I like to read a lot.
My friends say since they don’t have time to read, I should share my cliff notes with them from what I read.
Sometimes when I come across something very worthwhile, I do.
This past read (and research) about Blue Zones had some great stuff. Therefore, I decided it was worthy to share.
Blue Zones are regions in the world were researchers have discovered the highest concentration of centenarians (people who live over 100 years old).
In these areas, they didn’t just find that people there are living longer, but most importantly, better.
Researchers, nutritionists, doctors, psychologists, and scientists spent years interviewing these centenarians and living inside their communities to discover “what makes them live longer and better.” While each culture has their own unique traits that seem to contribute to their extra years of life, there are also some cool similarities among each region.
5 main blue zones have been discovered:
- Sardinia, Italy
- Okinawa, Japan
- Loma Linda, America (California)
- Nicoya, Costa Rica
- Ikaria, Greece
The main book I read was “The Blue Zones” by Dan Buettner.
I also listened to two podcasts and watched two seminar videos. Just google Blue Zones and you’ll see a lot of material come up if you want to dive in more.
If you have a second and want to learn more, here are my cliff notes and takeaways from what I studied:
These people are not just living longer, they are living with much more quality of life. They are still working in their gardens, tending to their sheep and farms, of sound mind and body, and walking miles (sometimes daily) to see friends and visit local markets.
Contrary to what we think, aging is way more about lifestyle than it is genetics.
Adding years to your life is much more attainable than I thought. I thought these Blue Zone regions included “magic” solutions that we didn’t know about. It’s simple stuff. Again, the basics.
They are called blue zones because one of the early researchers drew a circle around each region with blue pen. No special reason other than that.
Sardinia, Italy leads the world in longevity. Another reason why I can brag about Italians being the coolest (I’m full-blooded).
Interestingly, the sole location in America, Loma Linda, is 90% Christian (Adventists). This particular religion has a strong sense of faith and community, but also a strict philosophy on taking care of the body. Being healthy is a big part of their message.
Similarities among all of the blue zone regions:
#1: MINDSET AND ATTITUDE MATTER
These people are positive and appreciate the little things.
They are simple, secluded (small towns not infiltrated by mainstream yet), and don’t have much. A lot of these locations are off the beaten path, or just on the outskirts. People aren’t living with much. Low income. They don’t have comfort like most of us do. Yet they don’t seem to be missing anything either.
In fact, any region that is being infiltrated with commercialization, corporations, and characteristics of the American culture (fast food, processed food), their blue zone trait is dwindling. They’re starting to experience more health issues, reduced quality of life, higher prevalence of cancers, Alzheimer’s, heart attacks, obesity, and diabetes. Isolation from the outside world might have it’s perks.
#2: FOOD MATTERS
These centenarians all eat mostly plant-based diets.
Eating meat is a rarity, on average only 5x a month and only 4-6oz when they do eat it. It’s a delicacy and saved for special occasions. When they do eat it, the difference is it’s the pig, cow, or chicken they raised straight from the farm, or from their friend’s farm.
They are not eating processed foods and fast-food….yet.
In general, they eat a light dinner.
In Okinawa they practice a habit of only eating until they are 80% full.
Some of the super foods of these 100 year olds…
- Goats milk.
- Sweet potatoes.
- Brown rice.
- Olive oil.
- True red wine. *Most red wine has been disproven to provide real health benefits. The major health study that was released was misleading. The amount of resveratrol that one would need to consume reap the benefits would be impossible to ingest (it was equivalent to like hundreds of glasses of wine in one day). Cannonau from Sardinia has 2-3x the level of artery-scrubbing flavonoids. This is what researchers found Italians to drinking in Sardinia, like 1-2 glasses daily.
- Honey (local, straight from your town’s bees).
- Herbal teas
#3: SUSTAINABLE FITNESS MATTERS
These triple digit humans don’t stop moving. They walk a lot, continue to do work around the house, and some still do some labor to make a living.
