5 min read

The secret to adding more quality years to your life

The secret to adding more quality years to your life

What will I Learn?

  • The difference between Lifespan and Healthspan
  • Lessons from the healthiest populations in the world
  • 9 ways to improve your Healthspan

There is a subtle but important difference when discussing lifespan and health span. Life span refers to the length of your life, whereas health span refers to the number of quality lived years within your lifespan. It would be best if you focused on the latter; the Goal of adopting a healthy lifestyle is to increase the number of quality years you get out of your life.

Dan Buettner, a National Geographic fellow and multiple New York Times bestselling author, discovered five places in the world- dubbed "Blue Zones" -where the inhabitants are some of the longest-living and healthiest people in the world. They are:

· Sardinia, Italy - Mountainous Highlands of inner Sardinia with the world's highest concentration of male centenarians.

· Ikaria, Greece - Aegean island with one of the world's lowest rates of middle-age mortality and the lowest rates of dementia.

· Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica - the world's lowest rates of middle-age mortality and the second highest concentration of male centenarians.

· Loma Linda, California - They live 10 years longer than their North American counterparts

· Okinawa, Japan - Females over 70 are the longest-lived population in the world.

Buettner and his team found nine common denominators among all places, making them the healthiest and longest-living populations in the world. These 9 characteristics are:

1. Move Naturally - The world's longest-lived people live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it. They have minimal mechanical conveniences for house and yard work in the gardens where they physically work.

2. Purpose - The Okinawans call it ikigai, end the Nicoyans call it "Plan de Vida"; this is essentially why you wake up in the morning. Knowing your sense of purpose gives you energy and vitality throughout the day and increases your health span.

3. Downshift - even people in the blue zones experience stress. High-stress levels over an extended period are associated with almost every major age-related disease. The world's longest lift people have daily routines whereby they shed stress by taking a few moments of mindfulness, relaxation, and prayer or rest.

4. 80% rule - this refers to the Okinawans; before meals, they remind themselves to stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full. The 20% gap between not being hungry and feeling full is the difference between losing weight or gaining it. People in the blue zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then don't eat anymore for the rest of the day.

5. Plant Slant - beans, including father black, red soy and lentils, are the cornerstones of most centenarian diets. Animal products such as meat are eaten on average only five times per month, with serving sizes about the size of a deck of cards.

6. Wine - all Blue Zone populations, except the Adventists, drink alcohol moderately and regularly. The trick is to drink one or two glasses daily, preferably wine with friends o food.

7. Belong - Belonging to a community is essential to increase your health span. Being a part of a community gives us a sense of belonging, which is essential for human existence.

8. Loved Ones First - successful centenarians in the blue zones put their families first. This means keeping ageing parents and grandparents nearby or in their homes. They commit to a life partner and invest in children with time and love.

9. Right tribe - the world's longest-lived people chose or were born into social circles that supported healthy behaviours. Smoking, obesity, happiness and even loneliness are contagious. So the social networks of long-lived people have favourably shaped their health behaviours.


Your Goal should not be to live to age 100; that is not the purpose of this article. Your Goal should be to design your life to ensure you have the time and energy to spend your days doing the things you love with the people who mean the most to you.

9 practical ways to increase your Healthspan:

1. Move - as humans, we are built to move. Implement a daily movement practice that suits your routine and is long-term sustainable. Try to include a combination of cardiovascular exercises such as walking, running, swimming, and resistance training.

2. Purpose - Find meaningful work to dig your teeth into when you wake up every day. Focus on your interests and hobbies and set aside time daily to work on something greater than yourself.

3. Rest - Take time every day to rest and recuperate. Mindfulness practice is a great example of this. Give yourself at least 10 minutes of quiet time to sit and listen to your thoughts, feelings and emotions without judgement, just acknowledgement. This is a great way to calm your mind and relax your body.

4. Moderation - As the saying goes, the poison is in the dose. This applies to many areas of our lives. Be a conscious consumer of food, content and media.

5. Nutrition - It is no secret that good nutrition is essential for optimum health. Ensure you focus on consuming Whole Foods and minimise any processed or refined foods in your daily meals.

6. Alcohol - We can all learn from the world's longest-living and healthiest people; if you drink alcohol, keep it to one to two glasses of preferable wine per night. Point 4- Moderation is essential here.

7. Community - Find a community of like-minded people where you can interact and engage with people who think the same way. This way, you can get support and guidance to help you achieve your goals; it also acts as a space to share personal stories openly and honestly.

8. Family - Blood runs thicker than water. Invest time and energy into those people who mean the most to you. This is a reciprocal relationship whereby the family supports each other through their successes and challenges.

9. Social - You are a product of the five people you spend most of your time with. Choose wisely. We are influenced by and influence those in our inner circle. Spend time with people who energise you and think and behave like you.

There is nothing more special than seeing multiple generations of a family spend time together from infant to parent, to grandparent and, if you are extremely fortunate, great-grandparent. These interactions and relationships have an immense benefit to our relationships, mental health and vitality no matter which level you are coming to that picture.

Make your health your biggest priority; it is the single most beneficial decision you can make for yourself and those who mean the most to you.

Learn more about the Blue Zones here https://www.bluezones.com/

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Cam Wells
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