Living Measurably Better


“Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.” ~ Doug Larson

This past May I heard Rudy Maxa speak at a professional gathering. Maxa is a renown travel journalist who has hosted many widely syndicated travel shows in the U.S. and overseas. He shared (and enlightened those present with) his knowledge of and experiences with Blue Zones.

In 2004, Dan Buettner teamed up with National Geographic and the world’s best longevity researchers to identify pockets around the world where people lived measurably better. In these Blue Zones they found that people reach age 100 at rates 10 times greater than in the U.S.

After identifying the world’s Blue Zones, teams of scientists were dispatched to each location to identify lifestyle characteristics that might explain longevity. They found that the lifestyles of all Blue Zone residents shared nine specific characteristics, called the Power of 9 ยฎ.


I know some of you might be thinking: I don’t want to live longer. And that’s understandable. But what about living better? What if you’re wondering where to go on your next holiday/vacation? Perhaps you’re itching for something new to do and you’re curious about building a Blue Zone in your business or community. Or maybe you’re contented with your current lifestyle yet interested in learning more about ‘how do these people do it?’

The five Blue Zones are located in Ikaria, Greece; Loma Linda, California; Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan and;ย Nicoya, Costa Rica.

"Hara hachi bu"

“Hara hachi bu”

Blue Zones has created a validated tool called Vitality Compass, an accurate life estimator. You might want to try it. It’s not one of those unscientific quizzes that abound on the Internet. It also provides recommendations to help you live longer.

Following are five (Power of 9) evidence-based common denominators among all five locations. To me they are not surprising, only to the extent that people outside Blue Zones don’t take the time to consider or weave them into their lifestyle. ๐Ÿ™‚

  1. 5762508115_db482cd924_mRight Tribe. The world’s longest lived-people choose – or were born into – social circles that supported healthy behaviors, Okinawans created “moais” – groups of five friends that committed to each other for life. Research from the Framingham Studies shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. So the social networks of long-lived people have favorably shaped their health behaviors.
  2. Wine @ 5. People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. The trick is to drink 1-2 glasses per day (preferably Sardinian Cannonau wine), with friends and/or with food.
  3. 80% Rule. “Hara hachi bu” – the Okinawan, 2,500 year old Confucian mantra said before meals reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full. The 20% 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 for the rest of the day.
  4. Down Shift. Even people in the Blue Zones experience stress. Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. What the world’s longest-lived people have that we don’t are 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.
  5. Move Naturally. These people don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it. They grow gardens and don’t have mechanical conveniences for house or yard work.

102 thoughts on “Living Measurably Better

  1. This is really interesting. I like these common denominators. Hmmm, I just cut my nightly glass of wine back to only a couple of times a week; looks like I need to pick it back up!

  2. My Uncle lived to 107,and was active and lived independently until 1 week before he died. He walked everywhere, always took the stairs instead of elevators, and ate moderately. He lived with a positive attitude and always said to me, “Everything passes” when I would be upset over something. Genetics play a part (his father lived to 101 as did his aunt) but attitude, diet and keeping stress at bay factor in too I believe.

    • Genetics is indeed a contrbuting factor to longevity. But less so a contributor to a better life! I believe you are spot on with “attitude, diet and keeping stress at bay.” And those are factors we can manage.

  3. Reblogged this on PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS and commented:
    I had to reblog this post to remember 80% rule and necessity to drink daily. Fortunately, we created a good tribe (our family) and we learned to get rid of stress by all methods described below plus meditation, acupressure, creative work, laughter. I love #5 too but currently it’s too humid in Hollywood, Florida. I had naturally to walk in a gym.

  4. Very interesting post. I love the idea of choosing the right “tribe”. Often we forget that we can choose who we associate with! I liked the “Hara hachi bu” also. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • A great point you highlight… who we associate with significantly affects our mental and emotional wellness. Inspiring and motivating people are know to positively contribute. Thanks for adding this factor.

