I’ve recently had a fascination with the work of Dan Buettner and his “Blue Zone” project. Funded by National Geographic, The National Institute on Aging, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others, Dan has been studying pockets on the globe where people either live statistically longer than others, their mid-life morbidity (i.e. when things start to go downhill) is the lowest OR they have more centenarians per capita than the rest of the world.
His supposition is based on the Danish Twin Study that found that longevity is only 20% heredity and the remaining 80% is based on our lifestyle!
He has identified 5 naturally occurring “Blue Zones”: Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan, Loma Linda in CA, Ikaria in Greece and the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica where the populations are genetically diverse, yet they have one of these 3 identifying markers of longevity!
He has also obtained funding to develop Blue Zone communities in different parts of the world that qualify and I have been fascinated to realize that we have already created a Blue Zone community within the company I have been working with for the last 25 years by supplying the ingredients that Dan identifies as making up the characteristics of a Blue Zone Community.
We’ll get into those in a minute, but I first want to start off with a kind of fun quiz that Dan put forth during a lecture I was attending during my Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) Health Coach training.
He asked the audience to raise their hands if they could answer “yes” to the following questions. I recommend that you simply keep track of how many times you can answer yes!
Here are the questions:
- Do you honestly get 7.5 hours of sleep on at least 5 nights per week?
- Do you consume 4 honest servings of fruits and veg every day? (not counting a certain fruit and veg concentrate you might use…)
- Do you get a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise (can include walking) every single day?
- Have you had 3 years of not smoking…anything!? (we got you, CA, WA, OR and CO!)
- Have you NEVER had unprotected sex with a stranger or someone you didn’t know well… (getting a little personal here…)?
- Do you belong to a faith-based community (ANY faith-based community) and show up at least 4 times per month to engage with the community?
- Do you have at least 3 good friends that you like, can have a serious conversation with AND if you called them when you were having a bad day, they would actually care?
- Can you sum up, in one sentence on a written page, what your life purpose is?
If you answered these questions honestly and tallied your yeses, these are your results. Keep in mind that currently, humans have a capacity of 90-92 years of life, if they have good lifestyle habits. If you also win the genetic lottery AND have good habits, you may live into your 100’s.
If you had 3 or fewer “yeses”, your life expectancy is 76 years with 5 years of morbidity…these are the years preceding your death in which you can expect to be struggling and spending 95% of your lifetime health care dollars. You would be leaving 19-21 years of good living on the table.
If you had 3-6 yeses, you can expect to live to 84, with 3 years of morbidity. (only missing out on 9-11 years).
And if you could say yes 7-8 times, you can expect to live to the human capacity: 90-92 with a year or less of morbidity.
Sure, this is a fun parlor game, but I think it’s also useful to note the 9 qualities that each of the 5 Blue Zones have in common. I also think that it’s good to realize that nobody living in these Blue Zones, set out to live a long life! They weren’t taking supplements or going to the gym. They were simply living by the tenets of their community. This is a group of habits that has been adhered to for centuries, sometimes millennia!
First, they move regularly and naturally. No big push to work out but they have movement ingrained in their life: walking, gardening, home maintenance, etc.
Second, they know how to downshift, meaning they may have stress in their life, but they have institutionalized de-stressing through worship, fellowship, meditation, etc. Each community has their own unique way of incorporating de-stressing into their lifestyle.
Third, they live from a sense of purpose however trivial or grand that may be.
Fourth, all of the identified 5 Blue Zones, except for the 7th Day Adventist community of Loma Linda, enjoyed 2-4 glasses of wine or spirits/day!
Fifth, they all followed a mostly plant-based diet. Some completely plant-based but even those that consumed animal products do not do so on a large scale with the average consumption being 5-6 times/month. Most people living in Blue Zones garden regularly. If you don’t have room or time for gardening, consider the space and time saving vertical unit that Jake and I use!
Sixth, they all have incorporated not eating too-much into their lives. The Okinawans even have a phrase for it: “hara hachi bu” meaning: stop when you’re 80% full!
Seventh, they all connect: family is most important, and they believe in investing in their children AND elders.
Eighth, they all have a faith that connects them and there doesn’t seem to be a distinction WHAT that faith is, just that it has them have fellowship together every week.
Ninth, they have a sense of belonging and friendship with a wide group of friends that they care about and are invested in.
There you have it folks: The Blue Zone Habits. I’m going to keep writing about them because I find them fascinating AND because, I believe that I have, unwittingly, stumbled into a natural Blue Zone of my own…I’ll write more about that another time!