Blue Zones are geographical areas home to a disproportionate number of centenarians. Not only that, but Blue Zone inhabitants are also happier and more content with life. Discover 7 lessons we learnt from the healthiest people on earth
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Blue Zones – what’s so good about them?
A term first coined by Dan Buettner, people living in Blue Zones:
- Live longer, with an unusual proportion of the population living to over 100
- Have lower rates of chronic disease such as heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s
- Enjoy lower rates of mental health issues like depression and anxiety
- Are happier and more content with life
- Have an increased vivacity and zest for life
- Are fully engaged in family, social and community life
Is this just coincidence, or is there something in the water?
Blue Zones – where are they?
The five best known Blue Zones are:
- Icaria, Greece
- Ogliastra, Sardinia, Italy
- Okinawa, Japan
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
- Loma Linda, California
…but it’s likely there’s more.
Despite differences in wealth, environment, culture and ethnicity between them, there are commonalities to be found between Blue Zones which may hold the key to their happy, fulfilled existence.
Increase your own longevity, health and happiness with these 7 lessons.
Blue Zones – Lesson #1: Focus on a plant-based diet
Eating a lot of this will make you life longer
No, they’re not all raging vegans and vegetarians, but they much less meat than the average European and North American.
More so than any other factor, it’s obvious that what we put into our bodies will affect our health. Lots of the food we eat creates inflammation – a leading cause of cancer, heart disease, poor mental health and other chronic diseases.
Thus, an anti-inflammatory diet directly improves health and longevity.
Considering meat’s link to heart disease and cancer, it’s no surprise that Blue Zone inhabitants eat meat just once per week. Instead, they consume a diet high in:
- Vegetables. Packed with vitamins and minerals known to boost immune system function
- Legumes. Rich in protein and fibre, legumes reduce risk of chronic disease
- Whole grains. Proven to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, consuming whole grains reduces the likelihood of heart disease
- Nuts. Rich in good fats and nutrient dense, nuts are associated with reduced mortality and metabolic syndrome
Blue Zones – Lesson #2: Engage in close friendships and family relationships
Maintaining close friendships is a sure-fire way to boost longevity
An oft-overlooked one in the modern age of social networking and the internet, face-to-face interactions are critical for mental health.
It’s not enough to chat over FaceSpace or WhatsGram. Building friendships and close family ties develops a sense of belonging and integrating with a community let's us share life's joys and burdens.
As Dan Buettner states, “friends can exert a measurable and ongoing influence on your health behaviours in a way that a diet never can” and goes on to say “I argue that the most powerful thing you can do to add healthy years is to curate your immediate social network”
Blue Zones – Lesson #3: Exercise regularly
No, they don’t hit the bench press at Fitness World.
Movement is included in their daily routines and part of lifestyle. They walk, work the land, socialise through activity and complete their own chores which maintains mobility in their later years.
This helps promote bone density, boost energy and improve cardiovascular health.
Blue Zones – Lesson #4: Don’t eat too much
People living in Blue Zones adhere to a moderate caloric intake both through plant-based food choices as well as intermittent fasting (IF). High calorie intake has become the norm and it's clear to see portion control is non-existant - just look at the obesity crisis.
But Blue Zone inhabitants are more aware of what they eat and we know IF reduces inflammation and boosts energy and endurance so it’s no surprise it’s a regular practice within long-living communities. IF is all about reducing caloric intake for a period of time on a regular basis – whether that be daily, weekly or monthly.
Mealtimes are also a social affair (not an in-front-of-the-TV job), increasing cognition of what they put in their bodies and combining with Lesson #3.
Eating in groups also means you’ll eat slower, feel full sooner and eat less overall.
Blue Zones – Lesson #5: Have a purpose
Psychological wellbeing is as much as part of health as physical health.
Working together with a community gives purpose in life
When you wake up in the morning, do you devote yourself to something other than the self? Helping others – family, friends or the community – is one way to have purpose. So is working for a company or cause you truly believe in. Being part of a devoted religious group is another.
Being passionate about what you do and believing that what you do matters appears to be a powerful way of boosting longevity.
Blue Zones – Lesson #6: Don’t stress it
Cortisol - a health and performance wrecking ball – is released when we’re stressed so a lifestyle low in this hormone is a healthy one.
It’s not enough to just have a chilled outlook on life – our lives won’t change solely through a shift in mindset. This mindset shift needs to be combined with daily rituals to reduce stress such as high sleep quality, meditation, napping and partaking in regular social gatherings.
Right, I’m off to hang out with the family and share some nuts! If you don’t have nuts to hand, grab a nutrient-dense protein shake instead - 20g protein, all natural and 100% good for the planet too
Blue Zones – Lesson #7: Booze tactically
The main form of alcohol is red wine – you won’t find any fluorescent green alcopops here – which has shown to have antioxidant properties.
Blue Zones – Conclusion
It’s all about lifestyle. People in Blue Zones maintain a low-stress life that focuses on healthy eating, regular exercise and places emphasis on tight-knit relationships.
When you ponder that most of us in the Western world have become so fixated on chasing money, unrealistic dreams and busying ourselves to the max for fear of being labelled lazy, it’s easy to see the chasm that exists between us and Blue Zoners.