Oct 7, 2011

The Blue Zones and The Secret of Longevity

        Dan Buettner is the team leader of  "The Blue Zones" which is a longevity research project funded by National Geographic. They are studying human longevity in various cultures around the world. In his book "The Blue Zones", Dan Buettner outlines the healthy habits, the longevity diets and the cultural and familial values that each longevity society upholds.
The name for the project was coined after Dan's team happened to be using a blue marker to circle areas with high rates of human longevity on a map. A blue zone is specifically a geographical region somewhere in the world that has exceptionally high rates of longevity. For example, Okinawan longevity is the best in the world, per capita. One in 2,000 Okinawans can expect to make it past 100, whereas the average American has a 1 in 100,000 chance (according to statistics from 1990).

Certain lifestyle habits were found to be common practices in each blue zone longevity society:
  • Emphasis on strong family values
  • Strong community values
  • Exclusively plant based diets (little to no animal products)
  • Whole food lifestyles focused on fruits and veggies
  • Antioxidants and anti-aging herbs are plentiful
  • Daily benefits of physical exercise
  • Everyone knows how to deal with stress
  • All the elders and centenarians still work
  • Daily consumption of small amounts of alcohol
  • A sense of purpose in life (Ikigai is the Japanese word for this)
  • Spirituality is part of life in all of the blue zones
  • A complete absence of smoking and obesity
  • veryone knows the benefits of a positive attitude

Blue Zone Diet Basics

Buettner defines a Blue Zone as an area where there is an unusually high number of people living until the age of a hundred or more. In addition, not only are they living a long time but they are also remaining vibrant and happy while they age.
Four regions of the world are identified and the elements that may contribute to the remarkable occurrence of longevity in these areas are examined.

The Italian Island of Sardinia

  • In one village of 2500 people there were seven centenarians; a very high number considering that the ratio in the US is one per 5000.
  • Sardinians eat a Mediterranean style diet with whole grains, fava beans, vegetables, fruits, sheep and goat milk products and red wine. Meat is reserved for Sundays and special occasions.

Okinawa in Japan

  • Is now well known as one of the areas in the world where people live long and healthy lives.
  • The Okinawan diet includes brown rice, soy products such as miso and tofu, vegetables, sweet potatoes and fish. Pork is consumed only for very infrequent ceremonial occasions and is taken in small amounts.
  • An important aspect of the Okinawan approach to diet is to eat until only 80% full, which results in a moderate restriction of calorie intake, one of the factors associated with longevity.

Loma Linda in California

  • Here there is a population of Seventh Day Adventists and a well-known health study has documented that Adventists live longer than the rest of the population and their vegetarian diet is thought to be the most likely cause of this.
  • Specific dietary factors that may be involved in their outstanding health include a high intake of fruit and vegetables, oatmeal, nuts and water.

A Region in Costa Rica

  • This is where the world’s healthiest and longest-lived people were found.
  • Their diet includes orange, mango, papaya, corn, beans, rice, squash and eggs. The water in this region is also particularly high in minerals such as calcium and magnesium.
Common to all of the Blue Zones was a strong emphasis on family and community. Social support is one factor that may be involved in the low level of stress that is reported by the centenarians.
The longest living people in these communities have worked in physical labor their entire lives and most of them are still active. They have a strong sense of purpose as well as defined spiritual beliefs and practices.


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