Unlocking the Secrets to Longevity
A Blue Zone is a concept derived by Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain in 2004. It was used to describe geographic areas of longevity, in other words areas in the world where people live longer and healthier lives than any other place on our planet. People in these zones have been able to maintain health habits that have slowly eroded in our modern lifestyle. As we review these common attributes, they may seem intuitively simple, and perhaps they are. Simple values can slowly lose their appeal when we get “off track”. I hope taking a closer look at the blue zoner’s lifestyle, will enrich your life in some way and put a spot light on true fulfillment, health and bliss.
I myself lived and studied in one of these Blue Zones, and when Dan Buettner’s book was published in 2008, found myself intrigued as to what the five identified Blue Zones had in common.
The five blue zones are:
- Ikaria, Greece, and island in the Aegean Sea, with one of the world’s lowest rate of dementia.
- Okinawa, Japan, home to the longest-lived women. (yes they eat tofu!)
- Sardinia, Italy, highest concentration of centenarian men.
- Loma Linda California, a community of Seventh-day Adventists and our home for 6 years.
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica, the world’s lowest rate of middle-age mortality.
As you can see they are spread throughout the globe, with a vast array of cultures and beliefs.
Blue zone communities do have several things in common,we’d like to share with you:
- A belief in a higher power- although they all did not have the same religion, they all believed in a higher power and included that in part of their life paradigm.
- A deep sense of purpose – they were connected to their value in serving others, and engaged in their life purpose each day.
- Reduced Stress – down time in their lifestyle. The Blue Zone residents, while accomplished took the time to spend with family and friends on a routine basis.
- Strong Social Connection (Find your Tribe)– people of all ages are socially active and integrated into their communities. Having a support system that reinforces a healthy lifestyle was a big advantage.
- Plant-based diet- While not all vegetarian, the majority of their food is consumed from a plant-based diet.
- Lower Caloric Intake- Having most of their food come from plants, soups, legumes and the like as well as stopping the meal before they are full aids in reduced calorie intake.
Having lived in Loma Linda California for several years, I can tell you I was struck with the active nature of the community of elders.
They were along-side me at the local gym, engaged in meaningful social engagements in the community, and truly set a great example in maintaining a healthy diet. The town is a small California community nestled between Redlands and San Bernadino. Despite its location in the heart of the inland empire and proximity to Los Angelas, it all but shuts down on Friday afternoon for the weekly celebration of Sabbath. The grocery stores, post-office and banks close around noon to prepare for a day of rest. You might wonder if they get anything done, but ironically it is home to one of the most successful medical centers in the nation. Over-achievers abound, but they also know the value of rest and surrender to a higher power.
Like I mentioned earlier, no one belief system dominates the blue zone lifestyle. In Okinawa Japan their belief system is influenced by ancestral worship, Buddhism, and Taoism. They call their daily ritual for pause, hara hachi bu. They murmur this prayer that reminds them to stop eating when their stomach’s are 80% full. Ikarians, Sardinians, Costa Ricans and Adventist all begin meals by saying a prayer. Taking time to pause in our busy lifestyle, can clearly have benefits.
Meal times in the Blue Zones are times to bond with family, friends, give thanks and solve problems.
How we eat can be as important as what we eat. Taking the time to make meals a special occasion with our loved ones, can pay a lifetime of dividends.
Fresh produce should fill at least ½ our plate at each meal.
Plants serve as medicine in more ways than we will ever know. In Okinawa it was shown that regular consumption of turmeric, sweet potato and seaweed provided some of the benefits of caloric restriction, tripping genetic triggers that minimize production of free radicals without causing hunger.
Here is a glimpse into understanding the value of caloric restriction as achieved by the people of Okinawa. As food is digested, our cells convert calories into energy – via an organelle is our cell’s called mitochondria. The by-product of this process is something called a “free-radical”. These free radicals cause all kinds of mischief from stiffening our blood vessels, to causing wrinkles in the skin. In short when we produce less free radicals we age slower.
In a recent trip to the Nicoya Peninsula, Alan and I were struck by the slower paced lifestyle of the people there.
Our type-A personalities were definitely balanced out by the practice of Sabbath in our youth, and it was interesting to see how this blue zone culture in Costa-Rica integrated a similar principle into their successful daily routine. Men and woman begin their work day around 6:00 am and then work until around 2:00 or 3:00. They come in from the fields and take time to connect with their family and friends each afternoon. A diet of daily movement, healthy foods, time for devotion and connection appears to be the secret recipe of these prosperous communities.
There are many nuances to the lifestyle of these blue zone communities that I found fascinating. If you are interested, I highly recommend Dan Buettner’s book, The Blue Zones, 9 lessons for living longer. He recounts their secrets from fasting to nutritional secrets, and also tips on how to make a Blue Zone of your own.
When it comes to diet, Michael Pollen summed it up well when he simply stated, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” That simple wisdom accompanied by the time tested values of devotion to our spirits, families and surrendering to a higher power seem to be at the apex of the blue zone success.
Yours in Health and Bliss,