Finding ways to age well and enjoy an active and fulfilling retirement can lead to fads and trends that may seem hopeful, but that do not withstand the test of time. Rather than wait for the next healthy aging trend, consider the real places on Earth where people actually do live longer, healthier, and more vital lives, and have done so for years and even centuries. These places are known as the “Blue Zones.” Read on for more about the Blue Zones and what they tell us about successful aging.
A brief overview of the Blue Zones Discovered by researchers Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain and later Dan Buettner, the Blue Zones are five places scattered across the globe where people live especially long, healthy, and active lives. They are: Barbagia in the Italian region of Sardinia Ikaria, Greece Loma Linda, California Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica Okinawa, Japan
The residents of each of these places have lifestyles that are similar with shared traits and practices that contribute to longevity, good mental and physical health, and ultimately successful aging.
Shared traits and practices In each of the Blue Zones, researchers established lifestyle similarities that support successful aging. These are centered on a diet, exercise, stress management, purposeful living, faith, family, and friends. These evidence-based common denominators are known as Power 9 and include:
- Staying in motion and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle through daily exercise. Blue Zone residents do their own housekeeping and maintenance, keep gardens, and generally perform routine tasks that keep them moving naturally and often.
- Purposeful living is key to longevity and Blue Zones residents actively pursue life on their terms. For example, growing and harvesting their own foods (as they have for centuries), caring for the young, and enjoying being part of social networks, to name a few.
- Dealing with stress is part of life but in the Blue Zones, residents have developed different and effective ways of minimizing it. Among the diverse practices are daily prayer or meditation, Tai Chi, yoga, and naps. In so doing they avoid what many people suffer as a result of stress, including coronary disease, developing coping mechanisms like smoking or overeating, and depression. Learn more about stress and its impacts in the American Psychological Associations’ article, “How Stress Affects Your Health”
- Eating just enough is another shared practice across all the Blue Zones. What researchers call the “80% rule” is eating only until you’re almost full, which keeps weight down and avoids health problems associated with obesity that include hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, and others. More about this practice known as “hara hachi bu” in Japanese can be found in the Cleveland Clinic article, “Don’t Eat Until You’re Full – Instead, Mind Your Hara Hachi Bu Point”
- Another commonality is that Blue Zone residents eat plant-based diets. Legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole grains are the core of their meals, with very low amounts of meat eaten, as in theMediterranean Diet. This diet is known to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
- Moderate wine consumption is another practice most Blue Zone residents share (with the exception of Loma Linda, California) and it is most often consumed in a setting with friends and family where the atmosphere is convivial and welcoming. Blue Zones researchers found the most healthful wine in Sardinian Cannonau with one to two glasses per day being the norm.
- Faith is also an essential part of life in the Blue Zones. Residents who are part of a faith community and attend services several times each month can live up to fourteen years longer, making it a big part of successful aging.
- Family first is a mantra in the Blue Zones where the family unit is at the core of life in decision-making, caring for each other, and spending time together.
- Connecting with peers who share similar lifestyle goals is a way of life in the Blue Zones where close friendships encourage healthy living and successful aging. In fact, according to the National Library of Medicine article, “Blue Zones Lessons From the World’s Longest Lived” Okinawans commit to a tight circle of five friends for life.
In the Blue Zones, people routinely live to be over 100 and remain healthy, active, and purposeful members of their families and society. The simple ways they live are also easy to adopt and at Sonrisa Senior Living, we make sure residents have everything they need to live the lifestyle they desire. If you have questions, would like information, or want to schedule a tour of Sonrisa Senior Living, please Contact us today!