Blue zone longevity is well-researched in five areas of the world. Could you create a similar environment where you live? Then you could expect to continue to a ripe old age with all your marbles and joints intact.
Blue zone people are gardeners and most of their food comes from plants; in particular legumes, dark-green leafy vegetables and whole grains. They get plenty of moderate exercise.
Close local family ties and, in general, a connectedness to the community are important to these folk.
This page was updated on 3rd June, 2020 in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and its influence on blue zone longevity.
A group of researchers have identified five areas in the world that they named blue zones, where folk regularly live to a strong and vibrant one-hundred years old. What do these people have in common, and how could you create that environment in your community?
In most of
the world, roughly one person in 10,000 lives to a hundred years old;
but in the blue zones ten times as many centenarians are to be found.
Interestingly, gardening is one of the features that typifies these folk in places like Sardinia and Okinawa.
Gardeners they found have regular, moderate physical activity; much of their food comes from the plants they grow and they eat plenty of legumes, and in all five areas they enjoy broad beans frequently.
My understanding is that it is green beans and peas they enjoy, rather than those that have been dried; fresh favas harvested straight from your garden whilst they are still young, are quite different to those that have matured and dried out.
Dried beans have much higher levels of lectins than those picked and enjoyed whilst still tender and green.
The plant-based diet that blue zone people enjoy, which is low in refined carbohydrates, the researchers found has only a moderate caloric intake. The folk eat whole grains, not the bread from the supermarket, white rice, or super number-one mealie meal; they are consequently not obese. Yet they are not necessarily vegetarians.
Gardeners they found are less tense too, so there are mental as well as physical benefits. They have lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, when compared with those who sit inside and read a book, good though that is; what a pity that they did not include a third group who were watching TV.
Join a gardening club and start buying and selling produce at farmers’ markets; these become social gatherings that give one a sense of connectedness.
Ask any gardener and they will tell you that the first thing they want to do in the morning is walk around the backyard and see what has happened overnight, pick a few flowers and some food for breakfast; it gives one a reason for living. In fact, it is not distinct from what is being called forest bathing.
Family engagement, an active social circle and the empowerment of women come into the picture too. Blue zone living is not only about good food and plenty of outdoor exercise.
No smoking is obviously a common factor throughout blue zones, but some alcohol, especially unprocessed wine full of polyphenols, is not a negative.
Nuts, turmeric and soy are other nutrients they enjoy.
So, just where should we start? Dark green-leafy vegetables and beans are specifically mentioned by researcher, Dan Buettner. I would recommend you begin with growing three rows of lettuce, spinach and kale. They have been documented as contributing to our well-being; and, they are all easy, though more suited to cooler climes.
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Broad beans were specifically mentioned from the legume family, perhaps because they are the richest source of vegetable protein and the dopamines that are so important for our neurological systems. Gardeners have a 36 percent lower risk of getting dementia the researchers found; that is a massive contributor to blue zone longevity.
But I would mark them on the calendar for March which is late summer in South Africa; in Chicago we planted them in Spring. Right now it is green beans, and the climbers are much the easiest. Witsa and limas are our favourites. Your own fruit and veg is much more tasty, freshly-picked from the garden; you are likely to enjoy all those colours that are so important if you can grow many of them yourself.
Longevity is like a chair that, to stay in balance, attention must be given to all four legs; better food, physical activity, mental engagement and social connection, says researcher Bradley Wilcox, and gardening can and should provide all of them.
Hippocrates, the father of wellness, put it rather neatly. Let your food be your medicine. It is noteworthy that researchers keep finding that getting these nutrients from supplements has little effect on our cardiovascular systems and all-cause of death. Amen to that, and it is even more true if you can grow much of it yourself. Buy some seeds and plants, and get started with your own blue zone; and, take time to smell the roses. Relaxation is a key factor.
In all five blue zones the people ate a large breakfast, a lighter lunch and supper was the smallest meal. Leaving the table slightly hungry was common to all the areas. It is for this reason that we introduced eggs Hilton into our morning meal, along with fruit and a rolled oats porridge.
Thanks to BBC Worklife for the inspiration for this blog on blue zone longevity.
With Blue Zones having so many elderly people one would have expected that the Covid-19 virus would have swept through the towns; not so.
In Okinawa, for example, with a population of 140,000 people there have been only 143 confirmed cases and 7 deaths in total; there has not been one new infection in the last five weeks as of 3rd June, 2020.
Likewise in Sardinia, despite being in Italy, the country with the third highest number of cases in the world, with a population of 1,6 million there have been only 1361 confirmed cases by 3rd June, 2020 with 131 deaths. Blue zone longevity stands strong in the face of the pandemic.
Strong local family ties with work involving physical activity like gardening have been given as some of the reasons that the devastation of the coronavirus has not decimated the population of folk living in the Blue Zones.
The coronavirus is such a killer because it provokes the immune system in people with less than optical well-being to kick-start them into a very dangerous overdrive known as a cytokine storm; a severe inflammatory response within the lungs. Regular exposure to sunshine helps to prevent this it seems.
Food rich in vitamin D would help too, though to a lesser extent; we need that sunlight for many reasons.
It is interesting that Blue Zone people never go on diet, nor do they go out and exercise. Instead natural systems have evolved where they grow their own food and at markets have access to fresh fruit and vegetables at affordable prices. They dig in their gardens, walk or cycle to visit their friends and do their own shopping.
They have no need of diets and gyms which lead to short-term gains but, because they are so insular and boring, in the long run failure; instead their energy would go into harvesting olives, brewing wine or beer and keeping bees, for example. Instead of a focus on the individual, successful interventions have created systems that naturally lead to more activity and better nutrition in the greater populace. That is huge in Blue Zone longevity.
For example, in Finland, Dr Pekka Puska, the director general of Health, Welfare and Research introduced systems that led to an 80% drop in cardiovascular disease over a thirty year period, and 60 percent reduction of neoplasms.
Another profound thinker on the subject is Dr Clayton Dalton, MD, from the Massachusetts General Hospital who writes that America's chronic disease crisis is not inevitable.
Blue zone longevity is associated with gardening, whole grains, connectedness to family and the community, and moderate exercise; and growing and eating broad beans, also known as favas.
Could you emulate these people who are focused on a very full and satisfying life, but largely free from doctors and medication?
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