As we move in to a new year, many of us like to take time to reflect on our health and the direction of our lives. Often this results in short term goals, but what if we looked a little farther into the future this year? No matter what the direction we are going we certainly want our lives to be longer, right? This year, instead of vowing to lose weight or stick to an unsustainable exercise plan, let’s focus on building a lifestyle that promotes health and vitality both now and for years to come.
So what’s the secret to cultivating longevity and vitality into old age? According to author and researcher, Dan Buettner, we have a lot to learn about that from five communities in Europe, the US, Central America and Asia that boast being home to the healthiest, longest living people in the world. The regions where these communities live have been named Blue Zones and, while culturally very different from one another, reflect many similarities in diet and lifestyle that may be worth replicating for the sake of our own long-term health.
The five regions include: Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California and the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. Each of these communities have remained somewhat isolated from the modern world because of geography or choice, and depend on traditional lifestyles that naturally incorporate physical activity, strong social connections and relaxation into their daily routines. These healthy behaviors are coupled with a minimally processed, whole foods diet – each unique to the local crops and products that are native to each region.
While the diet and lifestyles of each region are different, here are some of the main themes that can be seen throughout all of them:
- Eat mostly plants – that means veggies, beans, a little fruit and some whole grains (not flour)
- Very little added sugar – they use fruit as their sweet treat.
- Consume less meat than the typical American diet – Blue Zone communities eat smaller portions of meat only a few times per month. Instead, they tend to eat alternative sources of protein such as fresh fish and beans for protein.
- Rely on local, whole foods and homemade meals.
- Make the last meal of the day the smallest meal of the day and early.
- Moderate, if any, alcohol consumption (1-2 glasses of wine per day) can be beneficial (but not necessary!) Remember, women detoxify alcohol more slowly than men so that means less for women.
- Walking a lot! What is a lot? 10,000 – 20,000 steps daily
- Spend time interacting with friends and family
You don’t have to change your lifestyle completely to start incorporating some of these patterns into your own routine. Maybe choose one bullet point to start – like increasing your plant-based food consumption – and see where it takes you. Once you’ve started to feel comfortable making that part of your daily choices move on to another one! And don’t forget about the non-food components of the Blue Zones lifestyle as well – remember to take time to move your body, de-stress and relax with family and friends.
Written by Flannery N., Bastyr Student Intern
- Barclay, Eliza. “Eating To Break 100: Longevity Diet Tips From The Blue Zones.” NPR, NPR, 11 Apr. 2015, www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/04/11/398325030/eating-to-break-100-longevity-diet-tips-from-the-blue-zones.
- Senthilingam, Meera. “These Cuisines Could Help You Live Longer.” CNN, Cable News Network, 30 Sept. 2016, www.cnn.com/2016/09/28/health/cuisines-that-help-you-live-longer/index.html.