Older adult man sitting in a chair looking outside

13 Unusual Ways to Shed Stress (Lessons from the World’s Blue Zones)

 

The Power 9® principle of Downshifting is nothing new to centenarians in the blue zones –the longest-living people in the world with the highest life expectancy. 

Designed to help you achieve a high-quality, well-balanced life, these nine principles can also be major stress reducers.

Stress is one of the leading causes of chronic inflammation. It also has direct links to major age-related health issues, from dementia to Alzheimer’s disease.

Stress is one of the leading causes of chronic inflammation. It also has direct links to major age-related health issues, from dementia to Alzheimer’s disease. Click To Tweet

Unlike most of the modern world who prefer to shed stress at the gym or the mall, residents in the blue zones turn to traditional down-to-earth practices to recharge and renew energy. 

Time and time again, centenarians manage to survive the leading killers of today: cancer and cardiovascular diseases. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends regular checkups, screenings, vaccinations, and the adoption of healthy lifestyle practices to avoid these underlying health issues. The latter is something that centenarians have mastered over time.

In an effort to dissect how centenarians make it past the age of 100, we have been studying the lifestyle habits of the longest-living, healthiest people in the world.

Keep reading for a glimpse of daily downshift routines practiced by Okinawans, Adventists, Ikarians, Sardinians, and Nicoyans. 

Okinawans

Okinawa is basically a Japanese Hawaii. Located a thousand miles away from Tokyo, this Pacific archipelago sits right on the exotic ground of the Ryukyu Islands. Okinawans are blessed with warmer climates year-round, allowing them to enjoy the island’s palm trees and sugar-sand beaches as often as they’d like. 

  1. Go outside and Get 15 Minutes of Sunlight

Residents are able to get plenty of sunshine year-round. This equips the body to naturally produce sufficient levels of vitamin D, leading to healthier and stronger bones. Senior Okinawans spend optimal amounts of time outside to soak up daily sunshine. In a 6-year study of 16,452 adults, researchers found that seasonal increases in sun time were associated with decreased emotional distress

Okinawa’s claim to fame is being called “home” by some of the longest-living people in the world. Dubbed “the land of immortals” by Chinese expeditions, these tiny islands have a reputation for extreme longevity. The people of Okinawa boast one of the highest life expectancy rates. Japanese people not only live longer, but they enjoy more disability-free years.

In Okinawa, they experience

  • Less than ½ the rate of dementia 
  • ⅕ the rate of prostate and breast cancer
  • ⅕ the rate of cardiovascular disease 

Okinawans take many preventative measures to dodge disease altogether. Over the years, past generations have survived Chinese and Japanese domination, fatal acts of God, and a devastating world war. 

The fact that they’ve endured so many hardships contributes to their friendly, yet prideful attitude. Older Okinawans believe in letting the past be the past and focusing on the present. They’re very likable, laid back, and closely in touch with their spirituality. They also enjoy the company of their younger neighbors.

  1. Get Together with Friends to Have Fun, Complain, and Lend Support

Okinawans in general are pretty sociable as well. Many residents in the area are a part of a moai, an Okinawan tradition. Moais are social support groups that provide residents with a sense of community. It’s their “village” that they see as a safe space to help them through stressful times. When members of a moai need financial or emotional assistance, the others are readily available to support them. 

Moais are social support groups that provide residents with a sense of community. Click To Tweet
  1. Take 10 Minutes to Pray, Meditate, or Reflect Every Day 

Ancestors are treated with the highest regard, and the Okinawans go out of their way to maintain a close connection with them. Some take time each day to pay their respects.

  1. Get Gardening

Okinawans also make exceptional gardeners. Nearly all centenarians in Okinawa have grown gardens of their own, or have picked up gardening as a hobby. Many of their morning routines start with tending to the fields and arriving home in the afternoons with fresh vegetables. Gardening requires a sufficient amount of physical activity, so it’s a great way to get daily movement while also shedding stress. 

Gardening requires a sufficient amount of physical activity, so it’s a great way to get daily movement while also shedding stress. Click To Tweet

Several studies point back to the stress-relieving effects of gardening, including this scientific study. It suggests that garden-related activities are an excellent distraction from worrying thoughts. Over the 12-week period of the study, participants also experienced a decline in depressive symptoms.  

Okinawans also believe in daily consumption of ginger, turmeric, and other herbs to fight off illnesses. Thus, planting a medicinal garden can give you the best of both worlds between gardening and herbalism. 

Adventists

Loma Linda is a treasured find in Southern California, located 60 miles east of Los Angeles. It’s known as America’s “longevity oasis.”

This American blue zone boasts a population of over 21,000 residents, mostly consisting of Seventh-Day Adventists.

Adventists abstain from smoking, consuming alcohol and caffeine, and eating foods indicated as biblically unclean, from pork to shellfish. Their vegetarian diets may also significantly reduce their mortality rates, according to Adventist Health Study

  1. Pray, Meditate, or Reflect Every Day

In times of stress, Adventists turn to God. Prayer is their biggest stress-reliever. They also spend optimal amounts of time giving back to their communities. They take every opportunity to pay it forward with acts of service Helping others can take your mind off of stress, which is something that Adventists do religiously. 

