Longevity Lessons From The Bluezone Countries

Several geographical regions worldwide are known as Blue Zones because the residents have higher life expectancies than anywhere else. Blue Zone communities include the islands of Ikaria and Sardina; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Okinawa, Japan.

While some genetic factors may be to thank for their enviable longevity, it’s been said that chronic disease rates are so low in these regions due to lifelong healthier lifestyle choices. Though the Blue Zone areas have vast cultural differences, what they do have in common is that each eats a healthy balanced diet. Diets in these regions usually include fewer processed foods and are plant-based. Yet still, the longevity of those who live in Blue Zone nations is due to more than simply diet.

Those who reside in these regions also remain physically active a long way into their elderly years but still make sure to set aside time for rest each day. Also very important, each community emphasizes social connections, especially between close friends and family members, which helps cultivate feelings of acceptance.

Clearly, everyone can learn something from Blue Zone communities on how to live happier, healthier lives.

Blue Zone Nation Diets

As we mentioned, every Blue Zone community consumes mainly a plant-based diet, which includes only small amounts of dairy products, fish, and meat. This is helpful because plant-based diets have been shown to help lower the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type-2 diabetes.

Blue Zone Nations eat a diet that’s low in saturated fat, high in fiber, and provides an array of phytonutrients. Ikaria and Sardinia both follow a classic Mediterranean diet that has been studied closely for health benefits.

Overview of a Mediterranean Diet

These are the main components that comprise a traditional Mediterranean diet:
Colorful vegetables and fruits
Seeds, nuts, and whole grains
Plant-based protein from pulses, legumes, etc
Small amounts of fish and meat
Moderate red wine consumption
Extra virgin olive oil

An abundance of vegetables and fruits are rich in minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants like polyphenols and beta-carotene. Antioxidants are essential to protect your cells from oxidative stress, which causes damage and becomes more common as we age. Consuming a varied diet is crucial because nutrients that come from many different sources work together for a more significant effect on preventing inflammation. When the risk of inflammation is lowered, so is the risk of developing severe chronic diseases.

Additionally, Blue Zone areas maintain diets that are high in fiber that comes from legumes, nuts, whole grains, seeds, vegetables, and fruit. This is crucial for the gut microbiota, the collection of microorganisms living in the large intestine, as it provides many health benefits. These microorganisms work to digest fiber that the body can’t break down on its own. Hence, this is their primary food source which allows them to thrive. Moreover, when they break down the additional fiber, they release short-chain fatty acids, which are proven to decrease inflammation in the body.

Blue Zone diets are also high in polyphenols which are important plant chemicals renowned for their health benefits. Good polyphenol sources include apples, berries, black grapes, coffee, cocoa, red wine, and turmeric. Ikara and Sardinia are known for their frequent use of extra virgin olive oil, which is an excellent source of phenolic compounds. These compounds are considered the most powerful antioxidants, providing protection from cardiovascular disease.

Physical Activity

Blue Zone residents incorporate physical activity into their daily lives, and their happiness and longevity have been somewhat been attributed to this fact. For instance, shepherds in Sardinia walk up to five miles per day, even when they are 80 years old.

The importance of physical activity for a healthy life is something that has been studied widely. It’s been found that remaining physically active provides protection from high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and some mental health diseases.

Aside from aerobic exercise, strength training is also great to consider. These exercises not only maintain overall muscle mass but also help strengthen bones and protect against osteoporosis. It’s vital to note that physical movement in Blue Zone Nations is based on natural activities such as household chores, walking, and gardening rather than organized exercise.

This is a stark difference compared to how most people live. Hence, it’s vital to incorporate movement throughout the day, which can be accomplished by taking a short walk or stretching. Thus, any form of activity is helpful, so be sure to choose things you enjoy. Some great considerations include yoga, running, walking, HIIT classes, or planting vegetables in the garden. Not only will consistent daily movement contribute to your health, but also your happiness.

A Sense of Community

Blue Zone Nations have created a strong sense of coming together and acceptance, thus aiding their longevity. Great importance is placed on social connections, primarily those between family members and close friends. For example, in Okinawa, Japan, they create a “moai,” a collection of five friends who support each other throughout life.

The truth is that when most people think about improving their health, their first focus is exercise and diet, often forgetting about the importance of social connections. Sadly, many studies have shown that social isolation can be just as detrimental to your health as smoking and far exceeds that of physical inactivity and obesity. Thus, spending time with friends and loved ones can boost your physical health and mood.

Closing Thoughts

For those residing in Blue Zones, healthy lifestyles have long been part of their communities and culture and are a large contributor to their infamous longevity. As you can see, there’s much to learn from these regions. Perhaps the most important thing is that not just one aspect guarantees good mental and physical health. It requires a well-rounded approach. While exercise and a balanced diet are vital, equally so is cultivating a sense of community, which is often overlooked in today’s fast-paced world. However, spending quality time with those we care about will make us happy at that moment and help promote good health in the future.

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