Sustainable fitness is the key word here. Crazy, insane, high intensity exercises weren’t regular habits of these individuals. They just moved and moved well and moved regularly.
Walking is a very common physical activity among all these regions.
#4: REST MATTERS
Naps, 8 hours of sleep, and siestas are built in habits. (Good, now I can justify why I like to sleep so much. And I always said I feel an innate desire to shut down during the middle of the day. Must be hard-wired in me from my Italian ancestors).
People who take naps have lower coronary mortality than those who don’t (3x a week for 30 minutes).
They slow down and recover. Even though they might work a lot, they still have built in down times and Sabbaths (where they don’t labor at all one day a week). Some would work hard from the early hours until about 2pm and then shut down and be with family the rest of the day.
#5: FAITH MATTERS
In every one of these regions, faith was a major component. 100% of these people have a faith in something bigger than themselves. Many have a faith in God. Some have a faith in another life. Some just have a faith that loved ones are looking down on them from heaven.
Purpose keeps them going. They all wake up each day with a reason to get moving. For many, it is their families.
#6: FAMILY MATTERS
Family is first. Social life with family members is extremely important.
This is one of the hardest things to measure, but it seems clear across the board that social fabric has a powerful influence on health and well-being. So much so that in many cases their situation defies all odds.
Family takes care of their elderly. They treat them with honor and respect. They value their wisdom.
They don’t put them in nursing homes, mainly because these individuals are still able to take care of themselves. Many of them still live alone (in one spot 31 out of 34 centenarians lived alone).
#7: Low stress matters
People who are living longer are normal people. There is nothing extraordinary about their genes or environment. In most cases, they are living in some pretty detrimental situations without many resources.
No spas. No salons. Many don’t have extravagant medical facilities. No prescription medications. Most are using herbs and home remedies for healing.
Depression and anxiety are not nearly as prevalent. Maybe it’s because distractions are low, schedules aren’t chaotic, and a lot of them aren’t dominated by technology.
They aren’t ex-CEO’s, famous celebrities, or high-ranking officials. Many are common people who live peasant lives.
Noteworthy quotes from the Blue Zones book:
“Lifestyle, not genes, is the chief determinant of how long we live…” (Page 68)
“Today in Japan, the focus is on avoiding disease in the first place. There are massive national and local efforts underway to prevent diabetes and heart disease. Japan’s priorities represent a profoundly different way of understanding medicine.” (Page 69)
“You don’t just wake up one day and have cancer. It’s a process, not an event.” (Page 95)
“Most of us have the best intentions of getting more exercise or eating more nutritiously. But religion has provided Adventists with the extra nudge that seems crucial for turning intentions into habits.” (Page 135)
“But I observed when I was cutting into the thighs of these patients that those who were vegetarians had better arteries.” (Page 154)
“The calculus of aging offers us two options: We can live a shorter life with more years of disability, or we can live the longest possible life with the fewest bad years.” (Page 298)
“We notice that most highly functioning people over 90 in Nicoya have a few common traits. One of them is that they feel a strong sense of service to others or care for their family. We see that as soon as they lose this, the switch goes off. They die very quickly if they don’t feel needed.” (Page 190)
“If you want people to adopt a healthy lifestyle, you need to build an ecosystem around them. As soon as you take culture, belonging, purpose, or religion out of the picture, the foundation collapses. There’s no silver bullet. The power lies in the mutually reinforcing relationship between lots of bullets. The secret is the silver bucket.” (Page 257)
“We overeat because of circumstances—friends, family, packages, plates, names, numbers, labels, lights, colors, candles, shapes, smells, distractions, cupboards, and containers.” (Page 270)
Disclaimer: These are just all the notes I highlighted from studying a few resources on Blue Zones and people who are living to 100. I’m not suggesting or advising anything by sharing this material.
Time to reflect and figure out what it all means for us.