Blue Zones

Have you ever heard of Blue Zones?  This is a topic I find very intriguing.  Blue Zones are specific areas of the world where people live the longest and healthiest lives.  They have a strikingly high number of individuals living past 100.  These people are not in nursing homes, hooked up to machines, and in bed all day.  They lead active, fulfilling lives.  Because of their healthy longevity, researchers have begun to hone in and try to tease out the keys to their fountain of youth.  I find their habits inspiring.

The five areas of the world that are considered Blue Zones include:

  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Nicoya, Costa Rica
  • Sardinia, Italy
  • Loma Linda, CA, USA
  • Ikaria, Greece

There are several common habits that each of these communities practice.  First, they eat fully plant based (vegetarian) or mostly plant based diets (flexitarian).  The foods they eat are not processed or they’re minimally processed.  Most of their calories come from beans, fruits, vegetables, low saturated fat oils, whole grains, and some fish and red meat.  It’s the same foods that you hear us dietitians recommending all the time.

Another common trend was that these communities encouraged regular bouts of physical activity.  This was not marathon training or heavy weight lifting.  Rather, their environments and daily activities involved lots of moving, climbing, squatting, etc.  Some of these groups do a lot of gardening.  Others live in houses or environments that forced them to walk up and down stairs much of the day.  Their built environment was conducive to effortless activity on a regular basis.

A sense of purpose and belonging has also been found as a key to longevity.  These cultures each place high value and respect on their elders.  They are also communities that come together regularly.  Some come together for religious services, others to talk over tea.  They do not isolate themselves.  The reach out and have strong social networks that can help support them when the need arises.  This helps to lower stress, which is critical for a happy long life.

Most of these groups (not the Adventists) consume alcohol regularly, but they don’t over-consume it.  They are not binge drinking on the weekends.  They are enjoying a glass of wine with a neighbor, while discussing the happenings of the day.  It’s a delicate balancing act, that when played right, can reap real benefits.

It’s concerning to compare these habits to our typical American habits: diets heavy in processed foods, mostly sedentary jobs, long commutes sitting in a car, social isolation, built environments that discourage walking.

I’m hoping we can work toward habits and lifestyles that more closely mimic these cultures.  I think we’d all be happier for it.

Here are the kids after 5 days of camping and a 1.5 hour hike.  They were tired and a bit scruffy, but happy.  Being outside does them good!

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