Join us and you won’t have to start yours any sooner than necessary.

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Memorial Day Services are being held at the HMS Middle School, not the Sanborn Christian School this year.