Blue Zones Life: Week by Week

You get to choose which new activity you will add to your daily well of wellness. Week by week, they add up to building a powerful foundation for health. The four weeks each have a theme. You’ll have three prompts that are required for the week—just choose which days you’d like to add them—and four choose-your-own-adventure prompts you can use to fill in the rest of the week.

Use these printable tracking sheets to keep track of your progress. Hang them up where you can see them—on your mirror, on your fridge, or in your office. Hang multiple copies for more visual reminders.

Some of these activities are “one and done,” and others are those that you should continue to do and integrate into your life.

Printable Weekly Tracking Sheets

Week 1: Eat Wisely

You’ll start with eating more blue zone friendly meals and remove screen time, and just get more in tune with your appetites as time goes on.

Week 1 Required Activities:

1.Don’t eat in front of a screen!

No phones, no laptop, no TV. When you are eating, JUST eat. It’s amazing what happens to your appetite and your experience when you are only eating and not doing all of the things we often do while eating: driving, working, reading, scrolling on our phones, talking, catching up on email.

2. Eat 5 Blue Zones meals this week

Just five blue zones friendly meals per week will help to recalibrate your tastebuds and your cooking habits. You could batch cook on Sunday for work meals, or just try something new a few times per week. More beans, less meat, more flavor and you’ll be amazed. You can use this list of recommended easy recipes, or make any other plant-slant meals made from whole foods that you wish.

3. Start the practice of hara hachi bu (stop eating when you are 80% full)

The Okinawans recite a phrase before every meal: hara hachi bu. This reminds them to eat to 80 percent full rather than stuffing themselves to the point of bursting. Their smaller portion sizes remind us to be mindful when eating and pay attention to our bodies.

Week 1 Optional Activities:

1 Place scale in your bathroom. Weigh yourself every day

Research shows that people who weigh themselves every day for two years weigh as much as 17 pounds less after two years than people who never weighed themselves. Daily weight checks take only seconds, and the results can provide powerful reinforcement.

2 Floss your teeth. Get in this habit! Do it everyday.

There’s a strong link between oral health and mental health and happiness.

3 Print and hang up Blue Zones food guidelines on your refrigerator

4 Print and hang up Longevity Food List and hang on your refrigerator

5 Take a 30 minute nap in the afternoon

Blue Zones centenarians took naps regularly. A study in 2011 from BPS Research Digest that shows how sleep affects our happiness. The research found that people who take an afternoon nap are desensitized to negative emotions yet more responsive to positive ones.

6 Set a bed time alarm+

Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time each morning helps your body stay in a rhythm.

7 If you are hungry, drink a whole glass of water slowly

A lot of people confuse thirst for hunger. Adventists in Loma Linda drink 7-8 glasses of water per day.

8 Spend at least 1 hour outside in nature (a city park counts)

Studies show that there are scientifically significant increases in people’s health and happiness when they spend time in nature and engage in active nature behaviours, such as feeding the birds and planting flowers.

9 Set the temperature in your bedroom to 65 degrees F at night

Temperatures below 54°F or above 75°F can actually wake you up at night. The ideal temperature for sleep is around 65°F. If it feels a little colder than you’d like, grab a coupled extra blankets.

10 Fast for 12-14 hours

Ikarians have traditionally been Greek Orthodox Christians, which meant their religious calendar called for fasting almost half of the year. Caloric restriction—a type of fasting that cuts about 30% of calories out of the normal diet—is the only proven way to slow the aging process in mammals.

Week 2: Move Naturally

By putting your walking shoes or bike right where you can see them, you start on the path to movement. Commit to walking 15 minutes per day, and then keep adding more as you feel the benefits.

Week 2 Required Activities

1 Put your running / walking shoes or bike out where you can see them

Try the front door, and do it even though it probably doesn’t go with your decor!

2 Spend 15 minutes outside a day (30 minutes is better!)

People who spend at least 30 mins outside in nature report better mood and well-being. Blue Zones headquarters is in Minneapolis, so we understand cold! If it’s cold where you live, you can still get out and go for a brisk walk if you bundle up.

3 Eat at least 5 Blue Zones meals / recipes this week

You can use this list of recommended easy recipes, or make any other plant-slant meals made from whole foods that you wish. It can be as simple as whole wheat bread with peanut butter and apples or veggie soup with a side of bread.

