Below, you'll find insights from experts about five healthy afternoon habits common in the Blue Zones. Embracing any or all of these daily activities can help you beat the afternoon slump and boost your longevity while you're at it.
How people in the Blue Zones approach the afternoon
For many Americans, the afternoon is part of the workday and is typically dedicated to finishing up as much of your to-do list as possible. According to author, journalist, and longevity researcher Dan Buettner, the general approach to the midday is far different in the Blue Zones, where life isn't oriented around accomplishing the maximum amount of work. "Productivity is not a priority—purpose is," he says.
The way people in the Blue Zones approach the midday is much the same as how they approach the rest of their time—by integrating healthy foods, social connection, and natural movement. Although each Blue Zone region has specific customs and healthy afternoon habits, they all promote a low-stress lifestyle, which is key for both longevity and shorter-term well-being.
In particular, midday activities common in each Blue Zone revolve around the basic nine elements that are associated with Blue Zone lifestyles, says Robert Agnello, DO, assistant professor of family medicine at Campbell University, who has studied the Blue Zones. That is, healthy afternoon habits in the Blue Zones tend to involve some version of moving naturally, having a purpose, downshifting, eating a small meal, prioritizing plant-based foods, having a convivial glass of wine, doing an activity that promotes a sense of belonging, hanging out with family, and socializing with neighbors and friends.
5 healthy afternoon habits for longevity, inspired by the Blue Zones
1. Prioritize purpose, not productivity
Unlike American society at large, people in the Blue Zones orient their days in service of their purpose, rather than short-term goals dedicated to getting as much done as possible. In Costa Rica, they call it plan de vida, says Buettner, while in Okinawa they call it ikigai, but they both mean living for your purpose, and Blue Zones residents find ways to live their purpose throughout the day, a habit which has been linked to longevity. One study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that adults over age 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 declining physical function.
"The people in the Blue Zones really work to live, and in a lot of of productive societies, we really live to work, and I don't know if you're going to improve your stress much unless you're able to flip that [dynamic] around," says Dr. Agnello. This isn't to say, don't do your work or that it's not important, but remember: It's just one aspect of your life.
Your ability to do this likely varies based on your daily workload and responsibilities, but taking some time during the day to align with your purpose could be helpful. Find time to introspect and think about what makes you happy and fulfilled, and incorporate that into your afternoon.
2. Eat a leisurely lunch with others
No more sad salads eaten slumped over your desk. Taking time to consume a nourishing lunch away from your work space or whatever other task you’re attending to is a healthy afternoon habit to adopt. According to Buettner, residents of Ikaria and Sardinia make lunch a drawn-out and social affair.
Dr. Agnello says Blue Zones residents eat a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods that pack plenty of 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 that's worth emulating called fika, which is a break in the afternoon to drink a cup of coffee, eat a pastry, and catch up with coworkers (many companies even require it). Why not put some time on your calendar for your midday break?
3. Move your body
The Blue Zones approach to fitness is focused on fitting in natural movement throughout the day, rather than short bursts of intense activity. "In these areas of the world, people are not going in the gym and pumping iron, but they're riding bikes, taking long walks, and playing soccer—good natural movement to get the heart rate up," says Dr. Agnello. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends regular movement for overall cardiovascular health and to prevent heart disease; a pair of recent studies found a connection between heart health and longer lifespans, plus lower instances of chronic illnesses like cancer and type 2 diabetes.
In the afternoon, find time to move in a way that's enjoyable and manageable to you. Be sure to make time for walks, which are good for both your physical health and brain health. Or, do like they do in Sardinia, and go on a bike ride.
4. Recharge with a nap
In several Blue Zone regions, the afternoons are hot, so Buettner says napping is common to both beat the heat and recharge. Naps can be energizing and help power you over the dreaded midday slump, and are also generally supportive of your health. In fact, one longitudinal study that involved more than 20,000 Greek people found a correlation between regular napping and heart health, which is a key piece of preserving longevity, Dr. Agnello says.
Naps can also help relieve and prevent chronic stress, which is one of the factors connected to heart-disease risk. Just be sure to take a strategic power nap (rather than falling asleep for a prolonged period of time) to avoid trampling on your nighttime shut-eye: Set a timer for between 15 and 30 minutes before lying down.
5. Make time to socialize
Social connection is a major tenet of life in the Blue Zones that promotes longevity. Humans are, by nature, social creatures, so we need strong bonds with friends and family for our emotional and physical well-being. Staving off loneliness is key for health in both the near and long-term, says Dr. Agnello, because the effects of loneliness can be devastating both physically and mentally.
So, make those lunch plans with your coworkers, friends, or family members if possible—even a quick video or phone call can help you feel more connected to your community.
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