Secrets of Longevity from The Blue Zones

Blue Zones - Mindful Living with Bernadette

Secrets from The Blue Zones

Have you read “The Blue Zones” by Dan Buettener?  If you are interested in living as long, and more importantly, as vitally as possible, this book provides many great tips.  In the book Buettener shares “9 Lessons for Living Longer” from the longest lived communities around the world.

Where are the Blue Zones?

Blue Zones can be classified as regions where they have the largest population of centinarians (people who live to 100). When the book was written (first published in 2008), Buettener and his team of researchers identified and visited 5 Blue Zones:

  1. Sardinia – Mountains
  2. Japan – The Island of Okinawa
  3. America – 7th Day Adventists
  4. Costa Rica
  5. Greece – The Island of Ikaria

I would like to share in this post my take on the “secrets” or practical lessons learned from the centinarians living in the Blue Zones.  While they were spread across the globe, there were many common factors that contributed to a long and vital life.  I’ll summarise these looking at lifestyle, values, diet as well as the changes I will be making having read this wonderful book.

How do the secrets from the Blue Zones relate to Mindful Living?  Mindful Living is all about making conscious choices in any given moment.  If we set goals and intentions for the life we want to live, and if we can be aware of and stay connected to our values, we are more likely to live a happy, healthy and balanced life.  But these things need our attention, we need to have our goals, intentions and values top of mind so we can make daily choices aligned with them.

So, as you read through this post sharing the secrets from the Blue Zones, see what resonates with you.  What elements could you introduce in to your life?  And more importantly how will you remind yourself and create new habits for Blue Zones living?

Blue Zones: Lifestyle

There were many common lifestyle factors amongst the centinarians in The Blue Zones, despite living in different cultures and landscapes.  As you read them, think about how true these are for you and perhaps how you might explore and introduce some of these aspects in your own life.

  • Strong sense of purpose – linked to their family or community (ikigai, plan de vida)
  • Strong spiritual belief or faith – believe everything will work out – and if not “it was meant to be” – “external locus of control”
  • Positive outlook and fun to be around
  • Work hard / strong work ethic
  • Strong family connection – live for their family and most live with family
  • Rituals or beliefs that relieved stress or had no stress. Do not worry. “Don’t keep stress”. Relinquish worries to a higher power
  • Lived in relative poverty
  • Had a really hard upbringing (wars, poverty, working hard)
  • Daily movement – part of lifestyle – “modest but regular movement”
  • Socialising with family and friends a daily ritual
  • Sense of community
  • Feeling loved and sense of belonging and feeling needed
  • 8 hours sleep

Blue Zone: Values

Living in alignment with our values can contribute to happiness, fullfilment and sense of purpose in our lives.  It can be useful to take time to reflect on our values, and check in from time to time to ensure the way we live our lives are aligned with our values.  The values shared by the longest lived communities included:

  • Traditional social values
  • Respect for elders
  • Importance of the family clan
  • Strong sense of service to others or care for their family
  • Strong sense of duty

Blue Zone: Diet

Despite living in very different cultures with different local foods, there were still similarities with the diets across the Blue Zones and what they ate:

  • They grow their own food
  • Eat lots of seasonal vegetables and fruit (local and seasonal – normally grown in their garden)
  • Prepare meals from scratch / no processed foods / simple meals
  • Beans and pulses featured in all diets
  • Plant based or vegetarian most of the time, or very rarely ate meat (festivals etc)
  • Ate/drank herbs from garden
  • Some drink locally produced wine, high in antioxidants
  • Don’t overeat (eat to 80% full) and most eat a lighter meal in the evening
  • Plenty of Vitamin D (from sunshine)

7th Day Adventist Diet Research

7th Day Adventists, one of the Blue Zone groups, have a very clean and healthy diet.  There is lots of evidence based research in the book on how this diet benefits longevity, including:

  • Eating nuts 5 times a week gives you 2 years extra of life and reduces risk of heart disease by half – lower bad cholesterol (this is just a small handful of nuts)
  • Vegan/vegetarian diet gives you an extra 2 years of life
  • People living in hard water areas are 25% less likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those living in soft water areas (due to calcium in the water)
  • Women who consumed tomatoes at least three or four times a week reduced their chances of ovarian cancer by 70%. Also reduces prostate cancer in men
  • Adventists who ate more legumes, peas and beans had 30-40% reduction in colon cancer
  • 5-6 glasses of water a day had a substantial reduction in the risk of a fatal heart attack – 60-70% less

As you look at the above list, is there anything you are already doing?  Or anything you might like to introduce to your diet?

What changes will I make after reading The Blue Zones?

One can’t read a book like this and not be inspired to make changes in one’s life to support health, vitality, happiness and longevity.  Here is a summary of the important actions I want to take from the book:

  • Make more time and save more energy for family and friends
  • Create a regular time to get together with friends to offload stress
  • Cultivate a genuine belief that everything will work out for the best (won’t stretch to a belief in God, but perhaps the “Universe”) and that challenges are meant to be
  • Eat at least 3 portions of fruit a day
  • Increase my water intake
  • Start gardening with my father-in-law and grow a herb garden
  • Be nice to my 5 nieces & nephew as I will probably be dependent on them if I want to make it to 100 (I don’t have children of my own)
  • Continue to eat a largely plant based diet
  • Continue with daily walks with the dog
  • Continue to liberally use herbs in cooking and drink herbal teas

I hope this summary provides some inspiration on the ingredients for a healthy, happy and meaningful life.  I highly recommend you give the book a read.  I also recommend The Blue Zone series on Netflix which gives a more recent update on the secrets of Blue Zone living, as well as highlighting the amazing work that Dan Beuttner continues to do to promote Blue Zone living across America.

Blue Zones Living – Walking the Dog Daily

Bernadette Keogh Beach

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