Does it seem like every piece of health advice you get boils down to one of two things—diet and exercise? Or, every time you visit the doctor, they give you the same off-the-script speech about healthy lifestyle habits that are basically just “eat well” and “move more”?
Of course, fitness and nutrition are fundamentally two of the best things you can do for your body. This is pretty undisputed. But there are other things you can do to improve your health, too—and some of them are actually really enjoyable (we promise!).
Take it from the communities around the globe known as Blue Zones—the regions where people live the longest, healthiest lives (identified by National Geographic Fellow and acclaimed writer Dan Buettner). Most of the individuals living into their 90s and beyond in these areas aren’t following the latest diet or running on a treadmill at a boutique bootcamp studio. They’re living well-rounded lifestyles that put a major emphasis on pleasure and joy.
“Even if you don’t reside in a Blue Zone, adopting these principles can have a profound impact on your health and longevity,” says Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, founder of the renowned health education nonprofit Proactive Health Labs. She says we can all learn from these Blue Zone habits, and implement them into our own day-to-day. “By making simple yet significant lifestyle changes, anyone can follow the path to a healthier and potentially longer life,” she says.
Here are four Blue Zone-inspired healthy lifestyle habits for longevity that feel like anything but a chore.
1. Take it easy
“Downshift,” recommends Stephenson-Laws. “Manage stress effectively, as chronic stress can lead to inflammation and various chronic illnesses.”
None of the Blue Zone areas are in major metropolitan cities—and perhaps there’s a correlation between the pace of life and health. Perhaps it’s a bit of the “island life” state of mind. Aside from Loma Linda (a California suburb 60 miles east of Los Angeles) and Costa Rica, the other three Blue Zones are on actual islands: Okinawa, Sardinia, Ikaria are all surrounded by water, separated from the hustle and bustle.
This isn’t to say that you’re doomed if you live in a city, but more to point out that a slower pace of life can contribute to your wellbeing. How can you slow down? Maybe there are commitments you can say “no” to, or ways to build more breaks into your days.
2. Embrace happy hour
If you don’t already drink, this isn’t your call to start—alcohol as an ingredient has no health benefits. But Blue Zone communities (except for Loma Linda, which is primarily comprised of sober Seventh Day Adventists) tend to imbibe before dinner with friends and family. An aperitif, if you will.
So if you do enjoy a glass of wine, have one at five rather than a late-night binge, says Stephenson-Laws. “Moderating alcohol consumption [can help you] maintain optimal health and avoid potential adverse effects.” What’s more, there’s plenty to be said about the longevity-boosting benefits of giving yourself a ritual that helps you to destress (see above) and find some camaraderie and connection, which leads us to…
3. Prioritize your social life
One of the best components discovered about the Blue Zone lifestyle habits? The sense of social connectedness. “Belonging is essential,” says Stephenson-Laws. “Building a supportive community, whether through faith-based services or positive social networks, contributes to a longer life.”
Put your relationships first—before work and other priorities. Investing your time in your family and building friendships can foster a sense of support, stave off loneliness, and give you greater purpose. “Surround yourself,” says Stephenson-Laws.
Ask yourself: What can you do this week—or right now—to improve your social health? It can be simpler than you think. Maybe invite someone on a walk. Schedule a catch-up call with a friend. Or introduce yourself to someone new at yoga class.
4. Find your happy
It’s easy to default into cynicism under the guise of “realism”—but it’s far more courageous to choose joy and optimism in spite of hurdles. “Embracing a sense of purpose and positive attitude [is a Blue Zone habit],” says Stephenson-Laws. “This can significantly contribute to a healthy and happy life.”
Though gratitude, optimism, and finding meaning aren’t necessarily the easiest things to implement right away, this formula can have a significant impact on your physiological and psychological well-being. And it’s free—no supplements or gym memberships required.