Blue Zones: Living Healthier Longer
Humans have always desired to find a magical solution for living healthier for longer while maintaining a youthful lifestyle. Ample references about this desire can be found in literature such as in the tales about The Philosopher’s Stone or The Fountain of the Eternal Youth.
These solutions may be only a fantasy, but there are actually civilizations around the world that provide a platform for their inhabitants for living both healthier and longer. These regions are called “Blue Zones”.
The Blue Zones
The Blue Zones concept came from a demographic work done by Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain concerning the longevity of the people born between 1800 and 1900 in Sardinia, Italy. Doing so, they drew blue circles around the areas with the highest concentration of centenarians, referring to them as Blue Zones.
In 2004, Dan Buettner, an American explorer and educator, joined National Geographic and a team of world-class longevity researchers to carry out a project to research locations around the world and identify the spot where people are living healthier for the longest periods.
The team identified the following 5 Blue Zone regions:
- Sardinia, Italy (particularly Nuoro province and Ogliastra)
- The Islands of Okinawa, Japan
- Loma Linda, California
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
- Icaria, Greece
Characteristics of Blue Zone Residents
Buettner and his team discovered that in each of these areas, the rate of centenarians was 10 times greater than that in the US, as reported in the Blue Zones website. By studying the correlation between local lifestyles and longevity, they found that all the Blue Zone residents share the same nine characteristics for living healthier longer:
- They move naturally – finding ways to move more rather than using vehicular transport
- Waking up with a purpose – they know what their purpose is each day
- Lessened stress – they work out a variety of routines to de-stress or avoid it altogether
- 80% Rule – they stop eating when their stomach is 80% full, rather than 100% (or more)
- Legume and bean-based diets – they eat less meat in general
- Drink alcohol moderately – and regularly (moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers)
- They find a place to belong – all but five of the 263 centenarians interviewed belonged to some faith-based community
- Family first – before all other concerns, they value family
- They source the right tribe – attend social circles that supported healthy behaviors
Adding these focuses into your daily routine will provide benefits in terms of longevity and health. You may not feel that you can conform to all nine of them, but surely it’s worth a try.
Blue Zone Projects for Living Healthier Longer
Changing location and moving into one of the five blue zones might be unlikely, but choosing to live in communities where they follow these principles might be a more reasonable solution. Thanks to the Blue Zone Program, many Blue Zone projects are currently being developed.
The program focuses its efforts to optimize space in order to create the right conditions to improve its residents lives and move towards living healthier and longer (providing that people spend 90% of their time within a 20 miles radius). Being a community-based approach, the program requires involvement from its citizens and institutions (for example, schools, companies, etc.). Of course, to comply with this requirements represent an obstacle for the large-scale application of this method, but the benefits perceived by the community can encourage its development.
After implementing the program in the Beach Cities of Los Angeles (Hermosa, Redondo and Manhattan Beach) from 2010 to 2013, researchers noticed a 14% drop in the obesity rate and an increase of 10% of people who eat fruit or vegetables five times a day. Similarly, at Albert Lea, Minnesota, the healthcare claims of city workers plunged by 49% and the businesses who joined the program benefited from a 21% reduction of absenteeism.
These projects have not been limited only to local communities or small cities. In 2011 Iowa’s Governor Terry Branstad launched the Healthiest State Initiative, challenging all Iowans to make Iowa the healthiest state in the US by 2016. This may be an ambitious challenge (Iowa ranks 16th in the US), but the commitment of a State in pursuing this target is certainly meaningful. Hopefully, if this experiment succeeds, more countries will start healthier initiatives, and start living healthier for longer.Featured Image: A senior couple dances on the beach. Image via Ingimage.com.