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The BIG IDEA—Global research reveals 9 factors you can apply to your life to increase your odds of living a longer and more fulfilling life.

Research continues to undisputedly affirm that our physical and emotional health are inextricably linked. Each influences the other.

Working on your life happiness might not only be a good idea to increase the quality of the years you have on this planet, but it could increase the quantity of your years as well.

In 2004, author Dan Buettner and National Geographic began an extensive research project to identify places around the world where people lived measurably longer—and better—lives. They called these places Blue Zones.

Buettner is a New York Times bestselling author, has been featured on Oprah and TED, and his research has influenced national government health initiatives.

In these Blue Zones—people reach the age of 100 at a rate of about 10 times more often than in other regions of the world.

They identified 5 locations around the world…

  • Sardinia, Italy
  • Ikaria, Greece
  • Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Loma Linda, California (7th Day Adventist Community)

The research team consisted of anthropologists, demographers, and epidemiologists who then distilled 9 evidence-based factors these regions shared in common.

Astonishingly—the research team tested the 9 criteria in the city of Albert Lea, Minnesota and after only a year, they estimated that participants were able to add 2.9 years to their life expectancy by applying the 9 factors to their lifestyles!

Furthermore, healthcare claims dropped by 49% for Minnesota city workers who participated in the study. Given all the recent news on the massive cost of healthcare related claims and absences for the American workforce, organizations could save a tremendous amount of money by sharing and applying this research to their workplace habits and culture.

The famed Danish Twin Study established that only about 25% of how long we live is determined by genes. Therefore, behavioral and lifestyle choices play a majority role in longevity.

The 9 Factors

  1. Move Naturally—The healthiest people don’t necessarily go to the gym or run marathons, but they constantly move. Many had gardens and did yard work. The bottom line—whatever you do, just keep moving as you age!
  2. Having Purpose—The Blue Zones research identified this concept as “Why I wake up in the morning.” Astonishingly, they found that knowing your purpose could add 7 additional years to your life expectancy.
  3. Down Shift Regularly—Physician Richard Swensen is the author of the bestselling book Margin, in which he says, “Overload is the disease of our time and margin is the cure.” Many Americans see busyness as a status symbol, and this frequently applies to both their professional and personal lives. It’s becoming increasingly common to jam-pack our kids’ schedules with every conceivable opportunity. More must be better right? But ongoing stress can lead to chronic inflammation which is associated with every major age-related disease. People who live past age 100 don’t do this. The Adventists retreated to quiet prayer, Ikarians napped, and Sardinians went to happy hour. What is clear is that the world’s longest living people have consistent routines to slow down and shed stress. Life is way too short to race through it at breakneck speed.
  4. 80% Full Rule—In Japan there is a 2500-year-old Confucian mantra “Hara hachi bu,” which admonishes people to stop eating when they are 80% full. This could mean the difference between gaining or losing weight. People in Blue Zones ate their smallest meal as the last meal of the day.
  5. Eat More Plants—Beans are the foundation of most centenarian diets. The longest living people eat meat five or less times per month in small portions of 4 ounces or less per serving.
  6. Wine in Small Amounts—Nearly all Blue Zone populations drink a small amount of alcohol regularly—and often pair it with friends, family, and food. Not more than 1-2 drinks per day.
  7. Belong to a Spiritual Community—In the Blue Zone study, they had 263 people who lived past age 100. Nearly all of them, except for 5 people, were part of some faith-based community. Their research suggested that attending four spiritual services per month could extend your life by 4 to 14 years.
  8. Place Your Loved One’s First—Interestingly, keeping aging parents in the home lowered disease and mortality rates of the children in the home. Additionally, being committed to a partner for life added 3 years to your life expectancy. People who live past 100 also invest a lot of time with their children.
  9. The Right Tribe—Like the old adage, “tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are” –they found that one’s social circles play a huge role in supporting or eroding healthy behavior. This study affirmed what other studies have shown, such as the famous Framingham Massachusetts Heart study which showed that smoking, obesity, happiness, and loneliness are all contagious! When you live with this as a belief, you can’t help but be more careful about who you spend your time with. Numerous other happiness studies also suggest that having close relationships—people who you can rely on—make an enormous difference in happiness and longevity. Apparently, Jim Rohn didn’t need the research to declare many years ago, “You are the average of the top 5 people you spend the most time with.”

In conclusion—the Blue Zone’s research showed that the average person could add 10-12 years to their life by applying these principles. But in my opinion, the big pay off is not more years. It’s the joy and fulfillment that comes from applying these principles to your life now.

I’d much rather have better years than more years. Wouldn’t you?

Turn information into action

One thing many successful people have in common—they take responsibility for authoring their lives. They know that no one else is going to do it for them. They believe they can make changes in themselves that will influence their future.

Take this information and begin applying it to your life right now.

  1. Give yourself a score of 1-10 on each of the nine items above found in the Blue Zone research. Pick one area to try one small habit change this week. For bonus points, make a public declaration (on Facebook or announce it by email) and then ask someone to check in with you to see how you did after a week or two.

Have a great weekend!


*If you have enjoyed Parker’s blog, check out The Next Peak Podcast that Parker co-hosts. We interview successful leaders and discuss research-based principles that help people win in the workplace without compromising the things that matter most—relationships, a life of purpose, and health.

Suggested Resources

  1. (take the free longevity assessment!)
  2. Framingham Heart Study
Dr. Parker Houston

Parker Houston

Dr. Parker Houston is a licensed clinical psychologist and board-certified in organizational psychology. He is also certified in personal and executive coaching. Parker's personal mission is to share science-based principles of psychology and timeless spiritual practices, to help people improve the way they lead themselves, their families, and their organizations. *Opinions expressed are the author's own.
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