Blue Zone is the name given to the world’s longest living populations, and the original 5 include: Sardinia, Italy, Ikaria, Greece, Okinawa, Japan, Nicoya, Costa Rica, and Loma Linda, California. People in a Blue Zone use lifestyle medicine accidentally, it’s just a part of their culture, and as a result they live longer, happier, disease and pharmaceutical-free lives, and most pass away peacefully in their sleep. This is a stark contrast to the Westernized world, where chronic disease is the norm and health is the exception. Fortunately, you can achieve happiness and longevity and reduce your lifetime risk for all chronic diseases by an incredible 80 by simply adapting the lifestyle practices that come naturally to Blue Zone populations.
Ditch the Disease Care Model
The first thing you need to do is ditch the disease-care model that far too many Western cultures still embrace, and replace it with lifestyle medicine. The disease-care model waits for chronic diseases to develop and then attempts to treat them with drugs and/or surgery. It was effective in the past because infectious diseases were the primary cause of early death. Today however, deaths caused by infections are relatively rare — nearly 70 of all deaths are caused by chronic diseases and less than 5 are caused by infections.[i] [ii] Using drugs to try and prevent or treat a chronic disease is ineffective and futile and typically causes more harm than good.
People who live in Blue Zones typically eat low-calorie, high-nutrient diets, and cutting about 30 percent of calories out of the normal diet is one of the most effective ways to slow the aging process. Maximize your nutrient intake by eating 12 or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily (ideally raw), plus beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and fermented foods. Choose organic whenever possible, and eat with the seasons, emphasizing produce that is locally farmed. Use spices and herbs plentifully, they are chockfull of antioxidants, and most have anti-inflammatory and disease-fighting properties. Consider growing a variety of herbs and using them for cooking and for making tea – a post meal tea is a great way to quash cravings for seconds, or for dessert. Vastly reduce your intake of packaged foods and processed oils, and if you must eat animal products, make sure they are organic and unprocessed. Also, limit your intake to one small serving (2-4 ounces of meat, or 1 cup of dairy), no more than twice weekly. Finally, choose goats milk over cow’s milk, and homemade cheese over processed, packaged cheese.
Exercise isn’t something you have to dread, go to a gym for, or carve out excessive time for — in the original Blue Zones it is built into daily routines. Walking up mountains or long distances to do errands and visit friends is a common practice. So too is gardening which requires weeding, watering and harvesting; and many chores are completed by hand (e.g. kneading bread, washing laundry, sweeping etc.). We’re not suggesting you ditch the laundry machine and other modern-day conveniences, but you should find ways to incorporate physical activity into your daily regime. Maybe you could walk to your friend’s house or the grocery store, and use a basket instead of a cart; take the stairs instead of the elevator, and park in the furthest spot possible. And instead of forcing yourself to exercise, find physical activities that you enjoy doing daily, such as bicycling, tennis or another sport, playing tag with your children, gardening, jumping on a trampoline, hula-hooping, dancing, or swimming.
People in the Blue Zones tend to spend a lot more time outdoors in nature than we do. Nature helps you to destress, and being outdoors in the sun is also a great way to regulate your circadian rhythm which will help you sleep more soundly. Sun exposure also helps you meet your vitamin D requirements, and if possible, you should expose your skin to at least 15 minutes of sunlight daily (if that isn’t possible, consider a sun lamp and vitamin D supplement). Regular sex is also beneficial — studies show elderly people who maintain active sex-lives are healthier and happier.[iii] It is also important that you actively reduce stress – Blue Zone populations tend to lead less stressful, slower-paced lifestyles. While you may not be able to reduce your workload our family demands, you can slow things down by delegating when possible and saying no to favors or social engagements that you simply don’t have time for. You can also downshift stress by meditating, practicing yoga or Tai Chi, praying, using self-hypnosis, cuddling, or simply spending time with loved ones.
Mental and Social Tips
People in the Blue Zone typically value their relationships over money and material possessions. A strong social network and deep, meaningful connections will help to ward of depression and dramatically reduce stress which is a major risk factor for chronic disease.[iv] Friends and family should be a priority, and elders should be celebrated and respected. A positive outlook is also a major longevity booster – try to adapt a half-glass-full mentality, and don’t allow yourself to stress over things that are out of your control. People who live past 100 (centenarians) tend to be happy people, who smile a lot and are grateful for what they have, no matter how little. Laughing a lot is also very healthful – it is scientifically proven to strengthen the immune system, boost mood, diminish pain, and protect from cardiovascular disease and other damaging effects of stress.[v] Plus sharing a laugh with a friend or loved one is a great way to deepen your bond. Another important longevity booster is having a sense of purpose. Retirement isn’t a common practice in the original Blue Zones, most people will slow down with age but never entirely quit. Continuing to contribute to society helps the elderly to maintain a sense of self-worth, connectivity, and purpose.