Week 2 Optional Activities

1 Stand up and stretch every hour

Centenarians in the blue zones areas live in environments that nudge them to move naturally every twenty minutes, rather than separating fitness into a different part of their day. It’s built into their lifestyles subconsciously.  You can install a free app like Stretchclock to be reminded to get up during your workday, and even to get suggested stretches.

2 Before you check social media, do two push-ups

While you are down there, maybe do 4 or 5 or 10. But DON’T cheat. This will not only cut down on your time wasted checking social media and email, it will make you get up and do some weight-bearing exercise.

3 Before you check your email, stand up and do some stretches

4 Suggest a walking meeting at work

Recent research finds that the act of walking leads to increases in creative thinking.

5 Put some cushions on the floor and sit there instead of the couch

Why do it: Sitting on the floor works your thighs, glutes, and lower back each time you sit down and stand back up. Supporting yourself without a chair back improves posture and may help you burn up to an additional 130 calories each hour. Okinawans sit on the floor and get up and down all day, every day.

6 Limit your workweek to 40 hours

The happiest people in the world generally don’t work over 40 hours.

7 Get some sun, about 15 minutes per day

Nicoyans regularly take in sunshine, which helps their bodies produce vitamin D for strong bones and healthy body function.

8 Discover an herbal tea you love

Ikarians drink herbal teas made from wild oregano, sage, and rosemary—all of which lower blood pressure. Researchers have also found that chamomile tea contains properties that guard against platelet clumping; peppermint tea exhibits antiviral properties; and hibiscus tea may lower blood pressure. Rotate teas to make sure you’re not getting too much of one compound (and to be sure you’re benefitting from all as well).

9 Eat a light, early dinner

“Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper.” — American nutritionist Adelle Davis is said to have recommended this, and it’s an attitude reflected by Adventists. A light dinner early in the evening avoids flooding the body with calories during inactive parts of the day, which promotes better sleep.

10 Snack on nuts

Adventists who consume nuts at least five times a week have about half the risk of heart disease and live about two years longer than those who don’t. At least four major studies have confirmed that eating nuts has an impact on health and life expectancy.

11 Park as far away as you can from the door

Our Western lifestyle is sedentary, even though we’ve evolved to move throughout the day. Get in steps and some natural movement where you can—there’s no need to circle the parking lot at the grocery store, at work, or while running errands to park as close as you can.

Week 3: Right Tribe

Getting in touch with old friends is part of your fun homework this week! And making new connections in a social group is key, so you’ll be looking for a new activity or interest group to connect with.

Week 3 Required Activities

1 No more than 1 hour of additional screen time daily (including Netflix, TV, news)

People who watch too much TV are more likely to be overweight. TV-watching actually lowers metabolism, makes us less active, and encourages us to eat junk food via commercials. Kids with a TV in their bedroom are 18 percent more likely to be (or become) obese and have lower grades. The happiest people watch only 30-60 minutes of TV per day.

2 Eat at least 5 Blue Zones meals / recipes this week

Keep it simple and easy. You can try new recipes or eat the same ones you used last week. As you keep adding more healthy foods and meals to your daily routine, you’ll crowd out the calorie-rich and nutrient poor foods that are the basis of the Western diet. Focus on the four Always foods: whole brains, beans, nuts, and fruits / veggies.

3 Join a new social group (church, school club, local group)

This can be a new group at your temple, church, or other faith-based community, a new club at your school, or a local group like Meetup. Our friends and social groups shape our lives (and our waistlines).

Week 3 Optional Activities

1 Call, text, or email one friend or family member you haven’t connected with recently.

Try to get into this habit everyday. Even if it’s just a simple text or a funny photo, don’t forget to keep in touch.

2 Volunteer to be an organ donor (on your license)

“If you want to do a random act of kindness, there isn’t a more powerful few minutes than signing to be an organ donor. You never have to lift a finger. It is the laziest, most excellent good deed that you can do that will give you a happiness boost.”—Gretchen Rubin

3 Volunteer for a new organization

“Altruism stimulates the same neural pathways as sugar and cocaine.  But unlike drugs, volunteering is a healthy addiction. People who volunteer tend to lose weight, have lower rates of heart disease, and report higher levels of happiness. Decide what you do best and volunteer your time.”—Dan Buettner

4 Host a healthy potluck

In the longevity hotspots around the world, socializing with friends is an important part of life. Okinawans have moais, groups of people who travel through life together. Sardinians finish their days at a local bar, chatting with friends they’ve known all their lives. And Adventists potluck.

