What are Blue Zones? What do they mean to us and being able to live longer? What lessons can we learn from the people in these Blue Zones? Can we really extend our lives? Perhaps you remember the stories of groups of people located in parts of the world with members who were consistently living to be over 100. This was decades back. The one story I remember the best as a kid was of a group in Russia somewhere (Georgia) where they subsisted on yogurt and were very long lived. Well, that was a long time ago and what I remember hearing.
This was later proved to be an error but it did spark an on-going quest among demographers and other scientists to find such groups. Eventually, it happened and the places where a greater percentage of people live longer came to be called Blue Zones.
The source for most of this material is from the book called The Blue Zones that Dan Buettner eventually wrote after visiting the areas and interviewing the people there. First, though, he wrote an article for the National Geographic magazine in 2005 called “Secrets of Long Life“. All of this was done with the help of many organizations and not just National Geographic. The National Institute on Aging got funding from the National Institute of Health as well as some private groups and companies and lots of different specialists helped him by funding the trips, collecting the data and keeping Buettner on the straight and narrow regarding the science, and fact checking and reviewing the final book. It was definitely a team effort even if he did all the interviewing and writing.
Where it started was with statistics an Italian doctor named Gianni Pes presented to the 1999 international conference on longevity in France. His data showed a high order of centenarians living in Sardinia, Italy, especially men who were surviving to be 100 in much larger numbers as a percentage of the population than anywhere else in the world. Of course, he wasn’t believed.
That took a Belgian demographer named Dr. Michel Poulain who followed up during a visit of his own to Italy in 2000. What he saw in the records in one town was enough to get him to go back a few months later with a team which included Gianni Pes to dig into the stats. As they collected the data he drew a line around the groups of towns showing these high numbers of 100 year olds with blue ink. As you can guess that is where the term “Blue Zone” came from.
They presented a paper about the Blue Zone in Sardinia and that led to Dan Buettner and his photographer arriving in 2004 to set up interviews and delve into the story for National Geographic. Another article will discuss what Dan Buettner found in each Blue Zone as talked about in his book. Buettner has gone back to these Blue Zones more than once. One result was the book by the same name published in 2008 where we can learn lessons as filtered by Buettner on how these people live in each zone and some of the things that may be causing their longer lives.
From all this information he collected, Buettner has drawn up a list of what he calls the Power 9. These are lifestyle changes we each can make that will help us live up to another 10 years. To learn more about each of the Power 9 lifestyle adjustments, you should really read his book to get a more in depth look at where they come from but they are generally as follows put into my own words:
- Move a Lot – Engage in low intensity physical activity every day. Most of these groups of people did a lot of gardening or followed flocks or herds of animals every day. Lots of walking up and down hills and lots of squatting working crops. Some would walk 5 to 6 miles per day following flocks of sheep and goats up and down hills and valleys.
- Do NOT Eat Till You Are Full – This lesson mostly comes from the Okinawans who eat only till they are about 80% full. One thing this does is keep down the number of calories you take in every day. It will also keep you from being “too full to work” which means you can keep moving and follow tenant 1 above.
- Do Eat Lots of Plants – While animals did make up a major part of the life of some of these groups, as a whole meat was not served very often. It was for festivals, holidays and maybe on Sunday. Instead Blue Zoners grow their own vegetables and fruits in their own gardens and fields and this plus other locally grown plants make up the majority of any meal.
- Drink Some Wine Every Day – Wine contains substances that help you live longer. Drinking a glass or two every day helps your body. But it is also the sharing of the wine with others and the time spent relaxing while drinking that helps. These aspects are part of the Power 9.
- Have a Reason to Live – Why do you get up in the morning? Who is relying on you? Having a purpose, a reason, to get up and to move through your day is very important. For some of the shepherds in Sardinia, it was taking care of the sheep and goats and the family that were their reasons to keep on. This is so important we will have (if it isn’t there by the time you read this) a category on Purpose on this site. Purpose can be many things and we will discuss those there.
- Relieve Stress – Buettner actually calls this one “Down Shift” but what this means is finding ways to remove stress from your life and if you can’t remove it, find ways to relieve it. Part of this can be done by slowing down and part by removing some of the “noise” of life. Again an important enough topic a category will be set up here to discuss ways of doing this and the latest research about what stress does to our bodies.
- Be Active in a Faith Community – Just being a member of a church or other spiritual belief is not enough. You must be involved in your faith or spiritual belief taking an active role. My mother, who after finally getting the kids and grandkids out of the house, was able to become very involved in all the activities of her church to the point of leading a ladies’ Bible study weekly among many other things. That’s taking an active role. It also serves as her purpose now.
- Family – Making your loved ones a high priority in your life is extremely important. In the Blue Zones, these family relationships mean an older person is taken care of at home and still contributes to the family. To place an older person in a nursing home would dishonor the family. By not being in a nursing home, elders receive better care and mental as well as physical stimulation. They have their roles among which are holding the youngsters to a high standard. In Okinawa, even the ancestors are remembered with family shrines.
- Social Network – This does not mean Facebook or MySpace or LinkedIn. What it talks about are the people you surround yourself with. For instance, do the people you socialize with hold with Blue Zone values? If your friends are all smokers or overweight, it is very likely that you will be also. People with lots of social connections live longer than those without them. And this doesn’t mean you just know a lot of people. It means you socialize with them and connect with them on a daily basis.
Will these Power 9 help you to live to be over 100? Who knows? Dan Buettner does suggest that making changes to this list will help you to live up to another 10 years.