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Blue Zones

29 July 2020

by Dr Monique Hope-Ross

There are a number of places in the world where people live to a ripe old age, these are called Blue Zones. In Blue Zones, there are the highest number of people reaching 100 years and older, the Blue Zone in Sardinian has 10 times more centenarians per capita than the U.S. What is important to note though is that these people are well, for example, Ikarians who live on the Greek Island of Ikaria are almost entirely free of dementia and other long-term diseases.

People in Blue Zones are amazing examples of people who demonstrate wellness, they have long lifespans, long health spans and very short disease spans. They live a good long healthy life and the end of their lives is not spent living with poor health. Longevity is partly genetic, but only a small part in determining longevity (approx. 25% 3 ). environmental influences, i.e. diet and lifestyle play a big role 2.

As part of Dan Buettner’s study with National Geographic, a team of scientists was assembled to look at the lifestyle features of people living in the blue zones, they discovered there were several commonalities between lifestyles in the five separate zones. lifestyle habits were identified, many of which we could adopt in our own lives 1.

Those in Blue Zones live in very social communities where there is a strong sense of family. There is commitment to a life partner, and they invest time in their children. Elderly members of the community live with or very close to their families and spend time with younger people as well as frequently visiting neighbours. People feel needed, valued and they want to contribute.

Blue Zone diets are rich in vegetables and plant foods – beans and lentils are the cornerstone of diets with nuts, fish, legumes and whole grains also consumed regularly. Meat is eaten in small amounts only approx. once per week usually as a celebration. Periodic fasting and calorie restriction is common in blue zones, sometimes driven by religious beliefs or social customs. Stopping eating when feeling 80% full so as to enable satiety hormones to reach satiety centres so one does not overeat. Alcohol is consumed in moderate amounts – moderate means one or two glasses a day.

In Blue Zones, exercise is a way of life, it is part of their day, but this doesn’t mean going to the gym, moving is part of their lives. Those in blue zones tend to have gardens, grow their own food and tend their gardens by hand. We can learn a lot about by looking at the Blue Zone communities. Using the principles learnt, Blue Zones projects are under way, to help people live longer and better lives. Fort Worth in Texas, Spencer in Iowa and Beach Cities in California are three places which have reaped the benefits of implementing these changes. Lifespans have been lengthened, annual health care costs have reduced, and big health gains seen.

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