Have you heard of the Blue Zones? The term ‘blue zones’ was coined by the author Dan Buettner and his team following research on the five places in the world where there are an unusually high concentration of centenarians (people living over 100 years old) and supercentenarians (people living over 110). These five places are
Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan, Loma Linda in California, Nicoya in Costa Rica and Ikaria in Greece.
We are going to look into the research done on these areas to see what we can learn from them from a mostly nutritional perspective, but as we know health is very much holistic rather than just being about one aspect, so there are several important lifestyle elements to be understood in living a long healthy life.
In the mountain village of Arzana the classic Sardinian diet consists of fruits, vegetables, wholegrain bread, beans, sheep’s cheese and goat’s milk. Meat is only featured occasionally, usually on Sundays or special occasions. Many Sardinian centenarians also drink red wine in moderation (around a small glass a day). Being a fairly isolated mountain village, they have strong social connections and a ‘family first’ ethos where elders are well respected. The majority of the men in this area who are now centenarians were once shepherds and walked many miles each day on mountainous terrain.
The Japanese island of Okinawa is home to some of the world’s longest-living people. The older Okinawans eat a mostly plant-based daily diet of vegetables, sweet potato, miso and tofu. Some pork is also eaten in small amounts and is usually reserved for special occasions. They practice eating until 80% full and then stopping. The Okinawans are traditionally active and enjoy walking and gardening, there is a sense of community amongst the elders and all centenarians interviewed said that they had a strong sense of purpose.
Loma Linda, California
In the city of Loma Linda, there is a population of Seventh-day Adventists whose faith promotes healthy living and discourages smoking, drinking alcohol, caffeine, eating meat and ‘rich foods’, with many following a vegetarian diet. They have been studied extensively as a group of around 9000 individuals, with studies showing they exercise regularly, including into older age. The Seventh-day Adventists observe a sabbath once a week where they detach from the business of their daily lives and focus on God, family and nature. They have strong social bonds with others in their community.
Nicoya, Costa Rica
As common with all the above places, the people from the village of Nicoya in Costa Rica enjoy a relatively simple life. Their traditional diet consists of beans, rice, corn, tortillas, vegetables, fruit, with some eggs, and pork. They tend to eat their largest meal in the middle of the day favouring lighter evening meals. The elders in this area enjoy a good sense of purpose, solid family ties and are religious. Many that were interviewed also stated that they walked a lot, and that although they had a strong work ethic, they lived low-stress lifestyles.
This Greek island enjoys the traditional Mediterranean diet rich in vegetables, salads, herbs, goats milk, bread, honey , lentils, chickpeas and some fruit. Their diets were found to be low in dairy and meat, which would be served on special occasions. They drink a small amount of wine daily and enjoy herbal teas made from fresh local herbs such as sage, oregano and rosemary.
The elders live active lives, walking and doing manual work in the house and garden. The pace of life is gentle and there is a strong sense of community.
As we have seen these 5 blue zones have a lot in common. There isn’t one single practice that they all do, but rather a combination of things that enable good health. It could be though that these areas put their longevity down to genetics however in the book it is stated that although this could potentially be a factor in Sardinia, in Costa Rica this isn’t the case as the village is considered more mixed-blood race, and that diet and lifestyle are still the biggest influences on long-term health.
To summarise, the most common themes across the 5 blue zones are:
So now look at your life and see where you can make some shifts to implement some of these long-term healthy changes. Some of these may be easier to implement than others. However, they are all valuable ingredients for an overall sense of wellbeing and health, and longevity too!
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Francesca Grace Lancaster
Nutrition in Northwood, Rickmansworth and surrounding areas.