What is the concept of the blue zones?
The Blue Zones are specific areas of the world where people live the longest. They have an unusually high number of people who live to be 100 or older (centenarians). While the Blue Zones are different geographically and culturally, there are some similarities between them too.
Where are the five Blue Zones?
There are five key longevity hot spots around the world. They have been studied a lot, to try and understand the secrets behind such long-life spans. They are:
- Ikaria, Greece
- Okinawa, Japan
- Sardinia, Italy
- Loma Linda, USA
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Here, the lifespans are much higher than average. For example, in Loma Linda, people often live around 10 years longer than the rest of America.
Similarly, in a peninsula region of Costa Rica, the locals are two times more likely to reach the age of 90 than people living in Northern America.
As well as living longer, people in the Blue Zones also tend to have a better health span (number of healthy years) too. They usually have lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and dementia than the rest of the world.
What is the Blue Zones diet?
People eat differently in each Blue Zone, but there are some similarities to their eating patterns. In general, they usually eat:
- lots of fresh, locally grown vegetables and fruits
- plenty of fish
- few ultra processed foods
- lots of beans, pulses, nuts, and seeds
- antioxidant rich foods such as green tea, purple sweet potatoes, and wild herbs
What is the Blue Zones lifestyle?
While the Blue Zones diet may be linked to the long-life spans, there are many other factors that are just as important. Some of these are listed below.
We all know that exercise is important for our health. But this doesn’t have to involve long gym sessions. People living in the Blue Zones usually live naturally active lives. Many had active jobs, as farmers or shepherds, and choose active hobbies such as Tai Chi or gardening.
Lots of people living in the Blue Zones frequently walk up and down the hilly streets in their villages to see friends. Many also still tend gardens into their 80’s and 90’s, which provides them with gentle daily exercise.
Some people in the Blue Zones also sit on the floor to eat. This means they are doing resistance exercise every time they stand up. All these gentle and varied movement means people are sitting down less, and are more flexible and mobile as they age.
Having a purpose
Many of us might look forward to retirement, but for people living in the Blue Zones, life doesn’t stop when work ends. Having a purpose can give you a reason to get up in the morning. It can also help to keep you socially, physically, and mentally engaged in the world around you.
Everybody’s purpose is different but common themes in the Blue Zones include:
- looking after grandchildren
- gardening/growing vegetables
- socialising in the community
- cooking fresh food
How can I live a blue zones lifestyle?
It might feel hard to have a Blue Zones lifestyle in the UK. We tend to have poorer weather and may live in more urban environments. But there are some lessons from the Blue Zones that we can bring into our own lives.
Eat a wide variety of plant based foods
Most of the Blue Zone’s aren’t exclusively plant based (vegan), but they do include a wide range of plant-based foods in their daily diets. This means they eat a lot of fibre, as well as a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants too. This can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases.
Find a hobby that you enjoy
Having a hobby can have multiple benefits. It might:
- connect you with other people
- lead you to become more active
- engage different parts of your brain
Many activities can also bring you into the present moment, helping you to forget your worries. If you have interests you enjoy, it can also give you a sense of purpose outside of your job. This is something that many of the Blue Zones believe are important for good health and wellbeing.
Make time for socialising
It can be easy to get distracted with our busy lives and forget to make time to socialise. But studies show that being part of a supportive community can have great benefits. For example, being social in older age can help to reduce your risk of dementia.
Avoiding loneliness can also be as important for your health as stopping smoking. Try to join local groups that create opportunities for social contact, such as a running group, or a choir, and make time to connect with others.
Make movement part of your daily life if you can. Everyday things such as taking the stairs, playing with the dog, or gardening all help you to meet your goal of 150 minutes of weekly movement.
And try to work in some resistance exercise too. This will help you to maintain muscle strength. This can include standing up from a chair without using your arms or carrying shopping bags home from the shops.
You can also try movement snacking. This is when you do short periods of movement during the day. You might try squatting while you wait for the kettle to boil or standing on one leg while you brush your teeth.
Even if we don’t live in a Blue Zone, we can learn a lot from the people who do. By living an active, social, and purpose filled life, we can increase our chance of having a long and healthy life.