  5. Smiling. This is interesting indeed. And not surprising. I still have some work to do on hara hachi bu, but have made a good amount of progress on the other ones. Finally. Just hope not too late ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Maybe I should visit Loma Linda, my namesake zone ๐Ÿ™‚ Also wonder if they eat more sardines in Sardinia. love fish that have omega 3 fatty acids like sardines and wild salmon. This was a fascinating read Eric.

  7. This is fascinating. I have put work into finding the right tribe over the past few years, and the benefits are readily apparent. I do need work on the 80% rule, though. I don’t suppose a good craft beer is a substitute for the wine? ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Good to learn about your finding and aligning with a tribe that benefits you, Karen. There are definitely merits to with whom we intentionally spend time. And I suspect that many feel a guilt twinge with the 80% rule. ๐Ÿ™‚ As for good craft beers (which I appreciate!), I’m thinking it probably doesn’t qualify.

    • Several interesting tidbits here, Aveline. Some of which I know I can relate to and others that – even thought they make perfect sense, many of us probably don’t find ourselves doing. Here’s to establishing your own moai!

  8. A very interesting post Eric. Many of the ideas have been in my belief system for years. Thanks for the link to the Blue Zones Viality Compass tool. I’ve worked through a couple of the excersices already, highly recommended!

    • I, too, have taken the Vitality Compass, Robert, and was pleased to have learned some suggestions that may well contribute to both my living better and longer. Glad you find the tool worth recommending.

  9. Very interesting your article. Eric. Thank you for sharing with us.

    I understand that everything we eat and / or drink everything., If consumed in moderation is good for our health. And prolongs life.

    I have not ever used alcohol or my family. I do not think I will ever try to drink alcohol, even a small glass. Do not tempt me. I do not draw! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • You are welcome, Stefania. The rule of moderation, which in many cultures is not often considered, is tried and true — and not exclusively with food and drink. Consider yourself not tempted. This is the beauty in/with each of us making our own, comfortable choices. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Eric, good reminders! I know about the Blue Zones and probably follow a simple diet related to longevity! I also lived in Italy, Greece and Japan (not in the Blue Zone cities), but embraced the peaceful lifestyle and food habits (however no wine). Always follow you and get some food for thought from your posts. I’m hoping you accept awards as I’m nominating you for a Premio Dardos Award. It’s recognizing your values transmitted in the form of creative or personal writing. It’s an easy one to accept with no Qs to answer. Look for a post in a few days with you included in the nominations. Christine

  11. I just shared this on my Facebook, Eric. I loved reading this today. It’s so interesting that I don’t live far from Loma Linda, CA, and didn’t think of it as being one of the Blue Zones, but I totally get that with Loma Linda hospital and university, Seventh Day Adventist. This is an excellent encouragement to just be “better” with the mindfulness of well-being. I hope this stirs some conversation with my friends. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thanks for sharing the post, Debra. It certainly contained some consideration worthy lifestyle choices. And… there are four other Power of 9 characteristics that, in my mind, makes just as much sense as the five I shared. The Loma Linda location finds many surprised. I guess when something so significant is in one’s back yard, we find ourselves saying… I like that you singled out “better” as a lot of the Blue Zones findings and story *are* about living better just as much as it is about living longer.

  12. I recently read an article about the practices in Loma Linda that tie in with expanded longevity. Not surprisingly, most dealt with diet and exercise:

    Maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI).
    Get regular, moderate exercise.
    Snack on nuts.
    Follow a vegetarian diet (or minimize meat).
    Eat an early, light dinner.
    Put more plants in your diet.
    Drink plenty of water.

    As a 17 year veteran of a vegetarian diet, I am now worried that I will outlive all my friends! ๐Ÿ˜›

    • Affirmative to all, Nancy. And there are four additional characteristics across all five Blue Zones that are in similar veins! So I’m wondering, is potentially outliving all your friends a bleak outlook? I’d not want a converse outcome. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. I like the wine part, Eric. ๐Ÿ™‚
    This is very interesting. Of course, much of this goes back to living healthy, and it sure is good to read something so detailed and well written. Longevity could be good along with quality of life for body and mind.

