We are often looking for the brilliant pill, the magic bullet, the miracle elixir that may just make us feel better and hold off the visit to the pearly gates.
While there may not be a quick fix, there are some common themes shared amongst specific communities across the globe that could inform us of what we can do in our everyday lives to be happy and healthy for longer.
Doing life well
Since 2004, a group of researchers has been analysing dietary and lifestyle patterns of certain cultures that seem to produce the most centenarians – those folk who live to the ripe old age of 100.
Five geographic or demographic areas have been identified in particular, known as the Blue Zones.
- Sardinia, Italy
- Okinawa, Japan
- Icaria, Greece
- Loma Linda, California
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Not only do people of these locations have high rates of longevity, they experience very little health issues common to developed parts of the world.
Just how do these people live long and well, you may ask?
The research has found these cultures to share similar traits in how they eat, move, act, and interact. So, let’s take a peek as to where we can learn a lesson or two for long, healthy, happy living!
The developed world is becoming increasingly sedentary. These days sitting is considering the new smoking, and nasty for long-term health.
Folks of the Blue Zones, on the other hand, are in the garden, walking to their mate’s place, and undertaking chores by hand. But perhaps the most important thing is their enjoyment of movement.
So get up, engage your muscles, and get the blood flowing through activities that encourage stress reduction and good times, like forest or beach walks, yoga and tai-chi, and playing sports with friends.
Family and social engagement are important components, along with having a sense of spirituality – in whatever form that means to you.
Spending time with your community – however big or small, young and old – can help you feel safe, connected and supported; qualities that we are biologically wired to desire.
This can tie into feeling a sense of purpose in life, another pillar of the Blue Zone formula.
Ever find yourself going about your every day, and not really understanding why or what for?
People of the Blue Zones have a concept of ‘why I get up in the morning’, offering a sense of purpose not only for the day but also for life.
Identifying positive goals that provide meaning and make you happy, like how you want to contribute to your family, the community or the world, may contribute to increased happiness and resilience, less stress, reduced incidence of chronic disease, and even longevity.1-4 Right on!
Increasingly we are becoming aware of the impact diet has on health outcomes, in the short and long-term, including quality of life. What we choose to eat can be one of the most significant contributors to good or ill health.
The foods of the Blue Zones tend to take a ‘plant slant’, and providing loads of fibre, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory activity by enjoying mostly real, whole foods.
Load up on plenty of plant foods like vegetables, fruits, herbs, and leafy greens, and enjoy with tubers; legumes; high-quality dairy and healthy fats like fresh goats cheese and olive oil; fish; eggs; fermented foods; and some whole grains and other animal sourced protein.
Heavily processed foods – like refined grains, added sugars, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans-fats, and manufactured ‘food’ stuffed with preservatives, colours and additives – do not rear their harmful-to-health heads.
Eating mostly real, whole foods provides a myriad of nutrients and compounds to help the body thrive, heal, and prevent conditions such as mental health issues, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cognitive decline. And local and seasonal eating can provide even greater benefit.
The people of the Blue Zones often share meals, bringing enjoyment to the eating process, and don’t stuff themselves with food, eating until 80% full so not to stress and overburden the digestive system. And some of the zones enjoy a wee wine, including moderate intakes of alcohol.
You may have noticed a theme throughout many aspects of the Blue Zone characteristics. They can each contribute to reducing or managing stress and enhancing enjoyment of life, and in doing so, support health physically and mentally.
Feeling overwhelmed, worried, tired or anxious can be mitigated through eating real food, enjoying your exercise, laughing with your loved ones, or having an idea of what your purpose is by encouraging the production of beneficial compounds and endorphins that can reduce excess inflammation and put a smile on your dial.
Doing life holistically
Though there are many factors at play that can influence your health, there is no quick fix – which can be a hard pill to swallow if you have a preference for instant gratification.
The Blue Zones exemplify the need to consider a holistic approach in order to live happily and healthily, caring for the body, mind, and soul.
So consider taking steps to incorporate characteristics of the Blue Zones into your everyday. It mightn’t take much, and could have profound benefits 🙂
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med.)
- Boyle, PA, Buchman, AS, & Bennett, DA 2010, ‘Regular Research Articles: Purpose in Life Is Associated With a Reduced Risk of Incident Disability Among Community-Dwelling Older Persons’, The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, vol. 18, pp. 1093-1102.
- Boyle, Patricia A. et al. 2009, “Purpose in Life Is Associated With Mortality Among Community-Dwelling Older Persons.” Psychosomatic medicine, 71, no. 5, pp. 574–579.
- Burrow, A, Sumner, R, & Ong, A 2014, ‘Perceived Change in Life Satisfaction and Daily Negative Affect: The Moderating Role of Purpose in Life’,Journal of Happiness Studies, vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 579-592.
- Gana, K, Broc, G, Saada, Y, Amieva, H, & Quintard, B 2016, ‘Subjective wellbeing and longevity: Findings from a 22-year cohort study’, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, vol. 85, pp. 28-34.