Blue Zones – Secrets to Longevity

If you have sat in any of my lectures at Movara, you have probably heard me mention the Blue Zones. The information from these areas deeply influences my work. As a health professional who wishes to help others find long-lasting and sustainable wellness, it seems only natural to educate others on what we see happening in this areas. Here I quote from the Blue Zones website:

?In 2004, Dan Buettner teamed up with National Geographic and the world?s best longevity researchers to identify pockets around the world where people lived measurably better. In these Blue Zones they found that people reach age 100 at rates 10 times greater than in the United States. After identifying the world?s Blue Zones, Dan and National Geographic took teams of scientists to each location to identify lifestyle characteristics that might explain longevity. They found that the lifestyles of all Blue Zones residents shared nine specific characteristics. We call these characteristics the Power 9.?

In essence, Blue Zones are small pockets of populations around the globe that live the longest and healthiest. They are of interest because they enjoy long, healthy lives with a large population of Centurions, meaning they live to 100 or longer. Currently there are 5 groups who meet these criteria and are located in Loma Linda, California, Sardinia, Italy, Okinawa, Japan, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica and Ikaria, Greece. The 9 characteristics these groups share are as follows:

1. Move Naturally: Movement is a natural part of their day. They don?t have workout routines or set foot in a gym (which of course isn?t to say you couldn?t), their lifestyle is such that encourages physical activity. We find that continual movement and activity throughout the day trumps one exercise session followed by sitting the rest of the day. For those of you who work desk jobs, you could mimic this continual movement through something called ?exercise snacks?. Set a timer to go off each hour, at which time take a 5-minute break to walk and stretch before heading back to your desk.

2. Purpose: A sense of purpose is worth up to an extra 7 years in life expectancy. Why do you wake up in the morning? Do you engage in meaningful work and find purpose in what you spend your time with? This principle is of great importance to those living in Blue Zones.

3. Down Shift: America has it all wrong ? more is not necessarily better. Don?t we all seem to be striving for bigger and better by doing MORE? Down shifting, or finding ways to rest, relax and rejuvenate actually increases productivity. Stress leads to chronic inflammation and relates to every disease. Find a routine to shed stress and set aside time each day or each week to do something that helps you reconnect with yourself.

4. 80% Rule: This means to stop eating when stomachs are 80 percent full. In addition, these groups eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening- largest meal mid day and they don?t eat after the evening meal. You may not need to follow this exact pattern, but I believe it speaks to the importance of fueling yourself well during the day. Avoid skipping meals, which can lead to getting overly hungry and possible overeating.

5. Plant Slant: Basically the principles of Nutrient Density vs Calorie Density! These groups have at least 75% of their plate coming from the ground. They eat high fiber meals that are rich in antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals. Meat is eaten on average only 5 times per month and servings are about 3-4 oz cooked (the size of your palm). Beans are the cornerstone of the centurion diet; I encourage you to use them as your protein source at least once a day!

6. Wine @ 5: You?ll love this! People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. They drink 1-2 glasses per day, with friends and/or with food.

7. Belong: All but 5 of 263 centenarians interviewed belonged to a faith-based community. Research shows attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy. Ultimately, feeling a part of something bigger than yourself can increase quality and length of years.

8. Loved Ones First: Blue Zones are known for their deep appreciation for family. They keep aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home (lowers disease and mortality rates of children in the home too), they commit to a life partner (which can add up to 3 years of life expectancy) and they invest in their children with time and love. Enough said.

9. Right Tribe: You know that quote that says you are the average of the 5 people you associate with most? These Blue Zones take that to heart. They choose?or are born into?social circles that support healthy behaviors. Okinawans in particular create groups of five friends that commit to each other for life. These groups prove that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. Surround yourself with a supportive tribe!

I very much appreciate the data we have on the Blue Zones. It shows us that we can create our own blue zone, that health and wellness is multi-factorial, and encourages a holistic approach. It has very little to do with fixating on numbers, killing yourself at the gym or giving up carbs. In fact, it is noteworthy that their staple foods are rich in carbohydrates and are often “fear-foods” for dieters: potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, beans, rice, etc – these make up the bulk of their meals. They also enjoy olive oil, nuts and seeds, avocado, fish (i.e. high fat foods). I think it?s obvious that we have things pretty backwards. Pleasure, rest and relaxation (and don?t confuse that with numbing feelings or ?zoning out?) are important habits to cultivate if you seek health, and meal times are a great way to practice!

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD