Blue zones describe areas in the world where most inhabitants live to be 100 years and older. There are five blue zones in the world: Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece. In addition to being centenarians, people who live in blue zones have drastically lower occurrences of heart disease, dementia, cancer and depression. These people live long, healthy lives enjoying optimal health until their deaths. What is the secret to their overall health success? Five life-style criteria have been identified in blue zone communities:
1. Family relationships (one’s tribe) are identified as the most important aspect of life. Life revolves around one’s tribal connections and the members interact on a very regular basis.
2. No smoking – it is bad for health in a number of ways that have been widely disseminated.
3. Eating a plant based diet is the key to physical health. This is not a vegetarian or vegan diet, but a diet that is rich in a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits with small amounts of meat and starchy vegetables complimented with healthy fats, oils and nuts.
4. Performing a consistent low level of exercise such as gardening, hiking or farming. The exercise does not require high levels of exertion, but it is done at a moderate level on a daily basis.
5. Having strong social ties and social engagement leads to greater life satisfaction (happiness) and is an organic deterrent to depression.
There are other longevity inducing factors that have emerged from the study of the blue zone centenarians:
1. Take naps and sleep late. Taking naps and sleeping-in was associated with a 12%-37% reduction in coronary heart disease.
2. Reduce worry and avoid being late both of which engage the fight or flight stress response.
3. Have a spiritual community which has shown to extend life by up to 14 years.
4. Have sex. 80% of 65 to 100 year old men in Greece reported being able to have sex with adequate duration.
5. Create social circles with people who engage in the aforementioned health-beneficial activities. Surrounding yourself with people who practice whole health behaviors will increase and reinforce your tendency to do so.
Cheers to Optimal Centenarian Achieving Health!
Submitted by Holly Houston, Ph.D.
Director, Licensed Clinical Psychologist