How Seniors Can Boost Their Health from Learning about Centennials' Lifestyles in the Blue Zones
Posted by Chad Scheib on October 11, 2021
How Seniors Can Boost Their Health from Learning about Centennials’ Lifestyles in the Blue Zones
Blue Zones are specific geographic areas in the world where a significant number of people live long and healthy lives. Specifically, a high number of people live to age 100 and older while also avoiding serious health issues that plague many Americans like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
What are some of these centennial lifestyle habits? And what lessons can be learned from them?
What determines the longevity and healthy aging?
Research has helped us better understand longevity and quality of life. Genetics plays a role in about 25% of a person’s life expectancy. The remaining percent is based on your daily choices.
What are the Blue Zones?
So, you might wonder how the term “Blue Zones” came about. In 1999, researchers in Italy found a large concentration of older men (i.e., all older than 100). The researchers highlighted with a blue pen the area of the village in Sardinia where the men resided; hence, the official name “Blue Zone.”
Since then, there have been additional discoveries of “Blue Zones” around the glove: Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California, United States.
What lessons can be learned from people living such long, healthy lives in these areas?
These five pockets of people residing in the Blue Zones shared several common lifestyle characteristics.
1. Movement – Their everyday activities naturally involved movement: walking a lot to do chores and to the market, etc.; gardening in personal garden spaces; engaging in physical work (e.g., herding sheep or farming and typically without the use of modern-day machines).
Lesson Learned: Physical activity is vital. You don’t need to go to the gym, lift weights, or run long distances. Regular walking or biking, taking the stairs instead of an elevator, and moving about in your daily routines can help you to live longer and healthier.
2. Stress - The centennials living in the five zones seemed to have a way to reduce tension as this often leads to inflammation and a lot of other health-related problems. Many of these individuals took afternoon naps or made sure to get adequate night sleep, others found comfort in prayer or meditation, still, others met often with friends over wine. Despite having different ways to ease tension, the choices these individuals made in their daily lives helped keep stress from building up to a dangerous level. They prevented the stress from negatively impacting their lives.
Lesson Learned – What stress-relief method works for you? Do you enjoy swimming, golfing, or a leisurely walk? How about yoga, meditation, or listening to music? Maybe a breath of fresh air, taking care of a pet, socializing with friends/family, engaging in a passion or a hobby, or simply keeping a daily journal might be ways that help you cope with stress. Find something that you enjoy doing and add this activity to your life. Before you know, it will be an integral part of your day/week and pay long dividends in your life as well.
3. Family – Those living in these areas all spent quality time with family members. Often, aging relatives lived nearby and several generations of family gathered together on a routine basis.
Lesson Learned – Scientific studies show that those who have strong family relationships do live longer, richer lives and experience far fewer health issues. Plan phone calls, video chats, and visits to family members when possible. Enjoy time spent in mutual activities to continue to build connections and strengthen family bonds.
4. Religion or Spirituality – Almost all of those centenarians residing in the Blue Zones viewed personal faith as important in their lives. Some of these people were religious and followed a set of principles or guidelines in their lives. They may have spent time praying or reading a devotional. Or they may attend a religious service weekly. Others were spiritual and took time to build meaning in their lives and to be mindful of activities, events, and relationships that strengthened their inner core.
Lesson Learned – Research supports the correlation between a lower mortality rate and lasting health benefits with those who either attend a religious service frequently or to those who lead spiritual lives by regularly engaging in activities that inspire their “spirit.” By consciously incorporating religion or spirituality into your life, you will help to build a pattern that can foster a better quality of life for a long time.
5. Community Connections – The centenarians living in the Blue Zones acknowledged ample time spent each week socializing or engaging in community activities. Perhaps it was in their homes, at local establishments (restaurants or bars), or even when participating in shared activities, but it was evident that the availability and maintenance of their friendships and acquaintances were important. Subsequently, ongoing socializing and community engagement helped them to have lower rates of cognitive decline and physical/mental disability than their peers who didn’t socialize or participate in community activities regularly.
Lesson Learned – The Blue Zone inhabitants were a testament to the value of cultivating and nurturing friendships and acquaintances and the value of community. It showed that sustaining relationships over time and involvement with others in socializing activities do indeed help one to live a happier and healthier life.
What is the Blue Zone Diet?
First off, the Blue Zone Diet is based on eating lots of plant-based foods. Many of these foods are home-grown. This includes assorted vegetables, whole grains, nuts, herbs, and fruits. Specifically, these foods are high priorities in the diet: beans, potatoes, fennel, squash, yams or sweet potatoes, leafy greens, tomatoes, avocados, melons, bananas, papayas, almonds, brown rice, oatmeal, and whole-grain bread. If they choose to eat meat, they make sure it is lean and consume the meat infrequently and in small amounts.
No processed foods
It is a diet void of processed foods filled with preservatives and artificial sweeteners. There are no packaged foods, soft drinks, and candy bars allowed. Instead, such a diet features whole foods brimming with fiber and nutrients. If something must be sweetened or you have that “sweet tooth feeling”, then fresh honey rather than added sugar is recommended when eating fruit or whole-grain bread.
Light to moderate alcohol consumption
Alcohol is consumed but in light to moderate amounts, and usually as part of a meal, as too much alcohol is believed to lead to many health-related problems. The Blue Zone Diet suggests that wine, especially red wine, is beneficial to one’s health.
The diet cautions about overeating. Most of the centenarians admitted that they did not overeat. Some ate until they were almost full (80% full) and most were mindful that it takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to inform your brain that it’s full.
By looking at individuals who have aged well in the five Blue Zone areas across the world, we can learn something, too, about healthy aging. Whether it's daily movement, reducing stress, taking time for family members, incorporating religion or spirituality, socializing/building community, and/or eating mindfully and healthy foods… these are all significant choices that help to support a longer, healthy life for anyone living anywhere.
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