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  • Jacque Maldonado, MS, RD

The Blue Zones – Live to 100 and beyond

Updated: Dec 21, 2021

The Blue Zones are five regions throughout the world where there is a high concentration of centenarians – people who live to and beyond 100 years old. These regions include:

Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; Ikaria, Greece and Loma Linda, California.

The obvious next question: “What do these people do to live and thrive at 100?” To answer this question a National Geographic researcher Dan Buettner, met and even lived with these groups of people to find out. He also consulted with other researchers that study longevity. Good genes are always helpful but not thought to be a major player. Case in point: the grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren of these centenarians are not displaying the same excellent health because they have strayed from the traditional ways and are becoming more ‘Westernized’ with more automation (less physical activity) and more convenience foods (less traditional cooked meals).

OOPS – have I lost you? Don’t want to live to 100? Fair enough. If longevity is not your goal how about the quality of your life? Consider what the last 10-20 years of your life might look like. For many people in the US, this is a time fraught with disease, disability and dependence. If instead you hope to be independent, active and still having fun -read on!

The analysis found that all five regions shared these 9 traits that contributed to their health:

Sense of Purpose: People in the Blue Zones have reasons to keep living and a strong belief that they are needed for a variety of things: to provide wisdom to their families, to gather with close friends, to tend their gardens, to enjoy nature, and many more.

Plant strong diet: While the Seventh Day Adventist of Loma Linda were vegan the other groups ate meat on average five times a month and in small portions (size of a deck of cards). Most of their diet was from whole (unprocessed) plant foods: beans (cornerstone food), vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and fruits.

Stop eating before full: In Okinawa, Japan this is a cultural norm and it is considered impolite to overeat. Other Blue Zones simply cooked, served and ate small portions so overeating was not possible. They also had no access to bulk foods, super-sized meals or Big Gulp beverages. Also, their meals got smaller as the day progressed and they stopped eating by late afternoon – early evening.

Move naturally: One centenarian interviewed was still working as a shepherd where he walked on average 7 miles a day. In Okinawa, while serving tea and snacks to her guests a centenarian was observed getting up from a seated position on the floor (no chairs but traditional tatami mats) multiple times in just one hour of the time they spent with her.

Right tribe: This is having a group of people (friends and also family) that act as a safety net but also have the ‘right’ environment that supports the ‘right’ behaviors. Key point: if you want to be a runner hang out with runners. If you want to quit smoking – hang out with non-smokers.

Down Shift: Each Blue Zone had a unique way to slow down and manage stress. In some cases, this was done by gathering with others and in other cases it was done alone in quiet reflection, prayer or even a restful nap.

Believe – Belonging to a faith-based community was seen in all five Blue Zones. Many centenarians pray or meditate on a daily basis.

Wine: All regions of the Blue Zone (except the Adventists) drank 1-2 small glasses of red wine most days of the week. Pictures of this ‘Centenarian Happy Hour’ show huge toothless smiles as they make a toast and enjoy their wine and time together.

Family first: Family is a top priority in the Blue Zones and multiple generations often live together. The elderly are revered in these cultures and families spend a great deal of meaningful time together.

To learn more see:

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