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Healthy Aging Tips from the Blue Zones



Much has been written about the “Blue Zones”, which are areas in the world where people live the longest, often reaching 100 years of age.  Not only do these communities have a long-life expectancy, but they are very healthy in old age and are less likely to suffer from chronic illness.  In the U.S., the average life expectancy is 77 years of age; 6 in 10 adults will have at least one chronic health condition, and 4 in 10 will have two or more chronic conditions.  So, where are the Blue Zones and what are their healthy aging tips?


In 2004, a National Geographic explorer, Dan Buettner, with a team of scientists and anthropologists began studying regions of the world where people lived the longest.  The team identified five such areas: 

  • Sardinia, Italy (world’s longest living men)

  • Okinawa, Japan (world’s longest living women)

  • Loma Linda, California (a Seventh-day Adventist community)

  • Ikaria, Greece (tiny island community with the lowest rates of dementia)

  • Nicoya, Costa Rica (lowest rates of middle-aged mortality)


Since the discovery of these areas, principles from the Blue Zones have been used across the United States to create healthier communities, such as in other parts of California, Oregon, Minnesota and Fort Worth, Texas.


Buettner and his team identified nine healthy principles of living that they believed were at the core of Blue Zone living.  They labelled them the Power 9 and they include:


Move Naturally 

The people interviewed don't belong to gyms and don't participate in triathlons. Rather, they walk, garden, and do housework. They move! So you don’t have to be an athlete; just get up and move every hour.   


Purpose

Know your purpose in life, i.e., have a reason for waking up in the morning.  Having a sense of purpose can add up to seven years of life expectancy.


Downshift

Chronic stress can lead to chronic inflammation, which is the cause of every age-related disease.  Prioritize stress relief and preserve downtime.  Take some time each day to relax, unwind, and breathe.  Unplug from the world – turn off your computer, television, and cell phone for a short period of time each day.  Read a book, or do some yoga, meditation, or prayer.    


80% Rule 

Eat until you’re about 80% full (in Ayurveda, it’s 75%); but the message is the same – don’t overeat.  The 20% difference between not being hungry and being full can make a difference between losing weight or gaining it.  These people also eat their smallest meal of the day in the late afternoon or early evening, and that’s it for the rest of the day.  So, there's no late-night binging.


Plant Based

Follow a “mostly” plant-based diet.  The Seventh Day Adventists are vegetarian, but the other cultures are not.  They consume a lot of vegetables, fruit, nuts/seeds, and whole grains; but they eat fish and they eat meats only five times a month. Also the serving size for meat is about 3-4 oz. or the size of a deck of cards.  Start by adding more vegetables to your meals, as well as legumes.  Also, try a meatless day once a week, such as “Meatless Monday”. 


Alcohol in Moderation

Except for the Adventists who don't consume alcohol, the people in these cultures drink alcohol in moderation (mainly wine).  Moderate drinkers out-live non-drinkers.  The trick is to drink 1 or 2 glasses of wine with friends and/or with food; but don’t save up your drinks for the weekend and splurge on 14 glasses of wine!  The key is “moderation”.


Connect with Community 

Most of the people interviewed belong to some faith-based community.  The denomination doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t have to be a religion.  Find a spiritual group of kindred spirits.


Family First 

The people interviewed keep their parents or grandparents in the home or nearby.  They commit to a life partner and invest in their children.  Family can also include those you chose to be family. 


Right Tribe

Choose social circles that encourage healthy behaviors.  In the Framingham Heart Study, the research showed that smoking, obesity, happiness, and loneliness are contagious; so, choose your circle wisely. 


It’s the beginning of a new year; but rather than starting a very restrictive diet or joining a gym, which you’ll probably quit within a month, incorporate some of these principles from the Blue Zones.  You don’t need to incorporate all of the principles, just pick one or two to begin with and notice how you feel.  Happy New Year!


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