Blue Zones: Living a longer, healthier life

What the world’s healthiest places can teach us about longevity

Not all regions of the world are created equal when it comes to the health and longevity of its population. There are certain parts of the world where people live longer than anywhere else. They are known as blue zones.

The blue zones concept comes from work first done by researchers Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain, who discovered that Sardinia, Italy’s Nuoro province, had the highest concentration of male centenarians — those who live to be 100 or older. Author and educator Dan Buetter took the ball and ran with it from there, identifying other areas besides Sardinia where people were living longer than elsewhere: Icaria, Greece; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Okinawa, Japan. The Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, Calif., have also been included in the blue zone phenomenon.

Certain common characteristics have been found in these regions, and understanding them and acting upon that knowledge can help us to create a healthier, longer life for ourselves no matter where we live.

Diet, lifestyle choices

Unsurprisingly, what you put into your body has a big impact on how healthy you are and how long you live. Those living in blue zones tend to have mostly vegetarian diets. Meat is not eaten frequently, and when it is, it is most often lean meat and fish, not red meat which is less healthy. Legumes and beans are also frequent menu items.

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Moderate caloric intake is also recommended, as is moderate alcohol intake. Not overdoing it when it comes to high calorie foods and alcoholic beverages is key.

Staying away from cigarettes and hard drugs will also go a long way in keeping you healthier longer. So too will maintaining an active lifestyle. Individuals from blue zones tend to practice regular physical activity, which is a part of their everyday life. Try to exercise regularly, especially if your work requires you to be sedentary for hours at a time. You might also try to get up and walk around while at work every couple of hours to break up the time you spend sitting still.

bluezone_vendiagram

Characteristics of those who live in Blue Zones are shown in this illustration from three of the global locations. Illustration created by Quest Network Wikipedia. Public Domain.

Community

Those living in blue zones also tend to have more supportive communities in which they live and work, including stronger familial bonds. Family is put ahead of other concerns, such as status and money.

This can be a sticking point for some in the LGBT community, who may experience a higher rate of rejection from family and associates than the general population. In these instances, it is important to find a chosen family of friends and supporters.

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“Being able to have and find people who are pro you, no matter what community you are in, is super important,” says Dr. Pearl Wong, of New Leaf Counseling Group, LLC, in Charlotte, N.C. Wong’s clientele includes many in the LGBT community.

The more we feel connected, the greater our chances of increased mental health, which should lead to healthier lifestyle choices. It also helps ensure health by providing individuals with a network they can turn to when they are sick or dealing with a prolonged illness.

Purpose

Lastly, finding one’s purpose in life is essential. Without purpose, not only is it harder to find a reason to go on, but it makes living a long time all but pointless.

“Everyone is born with intuitive abilities,” says life coach and motivational speaker Jonathan Winn. “Some of us are born better at it than others. Just like singing, where there are some natural born talents, all of us can learn to sing. All of us can learn to listen to our own inner guidance. This is spirit communicating through us and all we have to do is listen.”

A life lived out of purpose, as opposed to fear, insecurity or mere instinct, creates better mental health and can result in an increase in energy and productivity.

Conclusion

While we cannot all live in blue zones, we can begin to bring the blue zone mentality and lifestyle into our own lives. Keeping these main concepts in mind while shaping one’s life may not result in a longer life — individual results may vary, as they say — but it will certainly increase your chances and will at the very least make the time you do spend on this planet, whatever city you call home, healthier and more meaningful.

 

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Posted by Jeff Taylor

Jeff Taylor is a journalist and artist. In addition to QNotes, his work has appeared in publications such The Charlotte Observer, Creative Loafing Charlotte, Inside Lacrosse, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. He graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport and has lived in Charlotte since 2006.