The longest-living people in the world know that staying active, eating well, and sleeping enough are keys to living a fruitful life. But, it’s not just about the things you do on your own. Maintaining strong relationships is also a pillar of life in Blue Zones regions, like Okinawa, Japan and Sardinia, Italy, where people enjoy longer, healthier lives than anywhere else on Earth.
Author and researcher Dan Buettner founded Blue Zones, a platform that shares information on the daily habits of the populations that reside in these regions, after leading a team of demographers, scientists, and anthropologists to identify them. Researchers found that these areas shared key characteristics. For example, many focused on connecting with others, showing that strong relationships help you live longer.
In particular, there are 5 things people in Blue Zones do to prioritize and nurture their social connections
1. Create strong bonds in relationships
Holding your friends and families close can impact not only your happiness, but also your health span, or the number of disease-free years you live. “Many studies have shown lower rates of hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and possibly even cancer for people with lots of friends and loving relationships in their lives,” Richard Honaker, MD, a family medicine physician and chief medical advisor for Your Doctors Online, previously told Well+Good.
Personally, Dr. Honaker has studied this correlation with aging populations in Bao, China (not a Blue Zone, but a place known as The Longevity Village). “Our research showed that as long as people stayed in the village and adopted the village lifestyle, they were healthy and aging was slowed,” he says. “However, if they left for employment in one of the big cities in China, then their health suffered.”
2. Maintain an active social life
Whether it’s through a religious group, a book club, or a yoga studio, finding people who you relate to, and penciling in time to see them, can often make a great impact on your longevity. For example, Dr. Honaker says “study after study suggests that having a faith may increase longevity.” This is likely because you’re with people who share your belief system and meet with them regularly.
3. Make mealtime (and drink time) about connecting with others
People living in Blue Zones are known for eating plant-forward diets and consuming a bit of alcohol. Take people in Sardinia, Italy. They regularly drink red wine. Meanwhile, people in Okinawa, Japan love to sip on awamori, a rice-based, distilled liquor. But, they’re not eating their meals and drinking their drinks alone–they’re sharing the experience with their loved ones.
In Blue Zones regions, “[p]eople eat to live, they don’t live to eat,” Suzanne Dixon, MPH, RDN, a registered dietitian, epidemiologist, and medical writer tells Better By Today. “Each eating opportunity is a time for connection with others, being with family, and a time for gratitude for all of the good things in their lives. They take the time to savor food, enjoy company, and slow down for a bit.”
4. Maintain a healthy sex life
In the Blue Zone region of Ikaria, Greece, more than 80 percent of people between ages 65 and 100 are having sex. Sex, of course, is a great way for people to connect. Having sex releases hormones that play a role in human pair-bonding and creates an intimacy feedback loop. On an individual level, sex can also reduce stress, boost confidence, and lead to a better night’s sleep, which can help you and your partner show up more fully in the relationship.
5. Stay geographically close with loved ones
Because Blue Zones tend to be tight-knit communities, family members stay close to each other, geographically and physically. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, and being close to family (including your chosen family) means surrounding yourself with a support system. Also, younger people are around to help out older people.
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