5 Plan a vacation or some time off work

Never leave vacation days on the table. Even if you don’t have the money to splurge on an exotic trip, a “staycation” can provide a much-needed respite. No matter how much time off your company provides, you can increase the pleasure you get from vacation days by dividing them among several shorter trips, as opposed to one big one. That’s because the happiness bump we get from a vacation may come from the planning and anticipation, not the trip itself, according to a 2010 study from the Netherlands.

6 Schedule a weekly get together with friends (happy hour, workout session, book club, coffee klatch)

This week you should already be signing up for a new group that meets regularly (see required activity #3), but don’t forget to nourish the friendships you already have. Engage your existing circle and pick a day and time to get together regularly: Happy hour at 5pm so you’re all getting off work on time at least once a week; book club (or even article club) for some interesting discussions; workout session or walk; or coffee meet-up once a week.

7 Put a fruit-filled bowl on your countertop

If you want to re-make your eating habits, clean up your kitchen environment. Try to always keep fresh fruit and nuts on the counter. Start making it a habit to never keep the FOUR TO AVOID foods in your house. If you must (because of family or roommates), keep them out of sight on a high shelf or in the back of the fridge.

8 Write a thank you note to a coworker or friend

Research published in Psychological Science says when people express their gratitude, it improves both their own happiness and the well-being and happiness of the person they are thanking.

9 Take time to rediscover a hobby you once loved

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health noted that the type of activity did not seem to matter when it came to cognitive benefits. Find something that you enjoy doing and let it enhance your life and boost your brainpower.

10 Schedule a ten-minute walk with friends or co-workers after lunch

You should be working up to 10,000 steps a day, a simple, budget-friendly way to move naturally throughout the day. A walk with friends will enhance your life in other ways.

11 Put a lavender plant next to your bed

Research performed by Dr. Brian Raudenbush, the Department Chair of psychology at Wheeling Jesuit University, shows the smell of lavender is particularly effective at reducing human stress hormones.

Week 4: Right Outlook

Define and refine your purpose. Get in the habit of downshifting with some stress-relieving self-care practices. You’ll even create a “shrine” in your home to your accomplishments to remind  yourself of growth and progress.

Week 4 Required Activities

1 If you haven’t already, finish your Purpose Statement OR review your Purpose Statement.

2 Eat at least 5 Blue Zones meals / recipes this week

3 Create a “Pride Shrine” in your house

From the Blue Zones of Happiness: optimize your home environment to boost your pride, one of the three strands of happiness. A “pride shrine” is a place with family photos, mementos, and objects that display your accomplishments. Every time you walk by, you’ll be rewarded with a surge of pride and a reminder of how you fit into the world.

Week 4 Optional Activities

1 Designate a space in your home for quiet time, meditation, or prayer

2 Put a post-it on your mirror with the default purpose: GROW & GIVE.

3 Enroll in Automatic Savings or Investment Plans

4 Try meditation, yoga, or tai-chi

5 Schedule laugh breaks on your calendar

6 Declutter your house

7 Get a massage

8 Go for a walk around the block with a trash bag and pick up litter

9 Arrive to all appointments 15 minutes early

10 Practice listening to someone with great attention

11 Spend at least 2 hours in nature

A Lifestyle, Not a Diet or Exercise Plan

This four week life adjustment is no mere “diet” or “exercise plan” — we want you to start gradually and start incorporating more and more of these Blue Zones principles into your life. Four weeks. And then another four weeks, and another, and you’ll be looking at years of better well-being.

A lot of research says you should only start with one habit a day, but if you’re living the Blue Zones way, then the principles are mutually supportive. Each one is easier to add.

At the end of the four weeks, many positive changes have likely happened. You might feel great, better rested, have maybe lost weight, feel happier, better connected to your friends and family. But even if you have just improved a couple of those areas of your life (and not all), we think you’ll be so happy about the changes that have worked that you will continue on for another four weeks. And another. And so on.

BACK to the Blue Zones Life Challenge Main Page.