*Disclaimer – implementing the guidelines doesn’t guarantee a long, healthy life.
In 2003, a gentleman called Dan Buettner decided to try and research what the key to longevity was. He wanted to figure out who was outliving the rest of the world and where in the world they were.
In 2005, he reported his findings in an article called ‘The Secrets of Long Life’ for National Geographic Magazine.
There are 5 areas in the world which he identified as having the people who statistically live longest. On average they have more people living past 100, they have low disease rates, and they live better, for longer.
These people live well into old age, they are NOT immobilised, and they are not sad at the fact they have grown old.
The areas are Okinawa – Japan, Sardinia – Italy, Loma Linda – California, Nicoya – Costa Rica and Icaria – Greece, and they have been labelled ‘Blue Zones’ by Buettner.
This is something that came up on my year long course with Mac-Nutrition and I found it really interesting. It’s something I may have heard in passing, but to be honest I had never really read or discussed any of it.
I brought it up with my clients and it seemed quite a few were familiar with the concept. I asked them what they thought were the main factors which would influence longevity.
What are people doing in these ‘Blue Zones’ that we are not?
The clever people that they are – they pretty much nailed everything between all the answers offered up.
If you have a think about it can you draw up a list of what you think are the most important variables?
It’s funny because I think most people can, but then I do think if you ask people to analyse how their lifestyle stacks up against the list there are probably some gaps there (if you’re a client of mine and/or you’re reading this, then you are probably more ‘health seeking’ than most of the general population. I’m sure your lifestyle does stack up well against the list – when I say gaps, I’m taking about the general public).
They probably could hazard a guess at what needs to be done, yet they don’t do all of the things mentioned.
My opinion on why this is the case is that unhealthy eating habits and living habits have become completely normalised.
Anyone reading this might disagree…’I don’t think it’s normal to be unhealthy’. Like I said, if you’re reading this – you are probably more health seeking than the VAST majority of people.
But have a look around at people in general. Obesity levels are high for a reason.
It’s important to understand that the variables that have been identified are observational – it’s very hard to measure this stuff so all you can do is point toward what is logical.
Some of the key points are as follows;
Daily physical activity is part of life. There are no 9-5 desk jobs followed by an evening watching Netflix. (another great reason why you need to get those 10,000 steps in every day)
Family values and being a close-knit community holds a huge sense of importance. Older people are not isolated, they are seen as having wisdom and are held in high esteem (can we say the same in more modernised areas?).
All the areas do not have limited levels of sun exposure.
Levels of stress are deemed to be low.
They don’t smoke.
There is a sense of purpose for everyone who lives there, whether it be through religion, work, or family.
They are not exposed to harmful levels of pollution.
Nutrition is NOT the sole cause of these groups of people living longer than most, but it is a variable which positively influences it.
The common themes are;
No over eating – energy balance is maintained in a natural, instinctive way. It helps that they are not exposed to the abundance of calorie dense, hyper palatable food found in the typical Westernised diet.
Food is typically grown and prepared locally. Like mentioned above, their diet is not heavily influenced by major food corporations.
Meat, veg, dairy, grains, legumes, eggs are all on the menu. None of the areas are exclusively vegetarian, and there is plenty of gluten in the diet.
None of the areas match up identically as far as diet goes, which shows that there are many ways for you to live a healthy lifestyle and manage your weight.
All of my clients will be familiar with the phrase ‘good habits cluster, and so do bad habits’. It takes a holistic approach to lead a healthy lifestyle – if you eat well, sleep well, keep stress down, exercise, get fresh air, hydrate properly…good things happen.
The same is true of the opposite, bad things will happen if your diet is poor, stress is high, you don’t exercise, you don’t get out much and hydration is poor.
How does your lifestyle match up against these things if you analsye it?
The Blue Zones came up as part of a college lecture themed ‘Is There An Optimal Diet For Human Health?’.
When you look at the Western diet (this is the standardised American diet) it is made up mostly of highly refined, calorie dense food.
The way the people live and eat in the Blue Zones was once the way most people did, it was normalised.
But in a very short space of time things have flipped and poor eating and living habits have instead taken over.
Little or no exercise, lack of sun exposure, high stress, lots of sitting, and poor lifestyle choices in general have had a huge negative effect on the health of the overall population.
It can be argued that we are living longer in modern times, but a huge part of that comes from advancements in medicine that allow people to live longer with conditions rather than ‘illness free’.
What was the outcome of trying to identify the optimal diet for human health?
Live at a healthy weight. Eat to maintain your weight. Limit processed food (junk food), eat a variety of whole grain foods, with or without lean meat, fish, poultry, seafood and LOTS of plant based food.
There are many ways to eat healthily, and the best way is always the one you will stick to.
In closing we clearly have a huge amount of power to influence the kind of life we lead and how long it will last.
Genetic predisposition hasn’t been discussed, and it plays a big part in how long an individual can live…but that doesn’t mean the cards that have been dealt cannot be changed.
Nurture can heavily influence nature, you just need to do it!
If you have time, I would highly recommend watching the TED Talk with Dan Buettner linked below. If you made it this far, thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments don’t hesitate to drop me a message, my inbox is always open.
You need a subscription to read it, but the original Nat Geo article is here;