- Written by Nancy J. Schaaf, RN Nancy J. Schaaf, RN
As we age, health becomes more significant. Because of improvements in medicine and health, we live longer lives now. Aging well in body and mind is essential for experiencing a rich quality of life.
September is Healthy Aging Month, which focuses national attention on the positive aspects of growing older and encourages people to emphasize their health and take precautions to face the challenges that come with aging.
If our goal is to live a long and healthy life, we might want to try the lifestyle of the people who live in the Blue Zones. These zones are known for their high proportions of people who live to age 100 and beyond, generally avoiding health issues like diabetes and heart disease that afflict many Americans.
Today, the five Blue Zones are located around the globe, including Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California.
National Geographic explorer Dan Buettner worked with a team to uncover the reasons for the Blue Zones’ longevity phenomena and identify the lifestyle habits the people of these regions all shared, despite differences in nationality and ethnicity.
Here are six things we can do to emulate them:
1. Keep moving. People in Blue Zones worldwide don’t set out to exercise; their everyday routines naturally involve moving about.
They often walk, whether headed to the market or a neighbor’s home. They cultivate gardens, which consists of bending and moving.
Research shows that regular walking can help older adults live longer, even if they don’t walk enough to meet recommended guidelines. We should find ways to move naturally, such as walking or biking to the store or taking the stairs rather than riding in the elevator.
2. Don’t let stress become a problem. It is well established that chronic stress leads to inflammation and health problems, so it is not surprising that the Blue Zone communities have effective ways of dealing with stress. They know how to keep stress from reaching toxic levels.
Discover stress-relief techniques like walking outdoors and practicing meditation, Pilates, or yoga. Other stress relievers include keeping a gratitude journal, socializing with friends, or indulging in a hobby like reading or puzzling.
3. Focus on family. Blue Zone living involves spending time with family members of multiple generations. According to studies, people who maintain strong family relationships live longer and experience fewer health issues.
Regular visits or phone calls with loved ones can strengthen the bonds. Select activities that all can enjoy, like picnics. Devotion to family enables older relatives to remain with their children.
4. Take spirituality seriously. A total of 98% of Blue Zone centenarians interviewed by Buettner’s team adhered to some religious faith. Researchers cannot be sure of the reason, but people who attend religious services at least once a week tend to have a lower mortality rate.
5. Nurture community connections. Social connectedness is a vital part of all Blue Zone societies. Maintaining such connections can enhance our long-term health as research shows that older adults who support socially active lives have significantly lower disability and cognitive decline rates.
6. Strive for clean, moderate eating and drinking. People in each Blue Zone focus on plant-based foods, which many grow in their own gardens. Beans feature prominently in most centenarians’ diets, as do fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts, and whole grains. Meat is consumed only a few times a month and in small amounts.
Blue Zone recipes focus on locally grown foods free from preservatives and artificial sweeteners. They rely on whole foods full of nutrients and fiber and refrain from processed foods.
People enjoy moderate amounts of red wine regularly in four of five world Blue Zones (Loma Linda being the exception). “Moderate” means one to three glasses daily, usually as part of a meal.
There’s an essential difference between being full and just not being hungry. Most centenarians are careful not to overeat. Paying attention to your body’s signals is critical; remember it takes about 20 minutes for our stomach to tell our brain that it is full. So be mindful of how much you’re taking in.
The Blue Zones offer the rest of the world insights into healthy living. While there are no guarantees that incorporating these habits will get us to age 100, doing so could yield powerful benefits.
Research has shown that genetics account for only about 25% of life expectancy, which means we can enormously impact the length and quality of our lives through the choices we make every day.
Fortunately, research also finds it is never too late to make changes that can help us live a longer and healthier life.