Healthy Mind

5 Stress-Reducing Tips To Copy From the Longest-Living People in the World

Mary Grace Garis

Photo: Getty Images/deniskomarov
Whenever someone talks about how stress can negatively impact general well-being, I’m pretty sure I can feel my cortisol levels reactively spike. It’s stressful enough to survive through the current state of the world, so hearing that, according to research, the experience of stress can curb your longevity basically just adds insult to injury. What you can do, though, is take some pointers from the Blue Zones—geographic regions including Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; and Ikaria, Greece, which are home to some of the longest-living and healthiest populations of people in the world. Folks who live in these spots definitely have some longevity-boosting and stress-reducing activities and tips you can mimic.

To temper any expectations that you may be able to magically live forever after embracing said tips, though, know that they won’t completely overhaul your life. Rather, in his book The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, Blue Zones founder Dan Buettner examined the common lifestyle habits that these cultures have embraced for their well-being, and based on his findings, he distilled the nine pillars of wellness that may help build a longer life. Among those pillars is—you guessed it—being able to manage stress. And fortunately, many of the stress-reducing activities and tips come at a low or no cost.

5 stress-reducing activities to try, courtesy of the longest-living people in the world

1. Tend to a garden

If you haven’t already hopped on the houseplant train during quarantine, now’s as good a time as any to buy your ticket. Taking care of plants can help improve your focus, make you more compassionate, and, yes, reduce your stress levels.

“Gardening is the epitome of a Blue Zone activity because it’s sort of a nudge: You plant the seeds, and you’re going to be nudged in the next three to four months to water it, weed it, harvest it,” Buettner previously told Well+Good. “And when you’re done, you’re going to eat an organic vegetable, which you presumably like because you planted it.”

To that point, part of the gardening appeal for longevity is that many in Blue Zones regions tend towards a plant-based diet. But no worries if you don’t have fields available for harvesting—a simple windowsill herb planter still counts.

2. Maintain a healthy sex life, at any age

Hat tip to those living in the Blue Zone region of Ikaria, Greece, where more than 80 percent of people between ages 65 and 100 are having sex. When we have sex, we’re initiating plenty of skin-to-skin contact, and lowered stress is a benefit of orgasming. (And, as a reminder, achieving orgasm can absolutely be a solo activity, meaning no partner is required.)

3. Surround yourself (safely) with your community

One of the nine key lifestyle pillars of Blue Zone living is having a strong sense of community. In fact, the Blue Zone region of the Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica is considered one of the happiest regions in Central America because of the tight social ties among its population.

Of course, the pandemic rendered many in-person gatherings unsafe, but that shouldn’t stop you from RSVP-ing “Yes” to Zoom happy hours or FaceTime dinners. There are also plenty of apps to facilitate human connection and socially distant methods to cultivate friendships worth exploring.

4. Volunteer

Doing good deeds is another proactive way to improve your quality of life. Not only can it give way to a “helper’s high” from acts of kindness, but volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about can also be a grounding experience.

Since one potentially stressful aspect of this moment in time is uncertainty anxiety, or a fear of not knowing what’s next and being helpless to drive the course of what happens, volunteering can be a helpful means for finding a sense of purpose.

5. Take a daily stroll

Folks who live in Blue Zones incorporate simple natural movement into their everyday life, and, if you want, you can take that as a directive to likewise get moving. One 2020 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who engage in moderate or vigorous exercise 150 minutes per week had lower all-cause mortality.

But that doesn’t have to mean going HAM on a Peloton. There’s nothing like stretching your legs to clear out those mental cobwebs, so if your step count has been low recently, consider bundling up and getting out there. Hell, even indoor meditative walking can put you on the path to a healthier, happier, and less stressful life.

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