10 Health Lessons We Can Learn from the Blue Zones

the blue zones

Often the stream of health and dietary information is confusing and contradictory. There are numerous diet types (keto, paleo, vegan, vegetarian, Whole30, Atkins, etc.), and numerous influencers and brands touting false marketing claims. All of this made me wonder … what really prevents chronic disease, and where’s the proof? In order to satisfy my curiosity, I read about Dan Buettner’s discovery of the Blue Zones. Why? Because residents of the Blue Zones are the world’s healthiest people. 

Where are the Blue Zones?

According to Dan Buettner, author of “The Blue Zones Solution,” five areas in the world have the highest concentration of 100-year-olds. Residents in these areas also have amazingly low rates of chronic disease: heart, cancer, diabetes, and dementia. 

Ikaria, Greece

“located eight miles off the coast of Turkey, Ikaria has one of the world’s lowest rates of middle-age mortality and the lowest rates of dementia.”

Okinawa, Japan

 “home to the world’s longest-lived women.”

Ogliastra Region, Sardinia

“an Italian island that boasts the world’s highest concentration of centenarian men.”

Loma Linda, California

“community with the highest concentration of Seventh-day Adventists in the United States, where some residents live ten more healthy years than the average American.” 

Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

“residents have the world’s lowest rates of middle-age mortality and the second highest concentration of male centenarians.”

Diet and Lifestyle Lessons from the Blue Zones

Since the Blue Zones are dispersed around the world, geography is not the common denominator. Let’s tease out the combination of lifestyle factors that DO make these geographically disparate communities a helpful learning tool for healthy living and chronic disease prevention.

1) Diet

Refreshingly, there isn’t any diet dogma in the Blue Zones. Residents don’t obsess about diet types. They eat fresh foods, locally sourced and grown. The soil is organic, full of minerals, and devoid of chemicals or GMOs.

Meals are heavily plant-based, and include plenty of freshly harvested, seasonal fruits and vegetables, whole grains, whole soybeans, nuts of all kinds, legumes, and cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil.

Some communities drink sheep’s milk, real soy milk, or goat’s milk. Adventist’s drink cow’s milk.

Feta and pecorino are two cheeses of choice. 

All five Blue Zones eat pasture-raised eggs, an average of two to four times per week. 

Limited quantities of beef, poultry, and pork are consumed. Importantly, these sources of protein are from animals that graze on the land, and not from industrialized factory farms. (Adventist communities do not eat any type of meat)

Fish is consumed, sometimes daily.

Meals are home-cooked with love and care. They are not gourmet meals, but rather meals made with fresh ingredients and spices. 

Breakfast and lunch are the largest meals. Dinner is the smallest.

Sourdough bread made with a live culture starter, versus yeast, is one popular bread in Sardinia and Ikaria, Greece. Other popular breads are made with whole-grain flour or sprouted grains.

Processed foods, salty foods, and foods with added sugar or refined carbohydrates are rarely consumed.

2) Portion Size

When meat is consumed, the serving size is small, just two ounces. Frequency is limited to a handful of times per month. 

Portions of fish are a bit larger – three ounces.

3) Drink

Hydration is important. Water consumption occurs throughout the day, along with coffee in the morning, and tea (green and herbal) anytime afterward.

Moderate amounts of red wine are consumed. Wine is served at meals, and family or friends gather around. The exception to the above is the Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda, CA who prohibit alcohol and coffee.

4) Sleep 

The average amount of sleep is 7.5 hours per night

5) Natural Movement/Exercise

All forms of exercise – walking, biking, hiking, gardening, cooking – are integrated into lifestyle. Buying a gym membership is not necessary. 

6) Tobacco

Smoking is not a common behavior.

7) Community Bonds

Being part of a healthy network of friends and family that lend support is critical. Being isolated and lonely takes years off one’s life.

8) Life Purpose 

Having a profound sense of purpose throughout life, but especially after retirement, gives blue zone residents a reason to get up in the morning.

9) Reversing Stress 

Recognizing that chronic stress is detrimental to health means that there’s a concerted effort to downshift daily to reduce stress. This downshift can be a short nap, a quiet nature walk, listening to music, or gardening – anything to lose that overarching sense of stress. 

10) Faith 

There appears to be a strong connection between religion and longevity. It doesn’t matter what the religion is, but being active in a faith-based community provides belonging and a built-in social network.

Final Thoughts  

After researching the Blue Zones, I thought of my Italian grandfather. Following his emigration to America, Grandpa used his organic farming knowledge to grow fresh fruit, plant vegetables, and raise a few goats for milk and cheese. His land produced fresh, seasonal plant-based foods. Exercise meant working the land, and walking to the corner store for supplies. 

Times were hard, but free from today’s professional work that binds us to a computer and office chair for endless hours of work and stress.

Improving our health and longevity may mean turning the clock back to low-tech tactics to be successful. Here are some ideas:

  • Care for our land because the health of our soil is directly related to our health. 
  • Make the time to move often, exercise daily, and cook more.
  • Connect with friends and family, because strong human connection is like an elixir.
  • Ignore all the “noise” about different diets, and the hype about superfoods. There’s a lot to be said for simplicity and minimalism. For example, the average grocery store today carries almost 40,00 items. 40,000! Do we really need all that choice, especially since the bulk of packaged food products are unhealthful anyway?
  • Invest in our health by eating seasonal, fresh, minimally processed foods.
  • De-stress and get restorative sleep.

Interestingly, the Lady Moxy Brain Booster Plan dovetails nicely with the principles in the Blue Zones. Make a small investment in this 6-week plan, and you’ll receive the benefit of optimizing your health and quality of life for years to come.

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