How the people of the Blue Zones approach the afternoon
For many Americans, the afternoon is part of the workday and is typically spent finishing as much of their to-do list as possible. According to author, explorer, and longevity researcher Dan Buettner, the general focus of midday is very different in the Blue Zones, where life is not geared toward accomplishing the maximum amount of work. “Productivity is not a priority, purpose is,” he says.
The way people in the Blue Zones approach midday is very similar to the way they approach the rest of their time: integrating healthy natural foods, social connection, and natural movement. Although each region of the Blue Zone has specific customs and healthy afternoon habits, all promote a less stressful lifestyle, which is key to both longevity and short-term well-being. The way members of each Blue Zone approach midday is different, according to Robert Agnello, DO, an assistant professor of family medicine at Campbell University who has studied the Blue Zones. But they all revolve around the nine basic elements that are associated with Blue Zone lifestyles, he says. Read on for expert insight on five healthy afternoon habits you can take out of the blue zones to increase your longevity.
5 Healthy Afternoon Habits for Longevity, Inspired by the Blue Zones
1. Prioritize purpose, not productivity
Unlike American society in general, people in the Blue Zones orient their days in service of their purpose, rather than short-term goals dedicated to doing their best. In Costa Rica they call it life plansays Buettner, while in Okinawa they call him ikigai, But both mean living for your purpose, and Blue Zones residents find ways to live their purpose throughout the day, a habit that has been linked to longevity. A study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that adults over the age of 50 who felt they had a purpose in life had a lower risk of developing a weaker grip and slower walking speed, which are two signs of decreased physical function.
“People in the Blue Zones really work to live, and in a lot of productive societies we really do live to work, and I don’t know if you’re going to improve your stress much unless you can change that (dynamic) around,” says Dr. Agnello. This is not to say that you don’t do your job or that it’s not important, but remember that it’s just one aspect of your life.
Your ability to do this will likely vary based on your daily workload and responsibilities, but it might help to take time during the day to align with your purpose. Find time for introspection and think about what makes you happy and fulfilled, and incorporate it into your evening.
2. Take time to have lunch with others
No more sad salads that are eaten slumped on your desk. Taking the time to eat a nutritious lunch away from your work space or whatever other task you are attending to is a healthy habit to adopt in the afternoon. According to Buettner, the residents of Icaria and Sardinia make lunch a prolonged social affair.
Dr. Agnello says that Blue Zones residents eat a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods that contain many vitamins and nutrients. Think: beans, fish, olive oil, fresh fruits, whole grains, and leafy greens.
While not a Blue Zone, Sweden has a version of this worth emulating called coffee, which is an afternoon break for coffee, cake and catching up with co-workers (many companies even require it). Why not put some time in your calendar for your midday break?
3. Make time to move
Blue Zones’ approach to fitness focuses on adapting to natural movement throughout the day, rather than short bursts of intense activity. “In these areas of the world, they don’t go to the gym and lift weights, but they ride bikes, take long walks, and play soccer—a good natural movement to get your heart rate up,” says Dr. Agnello. . The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends regular movement for general cardiovascular health and to prevent heart disease; a couple of recent studies found a connection between heart health and a longer life, as well as fewer cases of chronic diseases like cancer and type 2 diabetes.
In the afternoon, find time to move in a way that is enjoyable and manageable for you. Be sure to make time for a walk, which is good for both your physical health and your brain. Or do what they do in Sardinia and go for a bike ride.
4. Recharge with a nap
In several regions of the Blue Zone, afternoons are hot, so Buettner says siestas are common in all Blue Zones, both to beat the heat and to recharge. Naps can be energizing to help him get over the dreaded midday slump and are generally supportive of his health as well. In fact, a longitudinal study involving more than 20,000 Greeks found a correlation between regular naps and heart health, which is a key piece of preserving longevity, says Dr. Agnello.
Naps can also help relieve and prevent chronic stress, which is one of the factors linked to heart disease risk. So take a strategic nap to avoid trampling on your night’s sleep: Set a timer for between 15 and 30 minutes.
5. Take time to socialize
Social connection is an important principle of life in the Blue Zones that promotes longevity. Human beings are social creatures by nature, so we need strong ties with friends and family for our emotional and physical well-being. Avoiding loneliness is key to both short-term and long-term health, says Dr. Agnello, because the effects of loneliness, both physically and mentally, are devastating.
So make those lunch plans with your coworkers, friends, or family if possible; even a quick video or phone call can help you feel more connected to your community.