Most of us want to live a long, healthy, and active life, but how do we get there? Life expectancy continues to decline in the United States, while diet-related chronic diseases rise. Even if you are lucky enough for a long lifespan, most people experience a decline in health and quality of life a decade or more before they reach the end of life.
Studying the Blue Zones, where communities practice simple, healthy habits reveal the secrets to health and longevity. Today’s article will explore five of these longevity lessons.
Keep reading to learn more about:
- What is a Blue Zone?
- 5 Tips for a healthier lifestyle
Let’s jump in!
A Blue Zone is a geographic area where people live longer, healthier lives than others. These communities have a high proportion of centenarians, and it’s normal for people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s to be active and enjoy good health.
Remarkably, those living in Blue Zones in the world don’t follow tips for a healthy lifestyle. They are simply living their lives and pursuing their cultural traditions and habits.
In the United States, most communities are not set up to foster healthy lifestyles. So, we must take the similarities among Blue Zones and translate them into healthy habits we can implement at home.
Next, let’s look at five of these habits.
Move Outdoors Daily
People in Blue Zones exercise daily but aren’t going to the gym or following a program. Their daily exercise routine consists of activities of daily living, such as gardening, playing, cleaning, and walking. Some may spend time sitting and working on the floor, encouraging mobility.
If you don’t know where to start, begin with walking. People in Blue Zones walk a lot and enjoy the anti-aging benefits. Walking outside in nature has additional benefits for stress reduction.
Eat Balanced, Plant Predominant Diets
There isn’t a single, static, or stable Blue Zone diet. Each Blue Zone community follows a local, seasonal, and always changing diet. Because of this, it can be challenging for Americans to emulate one of these diets because we live in a different environment; however, we can learn from the similarities in Blue Zone nutrition.
Blue Zone diets utilize simple, local ingredients that center around plants like beans, wild greens, garden vegetables, and olive oil. While there is a lot of emphasis on eating plant foods, people in Blue Zones aren’t strictly vegan. Animal foods are local, wild, high-quality, and well-prepared. Animal protein is consumed in small amounts and viewed as a rare treat. When consumed animal foods are consumed as close to head to tail as possible. Plant proteins from legumes, nuts and seeds make up most of the protein in the diet.
Blue Zone recipes focus on whole plant carbohydrates, including whole grains, vegetables, legumes, tubers, and herbs.
Whole grains like wild rice, buckwheat, and barley are Blue Zone staples and can be staples in your home too. Traditionally prepare grains by soaking, sprouting, or souring. Increase whole grains to minimize processed, refined grain products.
Blue Zone diets are abundant in vegetables grown close to home or foraged in the wild. In the U.S. we can get these benefits by having a garden, shopping at farmer’s markets, and buying directly from local producers. When we do this, we get the freshest produce and naturally eat in season.
Increasing legumes in the diet is another way to get longevity benefits from your nutrition. Beans contain protein, fiber, and beneficial phytonutrients (plant nutrients). Soak beans and slow cook or pressure cook them to improve digestibility.
Tubers are starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava, yucca, and taro. Many traditional cultures have a starchy tuber that is a diet staple. Tubers are high in minerals and fiber and support the microbiome. (Add link to oral microbiome article)
Herbs and spices make simple food extra delicious and are rich in phytonutrients promoting longevity. Stocking your spice cabinet and adding herbs to everyday meals is an easy, healthy lifestyle habit. Try rosemary, turmeric, parsley, garlic, cumin, black pepper, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, and more.
It’s easy to overeat ultra-processed foods that hijack your taste buds and satiety hormones. But, when you eat more unprocessed, fiber-rich foods, it’s much harder to overeat. These foods are satiating and help your body self-regulate food intake.
Mindful eating is another strategy to help you stop when you’re comfortably full instead of overly full. Instead of eating in front of the TV or while working on your computer, sit at the table, ideally with loved ones, and savor your meal.
Prioritize Community and Socialization
In the U.S., we tend to be more isolated in daily living; people in Blue Zones are more likely to be dialed into a tight-knit social network. Research on social connections and longevity shows that this social network influences physical health. Isolation and loneliness are risk factors for mortality.
The good news is that even a few close friendships and social groups can make a big difference. As daily exercise and nutrition are essential, so is finding your tribe.
Incorporate Rest or Naps into Schedules
If you’re feeling an afternoon slump, you might not need coffee and a muffin; you might need a nap. Additionally, you might need more sleep at night, as many of us do.
U.S. culture prizes productivity, but Blue Zone cultures recognize the body’s natural, slower rhythm and incorporate relaxation into daily living. Many adults over 80 in Blue Zones report mid-day napping and experience good health, longevity, and low rates of depression.
The health secrets of Blue Zones are foundational health habits that we promote at Rejuvenation Health. From a functional medicine perspective, we always seek the root cause of health concerns. Further, we not only want to treat and reverse disease, but prevent it in the first place.
In many cases, our patients can make profound shifts in health markers and quality of life when they prioritize movement, healthy eating, prioritizing legumes over animal proteins, sleep, and social connections. If you are ready to dive deeper into your health journey, we’d love to support you.
- Ungvari, Z., Fazekas-Pongor, V., Csiszar, A., & Kunutsor, S. K. (2023). The multifaceted benefits of walking for healthy aging: from Blue Zones to molecular mechanisms. GeroScience, 10.1007/s11357-023-00873-8. Advance online publication.
- Pes, G. M., Dore, M. P., Tsofliou, F., & Poulain, M. (2022). Diet and longevity in the Blue Zones: A set-and-forget issue?. Maturitas, 164, 31–37.
- Holt-Lunstad J. (2021). Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors: The Power of Social Connection in Prevention. American journal of lifestyle medicine, 15(5), 567–573.
- Panagiotakos, D. B., Chrysohoou, C., Siasos, G., Zisimos, K., Skoumas, J., Pitsavos, C., & Stefanadis, C. (2011). Sociodemographic and lifestyle statistics of oldest old people (>80 years) living in ikaria island: the ikaria study. Cardiology research and practice, 2011, 679187.