From our research in the healthiest and happiest places in the world, here are some habits to take up in 2018 — they’ll enrich your life and boost your health and happiness levels too.
Instead of focusing on an outcome like “lose 20 pounds” or “exercise every day,” focus on acquiring life-enhancing new habits. We are creatures of habit and products of our surroundings, so optimizing our environments and routines will yield a much higher rate of success.
“Living longer and feeling better is the sum of a few small easy choices you can incorporate into everyday life.”—Dan Buettner
Don’t try all of the things below at one time. Choose a few, make them habits, and revisit when they’re part of your daily routine.
Good News, You Don’t Have to Ditch Your Morning Coffee
In original blue zones areas, people drink up to two or three cups of black coffee per day! The American Heart Association found that consuming coffee, both caffeinated and decaf, was associated with a lower risk of total mortality.
However, if your morning joe is filled with cream and sugar, then slowly weaning off the sugar and switching to a non-dairy milk is a new habit to take up this year. To really blue zones your coffee or tea routine, make coffee or afternoon tea dates with friends or family to chat, laugh, and get that face-to-face time that’s so important to health and happiness.
Get a Dog
Furry friends like cats and dogs help with loneliness and companionship and happiness, but getting a dog also encourages people to walk often and regularly.
Invest in Smaller Plates
To avoid meal stuffing, use ten-inch plates. Research shows that when you go from a 12-inch plate to a 10-inch plate, you end up eating 23 percent less.
Eat More Beans and Pulses
Instead of focusing on what you’re going to cut out of your diet, start the New Year by focusing on what you need to add into your meals.
Beans are the No. 1 longevity food and a staple in all five blue zones regions. A cup of beans are standard among the world’s longest-lived peoples, so stock up on chickpeas, lentils, black beans, kidney beans, soybeans, and all other beans and pulses. You can enjoy them in hummus, soups, stews, and salads.
Know and Nurture Your Purpose
Having a purpose in life is a proven link to living longer. What’s the most likely demographic to live past 100? Women who’ve had children after 40. “Embrace your ikigai,” as they say in Japan. “Ikigai” is your reason to get up every morning.
Create Downshifting, Stress-Relieving Habits
Chronic stress leads to inflammation and is the foundation for every age-related disease, including Alzheimer’s and dementia. Centenarians in the blue zones regions of the world have effective ways to manage stress on a daily basis. For Sardinians, this means a glass of wine and a chat with friends at the end of the day. For Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda, this means a quiet nature walk during Sabbath. As an alternative to downshifting at happy hour, try meditating. Even just 10 minutes each day can improve your outlook and lower stress.
“Downshift” is one of the Blue Zones Power 9, the lifestyle habits shared by the longest-lived people on earth.
Enjoy Wine at 5
People in four original blue zones areas drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Studies show moderate drinkers have a lower chance of mortality and an increased chance of maintaining cognitive abilities into old age.
“Wine at 5” is one of the Blue Zones Power 9, the lifestyle habits shared by the longest-lived people on earth.
Find a New Hobby or Join a Group
Get a new hobby or nurture one you already have by joining a meet-up or community group. It can be a book club, starting a garden, or a walking club. Even two hours of bowling can burn 490-calories, and having fun will give you a healthy happiness boost too.
Sit Down to Eat Meals with Family and Friends
The happiest kids in the world, Dutch children, sit down to eat breakfast with their family more regularly than any other kids in the world.
“Loved Ones First” is one of the Blue Zones Power 9, the lifestyle habits shared by the longest-lived people on earth.
Get Enough Sleep
Do your best to always sleep 7.5 hours a night, which helps keep your immune system functioning at its best. People who sleep 6 hours a night are 30 percent less happy than people who sleep more.
Moving naturally throughout the day — walking, gardening, doing housework — is a core part of the blue zones lifestyle. A day of sitting down — at work, in your car, on your couch— can’t be fixed by spending 30 minutes in the gym. So get up and move throughout the day, taking frequent stretch breaks, choosing the stairs over the elevator, and five- to ten-minute walks throughout the day.
Get Out, Every Day
Even if you work from home or are caring for young children or family members at home, make a point to get out as much as you can.
Eat More Veggies!
Eating seven or more portions of fruit and veggies a day can lower your risk of premature death by a whopping 42 percent.
Eat Less Meat and Dairy
Study authors found that substituting 3 percent of daily calories from animal protein with plant protein was associated with a lower risk for death from all causes – a 34 percent drop when participants swapped out processed red meat for plant protein, and a 19 percent decrease when they replaced eggs.
There is considerable scientific evidence that healthy dietary patterns such as the Mediterranean diet are associated with lower Alzheimer’s risk and slower cognitive decline. The Mediterranean diet is high in vegetables, beans, fruit, and nuts, and low in meat and dairy.
Nurture Your Religion or Spirituality
In all blue zones regions, centenarians were part of a religious community.
“People who pay attention to their spiritual side have lower rates of cardiovascular disease, depression, stress, and suicide, and their immune systems seem to work better … To a certain extent, adherence to a religion allows them to relinquish the stresses of everyday life to a higher power.”—Dan Buettner
“Belong” is one of the Blue Zones Power 9, the lifestyle habits shared by the longest-lived people on earth.
Get Involved in Your Community
Join a local group or volunteer in your community. The happiest cities have high community engagement and environments that foster social connections.
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. Make a point of signing up this month. People who find meaningful ways to give back are also happier.
Make New Friends
Make a new happy friend — that’s one of the best things you can do to boost your happiness levels. Your happiness will go up by 15 percent. How to do this? See the above three habits.
Enjoy Your Meals, But Stop Eating Before You’re Stuffed
Seniors in the blue zones region of Okinawa, Japan eat until they’re 80 percent full, a practice and phrase called hara hachi bu. This healthy practice of calorie restriction and mindful eating promotes health and longevity.
Make Sunday a Meal-plan, Meal-prep, and Meal-making day
Cook a big batch of something healthy that you can use for several lunches and dinners. Use the day to cut up veggies and have them ready to go as snacks and sides. Try the Blue Zones Meal Planner if you’re looking for a digital tool to help you along the way.
Sign up to be an Organ Donor
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.