Could it be possible that places exist on the globe where people enjoy active lives well into their 90s and even to 100 without encountering the chronic illnesses commonly found in most other countries around the world? Yes, there are such places on Earth. They are called the “Blue Zones.” The “Blue Zones” refer to locations around the world and the individuals who inhabit them. They seem to possess the secrets of living a long and purposeful life, without the frequently occurring diseases that American’s endure.
An investigation led by demographers and scientists at the National Institute of Aging in the late 1990’s revealed findings which were nothing short of astounding; a high percentage of people not only living to 100 but staying active and vital their entire lives. As a result of their studies, we have confirmed areas of the world known as longevity hotspots, or Blue Zones. The areas include a region of Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan, the community of Loma Linda in California, the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica and the Greek Island of Ikaria.
Despite their geographical differences, similar lessons in longevity exist in all of these Blue Zones, lessons that we can learn from creating our own environment that emulates the blue zones of the world. Dan Buettner, author of “The Blue Zones” lists nine strategies for longevity based upon what we have learned about the lifestyles of the longest living people. He reports how they can be modified for the Western lifestyle. They are seemingly simple but powerful ways of creating a longer healthier life.
For the sake of brevity, I’ve included a few below. Which of the following do you think you could incorporate in your life to create your own personal Blue Zone?
One of the secrets of longevity is to keep moving, but do it in a way that you don’t have to think about.
The lives of people living in Blue Zones incorporate movement all day long. Their natural habitat does not include the use of escalators or elevators. For the most part they live in mountainous or hilly areas of the world where they garden, walk most places and climb stairs – often lots of stairs throughout the day.
The natural terrain provides daily exercise that’s built into the lives of people in the Blue Zones. We can find ways to do the same.
We can incorporate increased movement into our lives in many different ways. We’ve all heard the suggestion to park the car at the end of the parking lot and walk to the store. Additionally, we can begin to take more walks and/or invite others to take a walk with you, walk after dinner, in the morning or around the company campus during lunch break instead of spending time in the cafeteria or worse, eating at your desk.
Centenarians usually have a garden and we can have one too. It doesn’t have to be large. The exercise, fresh air and enjoyment of home grown food are very healthy. Ride a bike if you like riding or do anything physical that you enjoy. You don’t have to join a gym and suffer through “working out” if you don’t enjoy doing it. There are few, if any, fitness centers in the Blue Zones. Remember, the key is to keep moving. If at first you need reminders to keep moving, place posted notes on your bathroom mirror, car dashboard or any other places that you will see during the day.
Long life means avoiding meat and processed foodPractice a plant based diet. The longest living people are primarily eating from the garden. Meat and processed foods are eaten rarely, or never. Every culture has a dish made primarily of beans and greens. This type of meal provides a wonderful balance of nutrients from greens as well as fiber and high quality protein from beans and legumes. Snacks are comprised almost solely of nuts and fruit. As a nutritionist, it’s difficult for me to refrain from writing more about the perils of consuming processed and animal foods. If interested please read the introduction to my book, Real Food for Healthy People” to get a perspective on both.
Eat until you are 80% full
Practice what the longest living people do naturally. We tend to overeat because of the empty calories of processed foods that never seem to satisfy or fill us up, or because portion sizes are far too large. Portion sizes are small in the Blue Zone as are plates, cups and serving dishes, limiting the amount of food one consumes. “Blue Zone” your meals by eating great plant based meals served on small plates and cups. Remove dishes with snacks from your kitchen counters and around the house. Replace them with fruit and small amounts of nuts for snacking.
Realizing your purpose improves your quality of lifePeople living in the Blue Zones have a strong sense of purpose. Many times it’s seeing their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren grow up and do well. Sometimes it’s the rhythm of their daily lives, the community around them and the connectedness that gives them purpose.
I host an annual trip to the Amalfi coast of Italy. We stay at a small family-owned hotel right in the middle of a city where we experience this same rhythm of life that the longest living people possess. Most visitors return home with a greater understanding of the need for knowing why they wake up in the morning, what is truly important to them and what they are most passionate about. These are all helpful ways to find our sense of purpose and to re-connect with who we are.
Have you incorporated some elements that reflect a lifestyle of longevity? Have you thought about making some adjustments to your lifestyle? I’d love to hear what you have done or what you might be considering.