  14. I am blessed with this post, since I definitely need to start over again this year in pursuing the better practices of life. I enjoy most of what the Blue Zones do, since I like outdoors, walking and such. I tend to not overeat. I have good family and friendship ties. I don’t drink wine unless visiting a friend, my Mom or my youngest daughter. I will hopefully have a date and he will suggest a good wine to drink… someday in the Spring! (I am hibernating, Eric, unless at work, library or a movie…) smiles for this post which may be the catalyst to my living longer!

  15. I like this article. And 4 of the 5 denominators makes sense to me. I have nothing against wine or people who drink it, but having worked for thirty years with addicts and alcoholics, I wonder about the moderate drinkers outliving the non-drinkers. I know people who are unable to master the trick of drinking in moderation and must abstain or they will die prematurely. Maybe it’s because I just read about a friend who is celebrating 46 years of sobriety, but I feel the need to honor those who suffer from alcoholism who have decided that trying to drink in moderation is not worth the risk. For all who do not suffer from the illness, enjoy!

    • Your perspectives are appreciated and are shared from a unique perch, JoAnne. You have insights and first-hand experience with people who are unable to manage/control addicition(s). Your work is not easy and is to be commended! I understand your wanting and choosing to honor those who suffer. And I applaud your closing sentence. Moderation sounds simple yet can be tricky for some.

  16. Very helpful, Eric! May I reblog this post on my blog? I am reading up on wellness, in general, and this is food for the mind, body and spirit! Many thanks for your diligence in both learning and sharing.

  17. Yup! Having been to Okinawa, I knew when the subject of aging longer Okinawa always comes to mind. I like the sound of first and five. I’ve read quite a number of articles over there that fermented food are link to longevity, which they eat a lot in Okinawa. And yup, I also believe that living a longer life is not all physical but also a peaceful mind. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Where hasn’t the nomadic Rommel been? ๐Ÿ™‚ You ought to consider writing a book to compliment your amazing journey’s and photos! And you’ve nailed it — living a longer, better life definitely depends on one’s mental and emotional wellness!

  18. Pingback: Garden Seed, Buy, Sell, Saving, Trading Or To Give Away | Town & Country Gardening

    • (Shared rhetorically) Isn’t it comforting when we are reminded about matters that are so easy to align ourselves with, that are often ‘right there’ for our acting upon? ๐Ÿ™‚ Some people have known their tribe members for some time while others, now aware, get to seek out new members. Fun and valuable stuff!

  19. so fascinating! i love the idea of 5 friends for life! and also sardinian wine hehe…i visited there in the summer of 2013 and could see myself adapting nicely to that lifestyle. ๐Ÿ˜‰ thanks, aleya

    • Yours is a $64,000 question, Jean. I certainly don’t have the answer(s). What I am aware of is that each one of us can makes choices that align with what matters to us. If those choices are less about living better and living longer, so be it. My personal sense is that many people, when pausing long enough to seriously consider the (as you point out) alternatives, might rethink the manner in which they are presently living. Your question sounds like a great subject for a Sociology dissertation. ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. Loved the power of 9 and having had the pleasure of meeting some of the locals in Sardinia when I went for a holiday in the 90’s… I can see how their lifestyle for chilling in the afternoons, wine, and good food..puts them in the blue zone..

    I guess I must be doing something right… I had a glass of wine last night.. a home made Green Smoothie of deliciousness this morning… I could do with more exercise though this winter… But soon gardening will be in full swing.. and I will shed the excess pounds I have gained with my home cooked cakes.. LOL!..

    Wonderful information Eric.. loved reading with the pictures too..
    Have a great weekend..

    • I sense many people are “doing something right.” Sue. ๐Ÿ™‚ The opportunity may lie in what more can we be doing to live better and potentially, longer? Here’s to soon returning to toiling in your garden where you get to commune with earth and dirt, consume the healthy fruits of your efforts, and lose some weight if that is what matters to you! Glad you enjoyed the information and warm weekend wishes returned.

