I am feeling very fortunate after returning home from a fabulous spring break ski vacation with my husband and sons. We had 10 days of happiness together where we had time to reflect on our good health and love for each other (apart from the time I was going to divorce my husband for taking me down a slope I was not prepared for.) On reflection, the factor that made our trip so great was that we were outside and active each and every day. I am realizing more and more that this is something that makes us very happy both individually and as a family.
Being energetic and breathing in an abundance of fresh Alp air was not all that made us feel so alive. It was also being around people of all ages- especially those +60 - that were so active. There were seniors skiing, hiking, cycling, walking their dogs..., enjoying life to the fullest. It was so motivating to see people well into their 70s strap on a snow board and take on the Alps! The thought “I want to be like that when I’m their age” went through our heads routinely. Like many people in their forties, I have become increasingly more interested in a healthy balanced life. My goal has always been to live well into my hundredth birthday. I realize this just doesn’t happen on its own. So I have decided to do some reading on people who have achieved this ripe age. It turns out there are regions in the world where it is very common for people to live very healthy active lives well into their nineties and even past one hundred. Incredible! They are living in regions called The Blue Zones. These regions are:
1. The Island of Sardinia, Italy
2. Okinawa, Japan
3. Loma Linda, California
4. Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
5. The Island of Ikaria, Greece
What exactly are the Blue Zones? They are five areas of the world where there is a much higher proportion of centenarian (that’s right, people living to or over 100 years) versus the average population ( data from 2015 show average life expectancy in the USA to be 78.) This group includes both men and women. Not only are people living long happy lives, more importantly, they are doing it for the most part, free of medications and disabilities. Sounds perfect, no? Dan Buettner, in partnership with National Geographic, studied the people in these areas and found out the secret all comes down to a lifestyle focused on a healthy diet, daily exercise, and a happy life. This research is not new and the ideas are obvious, but sometimes a reminder helps keep me on track.
Although the zones are scattered around the globe, The Blue Zone diet is quite specific. It is a diet loaded with nutrient rich fruits and vegetables that are locally grown, fish, nuts and legumes. It is low on meat, sugar, fat, and processed foods. And when eating, the key is to eat until you are 80% full, not 100%.
People in these five regions also incorporate large amounts of exercise into their daily lives. Rather than high impact cardio or heavy weight lifting at expensive gyms the Blue Zoners undertake slow constant exercise that is continuous throughout the day. Their activity generally happens naturally because of their environment such as trekking in the mountain, walking through hills, and working the land. Their bodies are constantly in motion using their muscles, burning calories, and circulating their blood.
Their third attribute - a happy life - is much more difficult to broadly define compared to their diet and exercise. A happy lifestyle in the Blue Zones is generally attributed to low stress, strong family ties, sense of purpose, spirituality, and plenty of sleep. For example, there are no senior home facilities in the Blue zones. Elderly family members live with their younger family members and help out in many ways continuing to contribute.
I have only taken a brief look at the research of Dan Buettner’s books on the Blue Zones but it has been enough to motivate me to try for a better lifestyle. If I want to be skiing down the Alps well into my eighties, I need to take my lifestyle a priority. I’m not a fan of clubs but I can guarantee you that the centenarian club is one I want to be a member of!
Feeling like you want to know a bit more? Check out Dan Buettner on TED.