When I was a kid, I thought thirty was old. Now I’m nearly thirty and I feel like life has just begun.
So when I heard about the Blue Zones – regions across the world that are home to the longest-living people on the planet – I was intrigued. I’d like to live another hundred years, thank you very much.
These five areas – Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda in the United States – are geographically distinct but share an above-average life expectancy with inhabitants sailing happily into their 90s and beyond, and eluding major disease and cancers. The most interesting thing about the people within these regions? They don’t just live longer. They live better.
What’s the secret? Dan Buettner and a team of researchers from National Geographic investigated, and created the nine lessons from the world’s Blue Zones on living a long, healthy life.
The thing is, most of these communities are kinda old school. In Sardinia, for example, they make their own passata. With tomatoes that they grew themselves. From a seed.
I can’t even keep my Monstera alive!
So I wondered, can we harness these secrets of longevity and apply them to Western culture? I knew I could survive without TikTok and Tim Tams, but would my friends, workplace, and daily life accommodate the other behaviours? Would this really help me live longer?
I needed to find out for myself.
Inspired by Buettner’s nine lessons, I decided to focus on five key behaviour and mindset shifts that would both challenge my routine and shove me a little out of my comfort zone:
- Move more, naturally. I hid my car keys and decided to walk everywhere.
- Eat more plants, beans, and wholefoods. I already eat a vegetarian diet but I would be scrapping the very regular cookies and muffins.
- Spend time with loved ones. Channeling the Okinawans and their lifelong friendship circles called moai, I was going to connect with my nearest and dearest every single day. No, liking their Instagram post didn’t count.
- Find purpose. By staying off social media, I’d have more time to actively practice gratitude, slow down and be present.
- Reduce stress. I bought a yoga membership and locked in a regular practice.
I didn’t know if I could do it and I was nervous as hell – especially since I’d told everyone at Wild Women about my challenge – but I was committed to trying. Here’s how it went.
Day 1 – Friday
Organic food markers for veggies, veggies, and more veggies! I also bought yummy sourdough bread (a nod to Sardinia) and Jasmine tea (Okinawa, I see you!).
Day 2 – Saturday
The day started off great.
I hid my phone, went to yoga, then spent my morning making hummus, pesto and oat milk from scratch. I was on a roll and feeling mighty smug.
“This is easssssy”, I thought. “Who knew we had this much time in a day?”
That night, I went out with the girls, enjoyed amazing food and – in the Blue Zone spirit of ‘drink moderately with friends’ – decided to enjoy a couple of wines.
Famous last words.
Let me paint you a picture of how my night ended: It’s 2:00am, I’m sitting on my bed eating pizza and garlic bread and telling my roommate how pretty her eyes are.
It wasn’t until my dizzy head hit the pillow that my disappointment set in. In Buettner’s words:
“No, you cant save up all week and have 14 drinks on Saturday.”
Day 3 – Sunday
Day 4 – Monday
I needed to make up for my setback.
So, I set about planning the rest of my week with enthusiastic vigour. I began to rush about, making sure every spare minute was filled with something that ticked my ‘Blue Zone’ list.
Then I remembered a lesson from Buettner’s book.
Upon visiting a remote village in Nicoya, Buettner politely asked a woman what she did to entertain herself. She replied simply yet beautifully: “I find a patch of shade and eat an orange.”
The lesson: I didn’t need to fill my time with activities. I just needed to be. So, after spending Monday morning with my Nana and catching up with my oldest friend for a picnic at lunch, I spent the afternoon doing nothing except sitting by the window with a mug of tea, watching the world go by. I was very much content.
Day 5 – Tuesday
By Tuesday I was well into the swing of things and genuinely enjoying making ‘blue’ choices. I felt happier, more relaxed and my colleague said I was glowing! Win!
Day 6 – Wednesday
Wednesday really tested my resolve.
When I woke up, every inch of me wanted to grab my car keys to avoid the freezing, 4km walk to the office. But I stuck to my guns – and I must admit, I was pretty proud of myself when I arrived.
After yoga in the evening, I met my partner at our local burger joint for dinner. Although you probably don’t see Centenarians playing pool, eating burgers or drinking pints, I was pleasantly relaxed and decided not to let it worry me; I was having fun, laughing, and spending time with someone I loved… even though he beat me at pool!
Day 7 – Thursday
By my last day I was feeling sad about this journey coming to an end.
The good thing? It didn’t need to!
Although I won’t be selling my car any time soon, my perspective has shifted, and I decided I would be taking some of the Blue Zone habits with me into the future.
When I began, I was sceptical as to whether I’d notice any impact in such a short amount of time.
But I did!
Connecting with family and friends and taking time to slow down has been the most rewarding part of this week. I feel great; lighter, and more relaxed. I can’t wait to continue shaking uncontrollably and falling over during yoga every Thursday!
It’s so easy to get swept up in the rush and the routine, and days tend to fade into each other. We can often have conversations with people and our minds can be elsewhere. We can spend whole afternoons scrolling on our phones, taking in so much information that we end up taking in nothing. We can feel like life begins at some fixed point in the future when we have time to do the things we love.
Although I’ll likely still revel in the convenience of driving, and occasionally indulge in a block of chocolate binge-watching Stranger Things, I will be keeping Instagram notifications off, embracing time with myself and making a point to reach out to friends on the reg.
If anything, the past week has reminded me to be present and live. Slow down. Look up. Notice. Move. Be grateful. Interact. Love…and just enjoy.