Teachings from the Blue Zones
Have you heard about the so-called ‘Blue Zones’ where people live the longest on this planet? Dan Buettner, a National Geographic fellow and award-winning journalist, has been investigating longevity around the globe for more than a decade now. He and his team of scientists, demographers and doctors have discovered areas where people live up to 100 years at rates significantly higher than in the US.
Centenarians live long, healthy and happy lives!
According to scientific research only 25% of our health and longevity is dedicated to our genes. 75% is determined by our life-style and everyday choices. So, optimizing our life-style leads to better health and maximizes our life-expectancy. Our health industry here suggests that by taking supplements, working out at fitness centers, being on weight loss programs or taking detox vacations we will get to good health. However, despite these efforts – that are often short-lived – life expectancy is decreased and health is significantly compromised: Depression, dementia, arthritis, diabetes or heart disease are widely spread in the US, Canada or other Western countries whereas in the Blue Zones they are not.
What do the Blue Zones teach us?
Dan Buettner and his team identified 5 Blue Zones: Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan, Loma Linda in California, Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica and Ikaria, a Greek island. These regions are culturally diverse; they each developed their unique path to longevity including diet, social interactions or stress relief. Yet, there are some commonalities as well. What stands out is that none of the centenarians had in mind to live a long life. Living to be 100 years old was not a conscious choice but happened because of the Blue Zone’s natural life-style and positive outlook on life.
People in the Blue Zones move about every 20 minutes!
Centenarians live in communities where they can walk to a friend’s house or the local market. They move naturally throughout the day which includes walking and doing simple chores such as gardening, harvesting, making bread or chopping wood. Centenarians spend a big portion of the day outside in the sunshine, in their garden and in Nature. They stay active throughout their whole life; they often look after family meals, tend their (great-great) grandchildren or engage in other social activities.
Centenarians eat a plant-based diet.
The longevity diet consists of beans, whole grains and garden vegetables. Beans provide the cornerstone to Blue Zone meals which are fiber-rich and a good source of non-animal protein. Meat is used for celebrations (about 5 times a month), but regular meals are vegetarian. Centenarians eat a variety of vegetables and herbs every day, mostly from their own garden or freshly picked in the wild. They don’t eat sweets or any other processed foods.
Centenarians are part of a community.
Meals are enjoyed with friends and family; in Ikaria and Sardinia even with a glass of wine! Centenarians stay with their family or close to the family instead of going to retirement homes. Meeting friends and family is part of their daily routine. Social networks are important and part of their daily life.
Centenarians are happy people! 😊
People in the Blue Zones enjoy life and they are engaged in life. They respect Nature, live close to Nature and appreciate Nature. The centenarians love spending time with their family and friends. They naturally take time for the things that are important for them. The old folks that Buettner met in the Blue Zones were genuine, humorous, wise and loving!
The Blue Zone principles are more than good health advice!
Living a healthy life is more than adopting a new exercise regime or following the latest fad diet. The Blue Zone principles encourage you to rethink your life-style and invite you to make real changes towards better health and well-being. Why not taking from their 100-year-old experiences to create more liveliness, connection and enjoyment in our lives? Let’s live our life not only healthier, but spicier, more purposeful and more joyful!
Here are a few more Blue Zone ideas from each region, a little bit more food for thought:
Sardinia – Natural Rhythm!
Most of us rush through the day to be as productive as possible, and we pay a price for it. Ideally, we live in a natural rhythm between activity and inactivity to be in balance, and many cultures around the world know the benefit of pausing or taking breaks during the day. Resting lets the body recharge and lowers stress hormones. Sardinians naturally take an afternoon nap. The so-called siestas are also common in other Blue Zones like Ikaria. Research suggests that napping for less than 30 minutes regularly decreases risk of heart disease. – How can you fit in a break so your heart can rest?
Okinawa – Hari Hacha Bu
Before each meal the Okinawans remind each other saying: ‘Hari Hacha Bu’ which means: Eat until you are 80% full. It helps to maintain your weight or even lose some. Whereas overeating creates problems, undereating leads to better digestion and healthy weight management. Okinawans just like the centenarians in all the Blue Zones eat slowly and mindfully, and stop eating when they are not hungry anymore (as opposed to when feeling full). – Why not introducing Hari Hacha Bu to you family and practicing it before starting to eat?
Loma Linda – Having faith
The 7th Adventist Church Community in Loma Linda live according to the bible. Their 24-hour sabbath provides time away from work and obligations, a time to focus on God, Nature and family. Healthy centenarians everywhere have faith and participate in spiritual communities. Studies have shown that attending religious or spiritual service even once a month reduces the risk of getting sick and increases life expectancy by years. – How do you navigate through life’s difficulties? How do you foster faith and trust in life?
Nicoyan Peninsula – Plan de vida
All centenarians mention that a sense of purpose is important. The Nicoyans call it ‘plan de vida’ which essentially translates into “why I wake up in the morning”. They often feel a strong sense of service to others and a responsibility to provide or care for their family. In Okinawa, they call this sense of purpose ‘ikigai’ and it includes praying for their ancestors or the village. – What is your ‘plan de vida’ and purpose in life?
Ikaria Greece – Taking time
Ikarians stay up late, wake up late, start to work late … When they are invited for lunch, they may arrive anytime between noon and dinner time, and it is ok. No one wears a watch on Ikaria. The centenarians in Ikaria don’t care about time! – What would it be like to live a life without time pressure? How can you allow yourself some time during the week where the pressure is off??
I would like to end this little exploration into the Blue Zone with a quote from Raffaela Monne from Sardinia. She was 107 years old at the time when she was asked to give advice for a younger generation: “Life is short. Don’t run so fast. You miss it.”
Recommended reading by Dan Buettner:
‘The Blue Zones – 9 lessons for living longer’
‘The Blue Zone Kitchen’ with recipes, stories & beautiful photography