Create Your Own "Blue Zone" for Longevity!Jan 09, 2022
Life “Hacks” of the Longest Lived People
Think living a long and healthy life well into your nineties or even one hundred years old is only for those lucky few who hit the genetic lottery? Think again.
Lifestyle factors, the things you do everyday over the long-term can add up to increase the number of quality years in your lifespan.
Look no further than the people of “Blue Zones” for proof of how powerful everyday habits are when it comes to staying healthy for the long haul.
The Blue Zones are regions around the world where people have very low rates of chronic disease and live longer compared to other populations.
They are located in regions of Ikaria in Greece, Sardinia, Nicoya in Costa Rica, Japan (Okinawa), and also Loma Linda, California, where a large number of Seventh Day Adventists reside.
Dan Buettner, a National Geographic journalist, studied these communities where many live healthy lives into their 90’s and even older into their 100’s. He coined the term “Blue Zones” to describe these areas where a few common characteristics seem to make a difference.
Buettner discovered that the people living in these places live a lifestyle that includes a healthy diet with lots of vegetables and relatively low animal protein intake, daily exercise (at least 30 minutes), and a low stress life that incorporates family, purpose, religion, and meaning.
The Ikarians of Greece drink goat’s milk, garden, walk, do yard work all day every day, eat a variation of the Mediterranean diet with lots of vegetables including dark green leafy vegetables, some fruit, whole grains, beans, potatoes, seafood, honey, herb tea from wild oregano, sage, and rosemary, and red wine. They get plenty of sunshine, take an afternoon nap, fast occasionally as part of their Greek Orthodox religion, and make family and friends a priority, fostering social connections.
The Sardinians eat a lean, plant-based diet accented with meat. The classic Sardinian diet consists of whole-grain bread, beans, lots of vegetables, some fruit, olive oil, pecorino cheese made from grass-fed sheep’s milk high in omega-3 fatty acids. Meat is reserved for Sundays and special occasions. They put family first ensuring every member of the family is cared for, celebrate elders and include grandparents in daily life including childcare, walk long distances daily, drink a couple of glasses of red wine daily, and laugh a lot with friends.
The Nicoyans of Costa Rica feel needed, want to contribute to the greater good, live with their families, and the children and grandchildren provide support and a sense of purpose and belonging. Nicoyan centenarians get frequent visits from neighbors, know how to listen, laugh, and appreciate what they have. The diet is a nutrient dense vegetarian diet, focussed on maize, beans, and lots of vegetables, with a light dinner early in the evening, so using intermittent fasting. They work hard, get lots of sun, and practice traditions that allow then to live free of stress.
The Okinawans embrace an “ikigai” – they are able to articulate the reason they get up in the morning. They rely on a mostly plant-based diet focussed mainly on stir-fried vegetables, sweet potatoes, miso and tofu, with some white rice and whole grains, seaweed, small fish, bitter melon, turmeric, and pork in small amounts at celebrations, drink a lot of green tea with jasmine, a distilled liquor called Awamori, similar to sake, and practice “hara hachi bu” – they stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full.
The 7th Day Adventists of Loma Linda take a 24-hour Sabbath weekly break from all the rigours of daily life to focus on family, God, camaraderie, and nature, relieving stress, strengthening social networks, and providing consistent low-intensity exercise. They eat a vegetarian diet that includes consuming nuts at least five times a week, eat an early, light dinner and also practice intermittent fasting, spend time with like-minded friends, and give back by volunteering and helping others, giving them a sense of purpose.
Do you have to live in an actual Blue Zone to guarantee longevity? Not at all! Researchers have studied them to determine just how they age so healthfully.
You can adopt some of the well-studied lifestyle traits of these folks to promote health and longevity right where you are!
Here are the top 7 life “hacks” of the world’s longest living people:
Eat a Plant-Rich Diet
Blue Zone residents eat a mostly plant-based diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains. Mind you, animal foods aren’t avoided – they just eat smaller portions of meat a handful of times per month.
You don’t have to become a strict vegetarian or vegan, but it’s important to eat a variety of plant foods daily - they contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and powerful antioxidants that help decrease inflammation and protect you from chronic disease, like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
A simple rule of thumb is to fill half to two-thirds of your plate with vegetables at every meal. Yep, every meal including breakfast!
Include Healthy Fats
Eat heart healthy unsaturated and omega-3 fats in the form of olive oil, nuts, and fish.
Getting enough omega-3’s helps decrease disease-causing inflammation and keeps your heart and brain healthy.
Eating enough fat also keeps you feeling fuller longer, which can help prevent overeating that leads to weight gain - bonus!
Stop Eating Before You Feel 100% Full
Avoid the "clean plate club." Eating slowly and chewing your food thoroughly gives your brain and stomach time to register that it’s had enough to eat.
Blue Zone communities avoid overeating and eating beyond feelings of fullness, which again, can help prevent weight gain.
Find Your Purpose
Okinawans call it “Ikigai” which translates to “why I wake up in the morning.” Studies have found that individuals who express a clear goal and purpose in life live longer and have a sharper mind than those who do not.
Drink Red Wine
Enjoying a glass of red wine a day increases your antioxidant intake, which is thought to decrease inflammation and help prevent heart disease.
Of course, moderation is key. Four ounces of wine is considered a glass, and drinking more than that is associated with negative health effects. Hmm, I'm going to have to think more about this one!
Take a break from work and socialize with your community. Take the time to appreciate life and all that it has to offer. Practice Self Care!
Move Your Body Throughout the Day
Have you heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking”? As in, it’s not good for your health to sit for extended periods of time.
Lack of physical activity and prolonged sitting is linked to weight gain, obesity, and increased mortality. Be sure to look for opportunities to add movement into your regular routines.
You might try:
- Stretching while you watch tv
- Take an after dinner evening walk
- Park farther away from your destination
- Choose stairs over elevators
- Take standing and stretching breaks at work
- Use a stand-up workstation, and fidget while you work (or dance!)
The world’s longest living people live active lives that include daily physical activities, like gardening, walking, and manual tasks.
To make it to age 100, it helps to have won the genetic lottery. But most of us have the capacity to make it well into our late 80’s and even 90’s, and largely without chronic disease. As the Blue Zone communities demonstrate, the average person’s life expectancy could increase by 10-12 years by adopting a Blue Zones lifestyle.
It’s never too late, and there’s no time like the present to begin!
Recipe: Mediterranean Bean Salad!
What do beans + olive oil + garlic + most plant foods have in common? Believe it or not, they’re all longevity-promoting foods! So what happens when you put them all together in a salad? Try my Mediterranean Bean Salad and find out! (it’s not too far-fetched to say “magic in your mouth”)
- 2 15-oz cans of beans, drained and rinsed (use black beans, cannellini beans, kidney beans or chickpeas/garbanzo beans)
- 1 english cucumber, chopped with skin on
- 1 bell pepper, diced
- 1 small red onion, diced
- 1 cup cherry tomato, halved
- 1 cup kalamata olives, roughly chopped
- ¼ cup virgin olive oil (= longevity oil!)
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 2 whole cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tsp dried oregano or 2 tsp fresh herb
- salt and pepper to taste
- Combine beans, cucumber, pepper, onion, tomatoes, and olives in a large bowl.
- In a small bowl or sealed jar with a lid, whisk or shake together olive oil, vinegar, garlic, oregano, and salt and pepper.
- Toss salad with dressing and enjoy at room temperature or refrigerate unused portions.
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