The 5 Blue Zones of the World-The key to living healthier and longer lives
By Casey O’Dell, Accredited Practising Dietitian
The “blue zones” is a term used to describe communities around the world which are known to have more healthy elderly people than any other place on Earth. The diet principles they use are somewhat similar and are based on sensible and achievable patterns and habits rather than any crash or fad diets.
Two out of the five zones are islands in the Mediterranean – Sardinia (Italy) and Ikaria (Greece) where there seems to be a strong sense of community, a great deal of incidental activity and a Mediterranean-style diet with fresh seafood, olive oil, pasta, wine and a lot of plant-based food.
Okinawa is an island off the Japanese mainland which is also part of the blue zones. This island is home to the most long-lived people in the world. Their diet is predominately carbohydrate – sweet potato and rice, they tend to eat 7 other vegetable varieties in a day as well as tofu on most days and fish 3 times a week.
Nicoya Peninsula in Cosa Rica pride their longevity on community, family and a sense of purpose to life. They tend to eat a diet rich in corn and beans and have a light dinner. They have engaged in mostly physical work throughout their long lives and get plenty of sunshine which keeps vitamin D levels up.
The last blue zone is perhaps the most interesting of all. The town of Lona Linda in California, USA. In this town most people are Seventh-Day Adventists and eat a vegetarian-based diet, no drinking or smoking and they have a strong sense of community. People in this town have a life expectancy for 10 years more than the average American.
Lona Linda is a blue zone that shows anyone who adapts these lifestyle patterns, regardless of where they live can achieve the patterns of behaviours which lead to longevity.
In general, blue zones tend to eat seasonal, fresh foods and they differ depending on their region and culture. It could be nuts, seeds, oils, legumes, dairy, fish, tofu and lot of vegetables. One thing they all have in common is eating a lot of vegetables. The people living in the blue zones tend to eat until they are satisfied or comfortably full rather than over-full and often maintain a healthy weight. They also drink moderate amounts of alcohol and its usually red wine.
People living in blue zones don’t run marathons or go to the gym, they are active every day with meaningful and purposeful activity such as gardening or farming, cooking, walking to visit friends and even kneading bread. They don’t seem to sit for long periods at a time like we may do at work. We now know that sitting all day long is the new smoking in terms of health risks associated and this is perhaps another reason why the blue zone inhabitants live longer lives.
Sense of community, belonging and purpose
Communities in blue zones tend to have a strong sense of belonging, community and purpose. Fewer live alone and they value social interaction highly. They also wake up everyday with a sense of purpose, whether that’s family, work, their faith or helping fellow neighbours.