      • Big smiles at me loosing the weight… I guess I have been so used to being skinny all my life, that now I am ‘Filling out’ lol I can feel those extra pounds, even though I’m not over weight.. I don’t use the scales, But can feel my fitness levels are not as they should be.. And I guess those odd aches we get as we get older need some exercise grease.. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you Eric.. I do so enjoy the ‘Fruits’ of our labours too ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. ~Eric~ Thanks for sharing this post!… You are giving us tips which would probably lead us to a long better life… And that’s certainly empowering!… I am grateful to read this today. All the best to you… Happy weekend Aquileana ๐Ÿ˜€

    • I like your word choice, Aquileana: “empowering.” It very much is! There is an abundance of useful/helpful information ‘out there.’ The challenge is acting on it when it becomes known to us. Here’s to your long better life! Thanks for the weekend wishes. Much the same returned. ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. Reblogged this on theartoflovingkindness and commented:
    I am so very fortunate to have good teachers around me, and Eric Tonningsen is a new source of life and joy and wisdom for me. He permitted me to share his recent blog about the “Blue Zones” around the world, 5 areas where people live the longest and with the best health. Fascinating insights about 5 shared common denominators of wellness. If you are interested in a lifestyle of being well, be sure to check out the vitality compass in Eric’s blog.

    • It seems we have a bit of a mutual admiration exchange here, Bryan. I would be inclined to use “source of life, joy and wisdom” when referencing your blog posts! Thank you for your quite kind ‘descriptors.’ I’m simply pleased to be able to share considerations with you and others. If they resonate or prompt further thought/ action, then the blog/messages are serving an intended purpose. Thank you for choosing to share this post with your ‘tribe.’ ๐Ÿ™‚

  23. I’m all for happy hour and incorporating physical activity into my life by keeping up a big yard or having a job that is physical (which I used to have). Need to be more social- thanks for the reminder.

    • You are welcome. I suspect many people share your being about “happy hour and physical activity,” Susan. And big yards certainly lend (endlessly) to the latter. Glad the post prompts you to think about where else you might want to channel some of your time and energy.

  24. Great post ~ an important post. Nothing quite like being able to live a better life, and health is where to start. Very much enjoyed this post and learning more of these relatively simple ideas that make so much sense…funny how that works most of the time. Cheers!

  25. I love reading your posts and find them to be meaningful, thought provoking, and astute, but this time I must disagree. I have many friends in Loma Linda and I myself live practically next door. They operate at the same manic pace as the rest of us, are suffering from the same physical ills as the rest of us, and are as identified by their monetary possessions as the rest of America. Maybe they live on a different street as the one used to decide Loma Linda was a blue zone?

  26. Whew… in this case I get to reply, “I’m only the messenger.” ๐Ÿ™‚ With this post I was simply sharing what scientists/researchers discovered ten years back. Absolutely things may have changed since their discoveries or, to your comment, maybe their work was on another side of the tracks. I’m not defending Blue Zones work yet in my reading, their findings seem to be validated and roundly accepted in many scientific, health and social communities. Different views aside (momentarily), thank you for kindly acknowledging these blog posts. I appreciate that. ๐Ÿ™‚

  27. And it becomes increasingly apparent that *we* might think we know how to live yet our practices and outcomes speak otherwise. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your quite poignant thoughts, Barbara!

  28. Beautiful post, Eric, well done. I am vegetarian but I do miss bacon, though. ๐Ÿ™‚ I cannot remember the last time I enjoyed a glass of wine. That can be remedied. ๐Ÿ™‚

  29. Another terrific post, Eric… and I’m delighted to see the nod to Sardinian Cannonau wine. I fell in love with it on Sardinia and can occasionally locate it here in southern Germany. How nice to know that it is as healthy for me as it is delicious.

    • Thank you, Jadi. I’ve been to three local wine stores and have had no luck in securing some of this wine. Nest step: online. In the meantime, my tastebuds are in high anticipation mode. Here’s to the grape continuing to contribute to our physical (and mental!) wellness.

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