Blue Zones – The surprisingly simple lifestyle habits that increase longevity

Ever heard of ‘blue zone’ areas and how people living in a ‘blue zone’ part of the world are some of the longest-lived people on Earth?  Surprisingly, residents of a blue zone don’t live longer because of supplements, pills, or hocus-pocus antiaging serums. They live longer lives because of lifestyle habits that nudge them into adding more years to their lives. While it’s one thing to live a long life, these same people also manage to live a long life brimming with fulfillment and good health.  Something we each should strive for. So, who are these people and what are their secrets for achieving the ultimate not only in living longer healthfully but with meaning and purpose?

What are Blue Zones?

There are such places around the world referred to as “blue zones.”  A 2015 book called The Blue Zones Solution written by Dan Buettner, extols how the world’s longest-living people have eaten over the past 100 years exposing their secrets to dying young as old as possible.

Blue zones are where people live extraordinarily healthy, long lives. These five hot spots of health are found dotted throughout the planet from Ikaria, Greece; Sardinia, an island off the west coast of Italy; Okinawa, Japan; and Nicoya, Costa Rica, with one blue zone area in the United States found in Loma Linda, California.  The people living in these areas have found certain ways of living to maintain healthy body weight, reverse disease, and increase life satisfaction just by changing the way they live, eat and connect with others.

Blue Zones philosophy

The blue zones are not just about how long we live, but also how well we live.  Each day we make lifestyle choices that are determinants to our health and well-being.  It’s been found that when we eat well, stress less, move more, and love more, we can lead a very healthy, fulfilling life.  Some of the lifestyle choices we should all embrace daily include:

  • Choosing a whole food, plant-based diet.
  • Practicing stress management including yoga and meditation.
  • Regular moderate physical activity such as walking.
  • Participating in meaningful activities within your community bringing you a sense of purpose in life.

Living the “Blue Zone” lifestyle

To get started on living a more “blue zone” lifestyle, one way is to design your surroundings, where you live, so that blue zone choices are always the easiest.  Here are a few changes you can make today within your living environment to create your own personal blue zone in your part of the world:

  • Always keep healthy ingredients on hand and within sight.
  • Keep the center section of your refrigerator filled with fruits and vegetables so you see them first.
  • Use dinner plates no larger than 10 inches.
  • Drink beverages out of tall, narrow glasses – no more than 2.5 inches in diameter. Narrower glasses make us think we are drinking more than we are.
  • Dim the lights in your home an hour before bed. Your body will be prepared for sleep helping you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
  • At bedtime, set the thermostat at 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Make your bedroom a no-electronics zone – no TV, computer, or cell phones by the bed.
  • Each day weigh yourself first thing in the morning with little to no clothes on. Studies have shown people who weigh themselves daily weigh less than those who rarely weigh themselves.
  • If possible, grow a garden or grow indoor plants. Gardening utilizes physical activity and lowers stress hormones and plants help clean the air.
  • Own a dog or cat. Pets make great companions and encourage you to walk and be more active.
  • Create an indoor exercise area where you keep exercise equipment, weights, a yoga mat or stability ball.
  • Join a club or do volunteer work that sparks your interest or talents. Belonging to a social network with other people with common interests promotes feelings of happiness and self-worth.

Blue Zones eating guidelines

  • Eat a plant-based diet – Make 90-95 percent of your food choices plant-based, limiting animal protein to no more than one small daily serving. (1 egg, 1 cup milk, 2 ounces cheese or cooked meat).
  • Limit meat – Avoid or consume meat (beef, pork, poultry) no more than once or twice a week. Steer clear of processed meats like luncheon meats, sausages, and hotdogs.
  • Consume more beans – Consume one cup of beans, such as lentils, black-eyed peas, and black beans, each day. Tofu counts too.
  • Include fish – Feel free to include up to three ounces of fish per day.
  • Decrease dairy – Populations in Blue Zones don’t regularly consume dairy foods. Consider switching to plant milk fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
  • Cut down on sugar – Keep added sugars (sugary beverages, sugary cereals, desserts, and candy) to a minimum (no more than 7 teaspoons a day).
  • Embrace nuts – Enjoy two ounces of nuts every day.
  • Be picky with bread – Include up to two slices of 100 percent whole-grain or sourdough (made from live cultures) bread per day. Swap out flour tortillas for corn tortillas.
  • Choose whole foods – Eat whole or minimally processed foods and foods with shorter ingredient lists.
  • Drink water – Consume six to seven glasses every day. Unsweetened coffee and tea count, but avoid sugar-sweetened and diet drinks.
  • Follow the 80% rule – Eat until you’re 80 percent full to avoid overeating.
  • Drink in moderation – If you imbibe, limit intake to one to two drinks each day, enjoying it as part of your meal with family or friends.

A blue zone way of life is achievable by anyone.  Consider how our health would change if we all embraced the philosophy of such a lifestyle.  Once you’ve crossed into the blue zone, you’ll never want to go back to your old way of living.

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