  1. Boost Your Mood with Food

Their diet keeps them in great shape also–physically and mentally. Adventists follow a clean, vegetarian diet that mainly consists of fruits, vegetables, and legumes. They drink sufficient amounts of water as well.

Ikarians

Ikaria is famously known as the place where people forget to die. Located on the Eastern Aegean sea, residents on the famous Greek Island enjoy exceptional longevity. One in three residents live past the age of 90, and making it to 100 comes as no surprise. One of their secrets to a long life? Well-managed stress.

Ikarians embrace mountain living, a big contributing factor to their lower stress levels. The longest-living centenarians on the islands were typically poor. As a result, they resorted to activities that got their minds off of life’s daily pressures.

Their favorite activities also double as stress-relievers, including:

  • Gardening
  • Exercise 
  • Yardwork
  • Walks to their neighbors’ homes  
  1. Take a Nap

To Ikarians, naps aren’t solely reserved for little kids. The entire village goes dead during the afternoon nap time.

You may want to follow their lead and add naps to your daily routine, as individuals who nap regularly may have a lower risk of heart disease (according to this study). In addition to giving your heart a break, it also further balances your stress hormones.

  1. Schedule a Weekly Friend Date

Ikarians value social connections. They spend a lot of quality time with friends and family, experiencing greater long-term health as a result. In 148 separate studies, experts concluded that people who didn’t have close ties to their communities had a 50 percent chance of dying before their 7 ½ year follow-up, compared to individuals who didn’t have an active social life. 

Sardinians

Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, located 120 miles from mainland Italy. In Sardinia lies the village of Arzana. From 2000 on, Arzana has had a reputation for housing the highest percentage of centenarians in Italy. The key to their vitality has a lot to do with their methods of stress management. 

Sardinian origins date back well over 14,000 years, around the time of the last ice age. They’re known for having genetic distinctions compared to other parts of Europe. Local populations possess unique cultural characteristics that are unlike the rest of the country. 

In most parts of the developed world, centenarian women outnumber men at a 4:1 ratio. The ratio is 1:1 on the island of Sardinia. Not surprisingly, it’s a place where the world’s longest-living men call home. 

  1. Don’t Take Life Too Seriously and Laugh Daily

Their way of downshifting to stress less is funnier than others. There’s no shortage of good laughs on the island, as most Sardinians are natural comedians. Residents love cracking jokes with their friends in the afternoons. 

There’s no shortage of good laughs on the island, as most Sardinians are natural comedians. Click To Tweet

Taking life too seriously is the last thing they want to do. Thus, Sardinians maintain a good sense of humor. Laughter is both good for the soul and for lowering your stress levels. The act of laughing improves overall heart health and can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

  1. Plan a Happy Hour

Happy hours are a daily occurrence for many Sardinians. For them, it’s normal to have an end-of-day glass of wine (or two) with friends. Cannonau wine happens to be their favorite. Not like other wines, it has 2-3x the level of artery-scrubbing flavonoids than the rest. Men who consume Cannonau wine in moderation may experience lower stress levels than men in other regions of the world.

  1. Call Your Grandparents

Sardinians also have strong family values, which play a role in their high life expectancy. Ask any Sardinian native about their family dynamics, and the likely response is that they’re all loved and well-cared for. Members of a close-knit family tend to navigate life with less stress, and generally have a lowered risk of suicide and depression. 

Sardinians also have strong family values, which play a role in their high life expectancy. Click To Tweet

Younger family members love honoring their elders. Grandparents are the glue to the Sardinian family unit, always happy to lend support and words of wisdom. Their presence often results in their grandchildren leading longer, healthier lives as well.

Nicoyans

Nicoya is the Latin American blue zones region. The 80-mile peninsula sits right on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. With a relatively small population of 47,000 residents, Nicoyans tend to live past 100 years.

The roots of modern Nicoyans trace back to the indigenous Chorotega. Their ancestors’ traditions included leading stress-free lives. 

  1. Develop a Personal Purpose Statement

All Nicoyans have a plan de vida, or a reason to live. Centenarians who find success in this region have a strong sense of purpose. They find joy in contributing to the greater good and enjoy roles that make them feel useful. According to research, purpose-driven individuals are more likely to live longer than their peers. 

Centenarians who find success in this region have a strong sense of purpose. Click To Tweet

Hard work keeps their focus off of stress and on things that are bigger than them. Nicoyans like to get their hands dirty, so physical work, chores, and activities are right up their alleys. Residents spend a lot of time outside as a result, allowing them to get plenty of vitamin D. 

  1. Make Friends with Someone Older or Younger Than You

At no surprise, their active lives are just as social. Centenarians in this blue zones region have well-built social networks. Frequent visits from their neighbors are normal. 

Like centenarians in other blue zones regions, Nicoyans believe in putting family first. Most families remain in one household–even through adulthood. Parents, their children, and their parents typically live under one roof, allowing them to lean on each other and learn from each other in hard times.

Nicoyans believe in putting family first. Most families remain in one household–even through adulthood. Click To Tweet

 


 

Johnaé De Felicis is a writer and wellness junkie from California. Her work appears in Healthline, among others, and she covers wellness topics from mental health to natural living.

Photos by David McLain

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