The average life expectancy for US citizens is 79 years, and while that may sound like plenty of living to you NOW, who knows what the future holds?
But never fear! There are five places -- called Blue Zones -- where a disproportionately high number of residents live to 100: Ikaria, Greece; Loma Linda, California; Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; and Nicoya, Costa Rica. If researchers could unlock the characteristics of these seemingly magical areas, the rest of us might be able to glean some life-extending information.
Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and bestselling author, has spent years studying the habits of people who live in the Blue Zones. "Only about 20% of our genes determine how long the average person lives," says Buettner. "This means our lifestyle and environment will greatly shape our health and happiness in later years."
So what secret formula do Blue Zoners follow to live longer and healthier? The short answer, unfortunately, is that there's no magic pill (though that hasn't stopped scientists from trying to find one). There are, however, shared traits of Blue Zone residents you can try to emulate.
They exercise -- without the gym
Americans are kind of extreme. Many people sit on their asses and watch too much TV, or believe that the only path to fitness is through marathon training and completing obstacle courses that deliver electric shocks and simulate drowning. But in Blue Zones, physical labor isn't approached begrudgingly; it's a natural part of everyday life. In Okinawa, that's maintaining a garden; in Ikaria, it's using walking as your main mode of transportation. Blue Zoners embrace physical activity throughout their lives.
They have a reason to get out of bed every morning
Not as depressing as it sounds! While having a meaningful job and close family is important during all stages of life, it's especially important as you reach retirement. "Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy," says Buettner. "Our society looks at retirement as a time to sit around, relax, and play some golf. But one of the most dangerous years of your life is the year you retire, because of a sudden lack of purpose."
People in Blue Zones fight this by placing value in raising their family's children, and in participating in their communities well into old age. In Nicoya, Costa Rica, for example, this is an explicit part of daily life -- known as the plan de vida -- and helps centenarians maintain a positive outlook late into life.