Living well until you're very, very old and grey
If you have an 'ear to the ground' then you’ve probably heard a bit about the Mediterranean Diet lately. More of a health and wellbeing lifestyle than a diet in the traditional sense, the Med diet is a big deal because it's typical of populations that have high frequencies of longevity.
So, because everyone wants to live a long and healthy life, researchers began to look at these populations to determine what lifestyle factors they possessed that were potentially aiding them to live not only until old age, but to have a high quality of life throughout these later years as well.
Enter the Blue Zones!
What are Blue Zones?
Blue Zones are particular areas around the globe where people live longer, healthier lives. The amount of centenarians (fancy-pants word for someone over 100 years old) in these areas is 10 times that amount of people in some average Western societies.
With the United Nations predicting the number of centenarians to hit 4.1 million by 2050 (in 2009 there were 455,000), it’s a pretty good idea that we have a look at these populations, and steal a few of theirhealth hacks for ourselves.
Why blue you ask? Well... the researchers studying the populations used a blue marker when circling the hot spots. Yep, thats it!
Where are the Blue Zones?
1. Ikaria, Greece
With a lifespan 8 years longer than Greek mainlanders, these people are livin’ it up island-style. Their diet is typical of Mediterranean populations, featuring beans, potatoes, greens, and red wine. Also some dairy and animal foods, but not a load of red meat. They are physically active throughout the day.
2. Okinawa, Japan
You’ve probably heard of the Okinawans, they’re widely studied as they have the highest life expectancy in the world. They eat lots of rice, sweet potato (particularly purple), turmeric, some tofu and some fish.
3. Sardinia, Italy
I’ve seen first hand (bar one super scary Nonna), the throngs of happy, old people in Sardinia. Although we’re focusing more on the mountainous regions of Sardinia, the Mediterranean diet features again here. Goats milk products, small amounts of red meat, beans, and red wine.
4. Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Mortality rates among middle-aged adults are at their world-wide lowest here. They’re eating lots of beans, corn, squash, and tropical fruits.
5. Loma Linda, USA
While the US features some of the highest rates of lifestyle diseases world-wide, the Seventh Day Adventist community in Loma Linda, California live very healthily. Strict vegetarian diet, no alcohol and no smoking gives them an extra 10 years in life expectancy to the average North American.
How to live to 100...
Through studying these populations, researchers have discovered 9 key elements that are shared among the lifestyles of people in the Blue Zones.
1. They don’t hit they gym... Rather, the longest living people have lifestyles that require them to be physically active each day, and throughout the day. Find something you like that gets you moving regularly. Gardening or walking to meet friends, it all counts.
2. They have a purpose, and know why they get up each day. Find what drives you, whether it’s learning, family, friends, or your community.
3. They know how to chill. While everyone gets stressed out, people in the Blue Zones have routines to relax themselves and get centered. Meditation, yoga, and napping are some of their go-to’s.
4. They don’t do ‘food comas’. The Okinawans say “Hara hachi bu ”, which means to only eat until you are 80% full.
5. They eat their veggies. A predominantly plant based diet is the key similarity between all of the blue zones, with beans in particular being fundamental. Meat, specifically red meat is only eaten sometimes, and portions are smaller than the ol’ Aussie pub steak. Think a deck of cards rather than a phone book.
6. They wine. Aside from the Adventists, people in blue zones are regular drinkers. BUT!- We’re talking 1-2 glasses max, per day with friends or family, and often accompanying a slow meal. Not a whole bottle, followed by a pie on the way home. Moderation is the key.
7. They have a sense of belonging. On a spiritual level or to a book club, it doesn’t matter. Belonging to a community is a key element to wellness and adds years to your life.
8. They put family first. They care and invest in their loved ones, and receive the same treatment when they’re elderly.
9. They hang with the right crowd. They have support networks that encourage health and wellness, rather than ones that are detrimental.
So there you have it; the recipe for a long and wholesome life! While the Blue Zones may seem a very long way away from us, we can still bring their practices into our homes.
Give it a try!
Words by Iydi Willis
Associate Nutritionist, consultant health & nutrition blogger for Cadence Health
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