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Living the Good Life

The good news is we’re living longer, but the big question is: how do we live a full and healthy life as we age?

Older New Zealanders are a large and growing proportion of New Zealand’s population – by 2036, one in four of us will be aged 65 years or older – a statistic that prompted the Government to commission a Healthy Ageing Strategy, which it released in December last year. The strategy sets the direction for the health sector and outlines the actions needed to improve the health outcomes and independence of older New Zealanders. But what can we do as individuals to give ourselves the best shot at living a long and healthy life? Dan Buettner, National Geographic Fellow and bestselling author, has identified and studied the five places in the world – dubbed Blue Zones – where people live the longest, and are healthiest. These are Okinawa in Japan, Sardinia in Italy, Nicoya in Costa Rica, Icaria in Greece; and the Seventh-day Adventist community in Loma Linda, California. From his observations of centenarians and others in these communities, he has identified nine common diet and lifestyle habits, which he dubs the Power 9.


The world’s longest-lived 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 and outdoor work.

The Okinawans call it “Ikigai” and the Nicoyans call it “plan de vida”; for both it translates to “why I wake up in the morning”. Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy.

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 may not have 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.

4. 80% RULE
“Hara hachi bu” – the Okinawan, 2500-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 or 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 the rest of the day.

Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Meat – mostly pork – is eaten on average only five times per month and serving sizes are small, about the size of a deck of cards.

6. 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. And no, you can’t save up all week and have 14 drinks on Saturday.

All but five of the 263 centenarians interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. Denomination doesn’t seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy.

In Blue Zones, people keep their ageing parents and grandparents nearby or in the home. (This lowers disease and mortality rates of children in the home too.) Successful centenarians committed to a life partner (which can add up to three years of life expectancy) and invested in their children with time and love.

The world’s longest lived people chose – or were born into – social circles that supported healthy behaviours, Okinawans created “moais”– groups of five friends that committed to each other for life. Research shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. So the social networks of long-lived people have favourably shaped their health behaviours.

Discover more about Dan Buettner’s findings and what you can do to live a longer, healthier life at

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