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  • Writer's picturePatricia Afonso

9 Practices For A Better Life From People Who've Lived The Longest

Beyond good genes, a long healthy life also depends on embedding good habits into your lifestyle. National Geographic Explorer Dan Buettner has traveled the globe to uncover the best strategies for longevity found in the Blue Zones – i.e. the places in the world where people live the longest lives, such as Costa Rica, Sardinia and Okinawa in Japan.

In his book "The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest" (2008), Buettner highlights how the recipe for longevity is deeply intertwined with community, lifestyle, and spirituality. People live longer and healthier by embracing a few simple but powerful habits, and by creating the right community around them. He's also distilled his findings into a cross-cultural framework of 9 key practices - what he calls the "Power of 9" - as a kind of Blue Zones approach to a better life:

1. Natural movement. The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons, or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving. They grow gardens and don’t have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work. Every trip to work, to a friend’s house, or to church occasions a walk.

2. Purpose. The Okinawans call it ikigai, and the Nicoyans call it plan de vida; for both it translates to “why I wake up in the morning.” In all the Blue Zones, people had something to live for beyond just work. Research has shown that knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy.

3. Downshift. Even people in the Blue Zones experience stress, which leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. The world’s longest-lived people have routines to shed that stress: Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap, and Sardinians do happy hour.

4. The 80 Percent Rule. Hara hachi bu—the 2,500-year-old Confucian mantra spoken before meals on Okinawa—reminds people to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. The 20 percent gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight and 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.

5. Plant Slant. Beans, including fava, black, soy, and lentils, are the cornerstone of most Blue Zones diets. Meat—mostly pork—is eaten on average only five times per month, and in a serving of three to four ounces, about the size of a deck of cards.

6. Social Wine at 5. People in all Blue Zones (even some Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. The trick is to drink one to two glasses per day with friends and/or with food. And no, you can’t save up all week and have 14 drinks on Saturday. Moderation is the key, as well as making it a shared experience where you connect with others.

7. Belonging. All but 5 of the 263 centenarians he interviewed belonged to a faith-based community. Denomination doesn’t seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4 to 14 years of life expectancy. We also like to think that feeling spiritually connected by being part of a group with a greater purpose for example is similarly beneficial.

8. Loved Ones First. Successful centenarians in the Blue Zones put their families first. They keep aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home, which also lowers the disease and mortality rates of their children. They commit to a life partner (which can add up to three years of life expectancy), and they invest in their children with time and love, which makes the children more likely to be caretakers when the time comes.

9. Right Tribe. The world’s longest-lived people choose, or were born into, social circles that support healthy behaviors. Okinawans create moais—groups of five friends that commit to each other for life. Research shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. By contrast, the social networks of long-lived people favorably shape their health behaviors.

Following these nine habits won’t guarantee that you’ll become a centenarian. However, if you use the Power 9 as guidelines for a more sustainable and healthier lifestyle, you’ll stand a better chance of adding happier years to your life.

To find out more, visit or read "The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer, Better Hardcover" by Dan Buettner (2008) which these findings have been extracted from.


Patricia is a director at CB and a Leadership Coach accredited at Practitioner level by the European Mentoring & Coaching Council. She helps individuals and executives lead with more clarity, confidence and resilience thanks to her tailored coaching programmes, so they can achieve their personal and professional goals – while also getting greater life satisfaction. (Find out more here).


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