Scientific studies suggest that only about 25 percent of how long we live is dictated by genes… The other 75 percent is determined by our lifestyles and the everyday choices we make. It follows that if we optimize our lifestyles, we can maximize our life expectancies within our biological limits.Blue Zone Study Guide
The term “blue zones” keeps crossing my path. In press articles, referenced in podcasts, and I recently became aware there is a Netflix series: Live to 100: Sectes of the Blue Zones with Dan Buettner.
The concept of Blue Zones grew from the demographic work of Dr. Michel Poulain (international speaker, professor, and expert on longevity) and Dr. Gianni Pes (medical doctor and senior researcher). Studying Sardinian longevity, Pes first to report on the exceptional longevity of the population living in the mountains of Sardinia in 1999. The region was later determined to be one of the original Blue Zones regions.
Why “Blue Zones?” Poulain and Pes drew concentric blue circles on the map highlighting populations of extreme longevity and began to refer to this area inside the circle as the “blue zone.” Simple really.
National Geographic, Buettner, and demographer collaborators travelled the world in search of communities where people not only lived longer but also enjoyed a high quality of life in their old age. After analyzing demographic data and interviewing numerous centenarians, they identified five regions that stood out for their extraordinary longevity and vitality.
Rather than searching for answers in a test tube or a petri dish, I looked for them among populations that have achieved what we want—long, healthy lives and sharp brains until the end.@thedanbuettner
- Barbagia region of Sardinia
- Ikaria, Greece
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
- Seventh Day Adventists, Loma Linda, California
- Okinawa, Japan.
Is there a connection between these “blue zones” and my personal reflections of ‘nutrition, wellness and habits?’ It would appear so, if quite generic.
Blue Zones: Lifestyle Habits of the World’s Healthiest, Longest-Lived People
- Move naturally – environments that constantly nudge inhabitants to move, to garden, without mechanical conveniences for house and yard work.
- Walking everyone morning, park and walk, taking the long route.
- Purpose – The Okinawans call it “Ikigai” and the Nicoyans call it “plan de vida;” for both it translates to “why I wake up in the morning.” A sense of purpose.
- Wellness, being present, noticing. Walking in the mornings. mindfullness.
- Downshift – routines to disperse stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians do happy hour. Gratitude?
- The morning push ups and walk are definitely dispersing stress. I am also trying to be more thankful and connect with family.
- 80% Rule -“Hara hachi bu” – 8 out of 10. Eat only until you are 80% full. People in the blue zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then they don’t eat any more the rest of the day.
- Feels very similar to time-restricted eating.
- Plant based diets. Leafy greens. Beans are a staple of Blue Zone diets. Nuts. An absence for fizzy drinks.
- “Whole food, plant based” is where I am current at. Beans and lentils – are new additions to my diet and I want to eat more. Pressure cooking secured.
- Wine – Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. 1-2 glasses per day, with friends and/or with food.
- Not saying no to anything.
- Belong – Faith, adds to 4-14 years of life expectancy.
- No faith element in nutrition, wellness and habits
- Loved Ones First – Put families first.
- I am most definitely trying here.
- Right Tribe – your social circle shapes your health behaviours.
- One area to consider further.
Nutrition – in blue zones, the healthy choice is the easy choice
Whole food, plant based. 95+% of a Blue Zoners diet.
Seasonal fruit and veg, whole grains, beans and nuts. Your preference for plant-based ingredients should extend to fats too: that means choosing olive oil rather than butter.
Retreat from meat. Sparingly, as a celebratory food or a small side. Research observing vegetarian Seventh Day Adventists living in Loma Linda, California, suggested that they will likely outlive their meat-eating counterparts by as many as eight years.
If eating fish, opt for inexpensive fish such as sardines, anchovies. SMASH up to three small servings a week. As I say, Blue Zoners do opt for fish, if less than you’d think or promoted by references to eating a more Mediterranean diet.
Diminish dairy – fermented diary foods yes, cheese yes. Most Blue Zoners stay away from cow’s dairy milk. Ikarians and Sardinians choose goat’s and sheep’s milk products.
Eliminate eggs – Eggs are not needed for living longer. No more than three-four eggs per week.
Beans rule supreme, the cornerstone of every longevity diet in the world! I have been bowled over by how tasty dried beans cooked with aromatics can be. Cheap, versatile, they come in a variety of textures, and are packed with more nutrients per gram than any other food on Earth. Hearty and satisfying, they’ll likely push less healthy foods out of your diet. Aim to eat at least half a cup of cooked beans daily,. Black beans are earthy and delicious , lentils, chickpeas and white beans… rich in fibre and protein,
Sugar is restricted. Minimal sweets, biscuits, cookies and cakes, be aware of hidden sugars and fizzy pop.
Go nuts. A mix of nuts. Add seeds to that mix too. Small, dense with vitamins and minerals. Two handfuls a day,
No to processed bread. Make your own bread. Trust me, you will not turn back. I won’t ever go back. Home-baked bread is a win, an event. For ease, bake with a poolish – twenty minutes investment. More effort leads you to sourdough. An hour but it is so worth it. Bake two and gift one. Bake two, slice and freeze. Different ball game.
Drink water. Plenty of water. Green tea. Coffee. Drink red wine in moderation.
The whole story is simple. Eat plant-based whole foods rather than processed ones. Avoid ‘low-fat’ or ‘sugar free’.
A good definition of a ‘whole food’ would be one that is made of a single ingredient, raw, cooked, ground, or fermented, and not highly processed.