The Secrets to a Longer and Healthier Life- Lifestyle in The Blue Zones
Images courtesy: bluezone.com, healthytravelblog,
Living into your 100’s may not seem so appealing, especially, where in most westernized countries today, this may mean living with numerous chronic diseases and high medical expenses. With 48% of deaths in South Africa resulting from non-communicable diseases, according to the WHO , maybe the question you should be asking yourself is “what is the secret to living a healthier and longer life?”
In a course I recently took, run by one of the gurus in culinary and nutritional genomics in the USA, Amanda Archibald, from the Genomic Kitchen, I learnt about the longevity secrets of the growing-in-fame ‘Blue Zones’ and I was immediately inspired and interested. If we could just take a page out of the Blue Zone book, maybe we could all experience this golden form of “longevity” we all talk so highly about.
Dan Buettner, a National Geographic fellow discovered five areas in the world where the population not only lived the longest but above all were the healthiest. These pockets of longevity were named “Blue Zones” and include:
- Ikaria, Greece
- Okinawa, Japan
- Sardinia, Italy
- Nicoya, Costa Rica
- Loma Linda, California
The reasons as to why these areas are known as longevity hotspots are well researched by a host of researchers. Through their findings, they discovered that these regions and populations all had 9 common traits for which they coined Power 9. Not surprisingly the Power 9 traits mostly stemmed from lifestyle and environment.
It’s the Power 9, that hold some of our most powerful longevity secrets.
It’s the daily natural activities and exercises that promote longevity the most. Involving ourselves in outdoor walks, gardening or even doing some of our own housework (with some good music) will do the trick. The centenarians in the mountainous highlands of Sardinia did not bench press planks of cast iron or become triathletes.
Stress is one of the highest causes of age-related disease development, resulting in chronic inflammation. How can we counteract our stress levels from overpowering our daily lives? As the words simply put it, shift from ‘go’ mode to ‘slow’ mode. Whether this is done like the Okinawans who take time to remember their ancestors, the Adventists who pray, the Ikarians who have a power nap or the Sardinians who have a happy hour, try and incorporate a few minutes into your day for your own “down shift”.
*Sense of Purpose
The Okinawans say “Ikigai”; the Nicoyans say “plan de vida” and we say “a reason for being”. It’s the answer to “why I wake up in the morning”. No, it’s not for work; it’s for reasons beyond work. This may be a hard one for some, as sometimes we define ourselves according to what we achieve at work, I know I do a lot of the time. Research shows that having this sense of purpose beyond work, can add 7 years to your life expectancy.
Community is very prominent in the lives of the centenarians. Upon research it showed that 98% of them were part of some form of faith-based community. The importance was not which faith, but rather that strong sense of belonging.
*Loved ones first
People in the Blue Zones live by the principle of “family first”. Often the elderly live in the same home or very close to their children, resulting in lower disease and death rates of both the elderly and their children. The research also reveals how commitment to one life partner is prominent in these areas and how parents invest in their children with time and love. Ask yourself whether your loved ones always come first or if time and love is commonly replaced with gifts?
Growing up with a close group of friends that commit to each other for a lifetime and favourably shape each other, promoting healthy behaviours, is a key ingredient in the recipe of longevity.
*Wine at 5
No, it’s not what you’re thinking. This is not your ticket to get boozed up every day from 5pm. Do as the Sardinians do and sip on a glass of wine or two with a friend for your ‘down time’, not more! Moderation here is the operative word.
Their dietary intake is mostly plant-based. Meat is eaten approximately once a week and in limited portions. The common foods enjoyed in these areas come from local produce and include wild greens, herbs, a variety of beans and legumes, alliums, goat’s milk, olive oil and more. According to Badri N Mishra, Professor of Community Medicine, the Okinawans consume around 300g vegetables per day, as well as flax, grains and soy. When taking a deeper look into the popular ingredients used in each region, it is so clear that the food eaten has the capability to hold great conversations with our genes; turning on genes that reduce oxidative stress and turning off genes that promote inflammation.
*80% rule – “Hara hachi bu”
This Okinawan mantra simply means, “eat until you’re 80% full”. This calls upon you to be more mindful and in tune with your hunger intuition when eating. It’s not necessary to eat until you feel like your top button needs to be undone. That “stuffed” feeling is not so great, and that 20% gap can be a factor in to your losing or gaining weight.
Using the above fundamentals, destinations such as Minnesota have taken on lifestyle-changing challenges of the AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project. Community member by community member they are contagiously transforming the area; participating in walks, healthy cooking classes, planting herb gardens, changing restaurant and work menus and even sticking “longevity foods” stickers on healthy food items in stores.
Yes, you may not be able to be Minnesota, and it may be unrealistic to expect your city to become a Blue Zone. But how about trying to implement just a few waves of the Blue Zone’s ocean or fresh mountain air in your own home, or as much as YOU can?
My project is to try and choose a Power 9 concept that speaks to me the most and try and implement a new one each week. This week – “plant slant”; I for one may not swing into a plant-based diet as I do enjoy my animal-based proteins in moderation, but I will consciously increase my vegetable and legume intake.
What will you do?
Nourish yourself to the sunrise.
Written with love ,
Sunrise by HM
Nourished yet? Comment on what I should write about next?
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