Living the Long Life: Lessons from the Blue Zones with Chris Manderino
Updated: Oct 16
By Nate Sleger
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Chris Manderino, founder of LyfeFuel and former NFL fullback for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Our conversation centered around Chris' experiences living in and exploring the Blue Zones - regions of the world where people commonly live active lives past the age of 100.
What Chris learned and observed in these remarkable longevity hotspots can provide valuable insights for those of us seeking to enhance our own health, fitness and quality of life.
After retiring from professional football, Chris felt called to invest himself in helping others cultivate healthy, vibrant lives. This passion led him to spend extensive time visiting and temporarily living in the Blue Zones.
"I wanted to learn their lifestyle behaviors firsthand," Chris told me. "What I witnessed completely shifted my perspective on health, wellness and longevity."
Here are some key lessons Chris shared from his travels:
On Community and Purpose
The Blue Zones populations Chris observed all had a strong sense of community and deeper purpose beyond themselves.
As he put it:
"These cultures live so long not because they obsess over the latest superfood or fitness fad. Their longevity stems from their societal fabric and values. They find meaning by looking out for each other and caring for future generations."
Chris noted that isolation and lack of meaning seem pervasive in many developed nations, and this vastly impacts public health.
"Loneliness kills. The Blue Zones teach us that who you share life with and having a sense of purpose are just as important as any other lifestyle factor."
On Natural Movement and Activity
Blue Zones people don't go to the gym or run marathons. Rather, constant natural movement is woven into their daily lives.
For example, the longevity all-stars of Okinawa get plenty of low-intensity activity from gardening, fishing, foraging in the hills for herbs and mushrooms, and practicing karate well into old age.
As Chris related: "They have physical vitality decades longer than us not because they follow a fancy fitness routine, but because they live active lifestyles free from sitting disease. Exercise and movement happen unconsciously throughout their day."
This contrasts sharply with our mostly sedentary modern culture. The Blue Zones demonstrate that health is not so much about working out hard for 30-60 minutes here and there. It's more about moving gently and consistently throughout all your waking hours.
On Eating Mostly Plants
Every Blue Zones population eats a predominantly plant-based diet. However, they aren't strict vegans, and they do consume meat sparingly just a few times per month.
"Their diets are rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes, with smaller portions of fish, eggs or meat mixed in," Chris explained. "This variety of fresh, minimally processed foods eaten daily nourishes them incredibly well over the long-term."
For example, the traditional diet of Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula consists of rice, beans, corn, squash, tropical fruits and greens, sweet potatoes, cheese, eggs and occasionally chicken.
Key for Blue Zones populations is that eating plants is not about being perfect or depriving themselves. Plant-based whole foods are simply integrated deliciously into their lifestyles.
On Downshifting Stress
According to Chris, the Blue Zones offer wisdom on managing life's stresses that is sorely lacking in the developed world.
"Each culture has unique traditions to unwind on a daily basis: happy hours in Costa Rica, tea ceremonies in Ikaria, napping and green tea in Okinawa."
But beyond specific activities, there is an underlying mindset.
As Chris put it: "They don't believe stress is always toxic, so they don't obsess about trying to eliminate it entirely. Difficulties are accepted as an inevitable part of life to work through. This outlook of defusing rather than fighting stress enhances their resilience and peace of mind."
Incorporating this balanced approach to dealing with life's demands could do wonders for our modern epidemic of burnout and anxiety.
After synthesizing all he learned, here are a few key lessons Chris wanted to emphasize from the Blue Zones:
Make community, loved ones and purpose a priority - isolation can seriously degrade health.
Weave natural movement throughout your day rather than just hard exercise for short bursts.
Shift to a nutritious plant-based diet with occasional meat instead of making any food strictly off limits.
Adopt the Blue Zones mindset of calmly accepting rather than trying to eliminate all of life's stresses.
Chris' perspective is that optimizing wellness and longevity is not about extremes in any area of life.
It's more about finding the right balance to make healthy behaviors effortlessly sustainable.
By learning from the vibrant elder populations of the Blue Zones, we too can unlock our human potential for lifelong fulfillment and vitality.
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