March 12, 2021

Finding Your Blue Zone

What is a Blue Zone

A Blue Zone is a particular community in the world with the highest percentage of centenarians. These communities reach a healthy age of 100 at a rate 10 times greater than in the United States. Researchers have identified 5 such Blue Zones. They are well spread out across the globe but share 9 identified lifestyle commonalities that contribute to longevity. A Danish Twin study showed that their genes dictate only about 20% of how long the average person lives. Lifestyle choices and habits can determine the other 80%. I learned about this study many years ago, and it resonated with me so strongly that I started to mold my lifestyle choices around the 9 commonalities outlined below. Not only do Blue Zone inhabitants live long lives, but their lifestyle choices allow them to live those lives physically and mentally fit and full of purpose.

Move Often and with your own 2 Feet

Modern-day societies are often structured in such a way that inhibits walking or biking from place to place. We use mechanical transport to take us everywhere. Blue Zone communities are often designed to facilitate walking or biking and rely less on mechanical conveniences for house and yard work. In essence, these communities live life in perpetual motion. They don’t need to go to the gym an hour a day to ward off a sedentary lifestyle like the rest of us.

Have a Purpose to get up in the Morning

Having a passion and being excited about the upcoming days’ events is worth up to 7 years of extra life expectancy. Often times the American version of “retirement” is a trap. Retiring to your lounge chair is a quick way to decrease your healthy lifespan. People in modern societies have jobs, families, and responsibilities. With a fixed mindset, this can lead to a feeling of floundering, or “what is the point of life.” Find a passion in everything, my friends. Whether it be your job, family, or hobby, do the very best you can at whatever it is that you find yourself doing. Complacency and laziness, or taking the easy road, seem like a good thing at the moment. This is also a trap. It will lead to a meaningless and hopeless life. To have a purpose, you must find joy in each and every day.

Reduce Chronic Stress and Relax

Constant physical or emotional stress leads to systemic inflammation. Heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and some types of cancer are all associated in some way with chronic inflammation caused in part by poor lifestyle choices such as smoking, physical inactivity, and a poor diet. Blue Zone communities engineer stress-relieving activities into their everyday lives, such as praying, social gatherings, naps, happy hour, etc…These practices help shed the stress of daily living. Find your own stress-reducing activity like Gary’s 10/20/10, incorporate it into a daily habit and reap the rewards.

Smaller Food Portions

The Okinawans have a 2500-year-old mantra when it comes to food. It reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full. The “finish everything on your plate” mindset of our parents must go. Why force yourself to eat more than you need just because it is on your plate. One real-life hack that I have found to be immensely helpful is using a smaller plate. Instead of choosing the giant saucer plate, I grab the one that is half as big and fill it up. In that way, my portion size is naturally limited. Another hack is to eat slowly and do it with family, friends, or co-workers. This strategy gives 2 benefits. Eating is slowed and your brain has time to tell you that you are not hungry anymore. Also, you are getting the health benefits of social interaction. The bottom line, eat less to live longer.

Plant Based Whole Food Focus

Most Blue Zone inhabitants cultivate and eat from their own gardens or participate in community ones. There is very little processed food available and almost none in their daily diets. Much of their diet consists of leafy greens such as spinach, kale, beet and turnip tops, chard, and collards. Combined with seasonal fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans dominate blue zones meals all year long. Only about 5% of their diet comes from meat. When they do have meat, it is a smaller portion. Usually only weighing in at 3-4 oz or less; about the size of a deck of cards. I made a post last week that talks about eating a whole food diet. Check it out!

Moderate Alcohol Consumption

4 out of the 5 Blue Zones drink Alcohol in moderation daily. Moderate drinkers have been shown to outlive nondrinkers. This has to do with the idea that temporary, acute stress being placed upon the body promotes adaption and then becomes stronger. That’s an article for another time. Do not be confused. Drinking alone does not count. Moderate alcohol consumption with friends seems to be the key here.

Social Belonging

99% of Blue Zone Centenarians interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. The type of religion did not seem to matter. Much research has been done when it comes to life expectancy and faith. Belonging to a faith-based community seems to add 6 years on average. Those involved in this type of practice tend to engage in positive behaviors, including high social interaction and lower rates of alcohol and drug abuse. A higher emphasis is placed on families in Blue Zone communities. Keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home is common. Close social bonds are vital to Blue Zone inhabitants. Many Centenarians have friend groups that start in childhood. Find friends that add deep meaning to your life and spend time with them often.

In Summary

  • Move naturally and do it often throughout the day
  • Start each day with a purpose
  • Create daily habits to reduce chronic physical and mental stress
  • Eat smaller portions
  • Consume a whole food plant-based diet
  • Consume alcohol moderately, preferably wine
  • Close social and community bonds are paramount to a well-lived life

Buettner, Dan, and Sam Skemp. “Blue Zones.” American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, vol. 10, no. 5, 2016, pp. 318–321., doi:10.1177/1559827616637066.

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