There’s no silver bullet to living longer, says Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and journalist who studies the habits of people living in the “Blue Zones,” which are the places in the world where people live the longest. The places are: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California.
But making small changes to your everyday routine — from how you spend your lunch hour to whether you keep in touch with friends — can make a big difference in the long run, Buettner tells CNBC Make It.
Especially during the Covid pandemic, as most people’s lives have been dramatically changed, here are the top three habits from the Blue Zones that Buettner says are important to start now.
Famous research from Harvard has shown that people who have close relationships live longer than those who are isolated.
“If you’re socially disconnected, [or] if you don’t have three friends you can count on on a bad day, it shaves about eight years off your life expectancy, compared to somebody who’s well connected,” Buettner says.
During the pandemic, even video calls can have a positive effect: “If the conversation has emotional content to it, it counts,” he says.
“In the pre-Covid days, we would take a lunch break and often go eat with a colleague,” he says. Since that’s not possible for many people during the pandemic, he suggests a mid-day video call with someone you care about. “Make that part of your daily routine,” he says.
Lots of research supports that exercising wards off your risk of disease and death, but you don’t need an exercise bike or home gym to reap the benefits.
“People in Blue Zones walk every day and they make it to 100 without all the other gadgetry and pageantry of working out,” Buettner says.
People who commute to work and have to walk to a bus or train station have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular issues. If you’re working remotely and are more sedentary than usual, take walks around the block that mimic your morning and evening commutes, Buettner says. Leave your sneakers or walking shoes by the front door “to constantly remind you to use them,” he says.
Going on walks during the pandemic is an easy way to exercise safely outdoors and also to socialize with someone from outside of your household. Dr. Anthony Fauci has said he powerwalks 3.5 miles a day to de-stress after work.
Studies have shown that walking boosts your creativity, improves your memory and even helps you sleep.
Taking short mid-afternoon naps is common in many of the Blue Zones regions, Buettner says.
“People who report napping at least 20 minutes, five days a week, have about a third lower rate of heart disease than people who just motor through the day,” he says.
After a nap, you typically feel sharper and have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, Buettner says. Over time, regular nappers also have less inflammation in their bodies, he adds. (Chronic inflammation is associated with several diseases.)
The key to avoiding grogginess is to only nap for 20 minutes, according to the National Sleep Foundation. If you’re working from home, squeeze in a power nap during your lunch break — it could improve your performance. Studies suggest that short power naps can increase job performance by up to 34% and improve alertness by 54%.