What do you think of when you hear the phrase ‘Blue Zones?’ For me, it conjures images of beautiful beaches with sparkling blue water – something we have no shortage of here in Australia. That’s why I was so surprised when I recently learned at a Be Natural event that we are not, in fact, one of the world’s five Blue Zones. So, what exactly are they and how do we become one?
What is a Blue Zone?
In his book ‘The Blue Zones’, author Dan Buettner identifies several areas around the planet where many people live to be over 100. People living in these longevity hotspots are three times more likely to live to 100 than Aussies are. For some people the idea of living to be a centenarian isn’t all that appealing if it means being hunched over in a nursing home. But not only are these people living long lives, they’re also living extremely full and healthy ones.
People living in Blue Zones enjoy much longer lives and lower rates of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and dementia compared to that seen in the Western world
– Tim Crowe, Associate Professor in Nutrition at Deakin University
Residents of the second largest island in the Mediterranean are 10 times more likely to live to the age of 100 than the Western world.
Around 8000 people live on this Greek island and there are zero reported cases of dementia or chronic disease.
The Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
On this 100 km peninsula located just south of the Nicaraguan border, residents are significantly more likely to live to 100 than the rest of Costa Rica.
Loma Linda, California
The only US city to make the list is home to more than 9000 Seventh-day Adventists (a protestant Christian denomination).
What do they have in common?
You only have to glance at the photos above to notice that all of the Blue Zones are situated near the ocean. But you don’t have to immediately retire near the beach to hold the key to eternal youth (although it may help!) It’s all about lifestyle.
Here are 5 healthy habits we can all take from the long-living Blue Zones, regardless of where we live.
Sorry, meat lovers. People living in the Blue Zones rarely eat red meat and when they do, it’s very sparingly. In Ikaria, Sardinia and the Nicoya Peninsula, residents enjoy Mediterranean-style diets high in fresh fruit and vegetables, olive oil, legumes and some fish. Meanwhile, Okinawans eat a diet rich in veggies, sweet potato and tofu and most Loma Linda residents are vegetarians. You don’t necessarily have to go vego to live a longer life: just cut down on processed foods and red meat and bump your intake of veggies, fruit, wholegrains nuts and legumes.
Melbourne café Matcha Mylkbarhave already cottoned on to the life-extending power of a plant-based diet. Their vegan menu includes five ‘longevity bowls’ based around each of the Blue Zones. They also incorporate matchagreen tea into many of their offerings, as this is another staple of the Okinawan diet.
Not only do people in the Blue Zones eat extremely healthy diets, they also practice portion control. There’s a saying in Okinawa that goes “Hara Hachi Bu,” which means you should only eat until you’re 80% full. This is because it takes time for the brain to be alerted that the stomach is full. Not only is this approach better for your waistline, it can also lead to a longer life.
Many of us sit at a desk all day, then spend 45 minutes going hell for leather in a spin class, strength session or on the treadmill. In the Blue Zones, people don’t exercise to get shredded abs, toned legs or a perky butt. Being active is a normal part of their everyday routine, whether it’s walking, gardening or preparing food. They’re rarely inactive for more than 30 minutes at a time. Rather than obsessing over appearance-based goals, focus more on moving throughout the day. One easy way to do this is to walk or ride a bike instead of using your car wherever possible (it’s better for the environment too).
Find your tribe
A strong sense of community can be seen across all five Blue Zones. In fact, it may be the reason the highly religious Loma Linda is included on the list! But connecting with other people doesn’t necessarily have to mean joining your local church group. Think about what your interests are (whether it’s yoga, cooking or interpretive dance) and look for a group of like-minded people. Not only will having a hobby challenge you and provide a sense of purpose, it’ll also give you a tribe that matches your vibe.
Drink (a little)
You’ve no doubt heard about the link between drinking red wineand having a longer life (yay!) and the Blue Zone findings back this up. In fact, of all five regions, the only one that didn’t report drinking one or two glasses each day was Linda Loma (for religious regions). While going on two-day benders is obviously not the answer to a long, healthy life, feel free to treat yourself to a moderate amount of vino each night.