Creating a Blue Zones Retreat
Through this year and last I’ve given about 100 speeches on longevity and happiness and am helping transform four U.S. cities into certified Blue Zones Communities®. A few weeks ago, while delivering a speech in Monterrey, Mexico, a researcher leaned over to me and said coyly, “With all the travel you do, your life sounds just as stressful as anyone else’s. Aren’t you supposed to be Mr. Blue Zones?”
The answer is no, actually. I am able to keep a relatively balanced schedule and rarely work past 5 p.m. Nonetheless, the question spawned an idea: a perfect blue zones retreat — one that would incorporate most of the Power 9 principles. Since most of the Blue Zones® fundamental principles are transportable, you can take them anywhere. My goal was to apply as many as possible to my next retreat opportunity.
I started by putting my family first, deciding to get away with my 14-year-old son, Rafael, and my 17-year-old daughter, Irene. Then, selecting from my favorite Right Tribe members, I contacted my 20-year friend, consumer advocate Remar Sutton, and his team who work with the financial literacy site foolproofme.com (they help kids grow up financially sound; I’m a board member) and convinced them to join me on this blue zones retreat.
Our next goal was to choose a retreat that would easily allow us to downshift. I found my answer in a 49-foot catamaran that we chartered in Tortola — the largest of the British Virgin Islands. Our goal would be to sail languidly to Anegada at the northern extreme of the British Virgin Islands, then back, with no particular agenda. We had three glorious, unscheduled days to do exactly as the shirting breezes — and our caprice — dictated.
Our ship featured a big central galley (which we loaded with tropical fruits) and an outdoor gathering place that peers theatrically off the stern. During the day we would go exploring and at night we would sit in the back with our Wine at 5, looking out onto the great blue of the sea with its usual green-carpeted peaks so specific to the British Virgin Islands. It was a bit of a splurge but what the heck, according to the Vitality Compass, I only have 48 years left. I might as well enjoy them!
Here’s how you can create your own blue zones retreat:
Move Naturally – Pick a vacation that you are going to enjoy but requires movement throughout the day. Skiing, cycling, hiking, and sailing are all examples that qualify. Sitting by a pool does not.
Downshift — Make sure to leave your electronics at home—or at least in your hotel room. You can check in with the world, but do it at the beginning or end of of the day.
Purpose – The ideal blue zones retreat involves a cause such as Habitat for Humanity, a church group, or some other trip that allows you to live out your values. Or just bring a loved one to spend some time with.
Plant Slant – It’s harder to eat healthy when you’re eating out. At least try to make breakfast and lunch plant based. Go ahead and splurge for dinner. After all, you’re on vacation.
80% Rule – Start your day with a good breakfast to carry you to lunch. Try to avoid snacking, but if you need a little something, make it a handful of nuts.
Wine at 5 – This is a must. Toast the sunset or get together with old and new friends for happy hour. You don’t have to drink wine — but usually it helps!
Family First – Bring a family member. Remember, relationships with kids and spouses help you live longer, but they require an investment of our time. A family that plays together stays together.
Faith Community – While religious retreats are not always people’s first choice, vacationing with a church group or at least staying with your religious routine can keep you connected.
Right Tribe – Travel with friends who encourage you to be active on your vacation and seek new experiences. Alternatively, make your retreat an opportunity to broaden your social network and meet new friends. Make it a point to introduce yourself to the person next to you on the plane or strike up a conversation with someone at the next table over at dinner.