I was hugely influenced by the work of Dan Buettner. I don’t know if anyone is aware of the Blue Zones but basically Natural Geographic explorer, Dan Buettner, lead a group of researchers across the globe in search of regions that held the highest percentages of centenarians to discover the secrets to their long, healthy, full lives. The blue zone regions include Sardinia, Okinawa, Loma Linda in California, Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica and Ikaria, a Greek island. His findings were fascinating and inspiring.
For me it just highlights the fact that we don’t need to be spending a fortune on our health and lifestyle. We just need to move enough, eat well, have a purpose in life and be part of a community. And it’s as simple as that!!!
Jamie Oliver has also recently found the blue zones and mimicked recipes in his recent cookbook which I think is great, although for me personally he has a few too many wheat-based dishes.
Essentially the main dietary principles of those living the longest and healthiest seem to be the following:
It obviously isn’t just food that seems to have an impact on longevity and lasting health. Lifestyle is a huge factor and I’ve listed the key elements found among healthy centenarians because I think at times we all need to take stock. Dan found that the key positive lifestyle habits included :
1. Moving Naturally The world’s longest-living people move constantly without thinking about it and many grow gardens. They don’t run marathons or pump iron but are consistently active. This isn’t so easy for many of us with office-based jobs but it is a reminder that movement is so important
2. Having a Sense of Purpose. The research has shown that having a sense of purpose can in fact add seven years extra life expectancy. Having a reason to get up in the morning is so important and has such an impact on well being
3. Down Shift Basically we all have stress to some extent in our lives, however centenarians have found a way to deal with their problems effectively. Some take time daily to remember their ancestors, others take a nap, whilst Sardinians have a happy hour. This is so important because stress has terrible consequences to health including chronic inflammation and many age-related diseases.
4. 80% Rule Blue zone individuals tend to eat until they are 80% full and this is especially true of the Okinawans. Additionally the centenarians tend to eat the smallest meal at the end of the day.
5. Plant Power Beans seems to be a mainstay for many and meat is eaten sparingly, often only a few times a month.
6. Wine This was good news for me. Alcohol is consumed moderately and often daily but only 1-2 glasses. Interestingly, moderate drinkers seemed to outlive non-drinkers. What is really important to point out, especially in our society today, is that binge drinking is a no!!!
7. Belonging Most centenarians belonged to some faith-based community or have a sense of something greater than themselves.
8. Loved Ones The blue zone centenarians put their families first which includes looking after ageing parents and grandparents and investing time and love into their children as well.
9. Right Tribe I love this. Successful centenarians spend time with positive like-minded friends.
I think we can all take something from this. Life doesn’t have to be complicated and we don’t have to spend a fortune and so much time working on perfection. Living in the moment, eating healthy food and enjoying the company of those we love is what we instinctively know to be part of the purpose of living but we can often forget as we get too busy.
I wish everyone good food and good company.
Sources and further information: Dan Buettner (2010) The Blue Zones, www.bluezones.com