“Spring is the time of plans and projects.” – Leo Tolstoy
As the seasons shift, the springtime rebirth inspires and motivates us to become the best and healthiest versions of ourselves. Long sunny days and warmer weather encourage us to emerge into the outdoors and come out of our hibernating states. When I envision what an ideal life looks like, in the simplest terms, I imagine a long life filled with robust physical, mental and emotional health. This has led me to revisit the phenomena known as ‘The Blue Zones’.
Blue zones are regions in the world where people live, or have recently lived, longer than average. The 5 blue zones are Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Icaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California. Although genetics cannot be discounted, lifestyle choices are far more important when determining health and longevity. A 2018 article published in the journal Genetics cites that heritability of human genetics may be as low as 10%. Despite the genetic, geographical and cultural differences between the different zones, there are common threads that run throughout them:
- Move naturally — Whether it’s walking to the local grocery store or walking to a friend’s house, movement is key. Many Blue Zone centenarians maintain high levels of physical activity and frequently engage in manual labor. An example is Sardinia’s community of shepherds, who are known to walk more than 5 miles a day.
- Know your purpose — Individuals who express a clear goal in life live longer than those who do not. This sense of purpose is deemed to be the source of life satisfaction, which leads to a longer and happier life.
- Sleep/DownShift — Chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation, which is associated with every major age-related disease. Taking naps, reflecting through prayer or a day of rest are all examples of routines Blue Zoners use to mitigate stress in their lives.
- 80% Rule — This strategy focuses on not overeating. Whether it’s repeating a mantra before meals as a reminder to eat until 80% full like the Okinawans or eating the last and smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening, moderation and awareness are key.
- Plant-based diet — The diet of Blue Zone Centenarians is based largely on plants. The cornerstone of most centenarian diets is beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils. Small amounts of lean, high quality meats are consumed on occasion.
- Moderate alcohol consumption — Thanks to healthy antioxidants, wine consumed in moderation (1 glass daily) and ideally with friends at mealtime can reduce the risk of heart disease and slow the progression of neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s Disease. (Although there are many studies that promote the health benefits of wine polyphenols, it has not been conclusively determined that they contribute to longevity as per Molecule 2020).
- Sense of Community — All but 5 of the 263 centenarians interviewed in the original Blue Zones areas studies (2004) belonged to some faith-based community. Being a member of a civic or faith-based organization can provide a sense of belonging and create strong social relationships and add years to life.
- Loved ones first — The cornerstone of all Blue Zone communities are strong family ties.
- Right Tribe — The world’s longest-lived people are either born into or choose to create social circles that support and promote healthy behaviors.
While our own journeys to good health, longevity and happiness are unique, there is no denying that many, if not all, Blue Zone tenets can lead to a life of satisfaction, fulfillment and wellness.