The Blue Zones

The Blue Zones are areas in the world that have been identified where pockets of people not only live the longest, but are the healthiest,  most active, fully functioning centenarians.  Sardinia, Italy;  Okinawa, Japan;  Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula; community of Loma Linda, California and the Greek Island of Ikaria. These areas were plotted on a world map and highlighted in blue – hence the name – Blue Zones.

Dan Buettner writes a book called the Blue Zones.  He studied the various groups and came up with 9 things they have in common:  “power nine” secrets to living a longer, better life.  

1.    Stay active and move naturally.

Try to move on average every 20 mins.  The Blue Zone people get what we call non-exercise physical activity. They walk to the market, to work, or out with friends and hop on their bike to get somewhere.  Exercise is part of normal everyday life. Japanese get up from the floor every 20 mins because they sit on the floor to work, eat etc. The Italians walk the hills to shepherd their sheep.  They garden. 

2.    Eat only until 80% full. 

The people ate lots of bulky vegetables (volume) with low calories.  They ate off small plates and snacked very little.  Breakfast was often the biggest meal.

3.    Eat vegetables. 

The people focused on fruit, veggies and whole grains – they avoid overeating, and regulate portion sizes. Their diets consisted of lots of fruits and vegetables, small amounts of dairy, smaller amounts of meat, and almost zero added sugar. They ate staples, like beans, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, and honey; barley and loads of vegetables.  They all ate nuts regularly.   4 of the 5 groups ate pork as their main meat.

4.    Alcohol. 

They all enjoyed a glass of wine or alcohol (local drink) in the evening. Just a glass and relax.

5.    Find Purpose. 

All these people have a purpose and they can articulate it.  They had a reason to wake up in the morning.  They often worked till in their 90’s.  They had hobbies, jobs, grandchildren – that gave them purpose. They saw the bigger picture – how they could influence and help others.

6.    Downshift.

They took time off – downshift from stress and shut off when they got home. Connecting with family, running errands by bike, eating lunch in the park—all of that leaves little time for zoning out in front of the TV.  These people left work behind when they got home. They also had weekends and holidays.  They did things together as families.  They appreciated nature and spent time in nature.

7.    Have faith.

Belong.   All the people participated in a spiritual community. They all have faith – regardless of a specific religion. Buettner referred to a study that shows people who show up to a faith-based community at least four times a month and are active, live four to 14 years longer than those who do not.  They were able to relinquish the stress of everyday life to a higher being.

8.    Honour family.

Family is a high value for all these people.  Many had children and seemed to build their lives around that core.  In 4 of the 5 Blue Zones the children reciprocated the centenarians care and welcome the older generation into their homes.  They spent time together as multi generations. They had homogenous spousal relationships.

9.    Celebrate life.

They keep socially engaged – Those who live longer are well-connected in their social networks. The Danes have a name for spending time with loved ones: hygge (pronounced “hooga”), which basically means cosy togetherness with friends and family. They spend time with people who support the same healthy habits and who they can rely on in areas of need.

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