What Blue Zone Research Tells Us about Aging Well
September is Healthy Aging Month! It’s intended to encourage people to learn more about wellness and what you need to do to live a longer, healthier life. While genetics play a role in achieving that goal, researchers say lifestyle matters most.
There are four regions around the globe where people seem to have uncovered the fountain of youth. These are places where people live to the age of 100 ten times more often than the average population. Those regions are referred to as Blue Zones. They are the following locations:
- Sardinia, Italy
- Okinawa, Japan
- Loma Linda, CA
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Life in the Blue Zones
Researcher Dan Buettner explored these areas of the world in depth, and he believes the lifestyle behaviors people in these regions share can be adopted by each of us in order to live a healthier life. These include the following:
- Plant-based diet: People in the Blue Zones follow a plant-based diet similar to the increasingly popular Mediterranean diet that cardiologists in the United States encourage. Meals are composed primarily of fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains. Olive oil is used for cooking and in salad dressings. Very little dairy or meat is consumed.
- Activity: Staying physically active is a part of everyday life in Blue Zones. Residents focus on activities that naturally promote movement, flexibility, and strength. This includes walking or biking instead of riding in a car, flower gardening and growing your own food, and swimming to help with endurance and stress management.
- Simpler lifestyle: Unlike the stressful, frantic lives many of us in western cultures pride ourselves on leading, Blue Zone residents know that a slower, simpler lifestyle promotes better health. Living with long-term stress can increase the level of cortisol and other stress hormones in the body. These are linked to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, digestive problems, depression, and more.
- Positive outlook: Along these same lines is the importance of maintaining a positive outlook on life. Blue Zone residents seem to train themselves to look at the bright side of things and to avoid negative thinking.
- Healthy relationships: Having a strong network of healthy relationships with family and friends is a priority for Blue Zone residents. These connections help people avoid the dangers of isolation while also enjoying more meaningful days.
- Purposeful life: Living with purpose is another hallmark of Blue Zone lifestyles. Residents are good at setting priorities and using those priorities to guide daily decisions.
- Hara hachi bu: While this Confucian phrase isn’t familiar to many, it’s a good one to learn. The loose translation means that people should eat only until they are no longer hungry. That’s different than eating until you are full. The calorie gap between full and no longer hungry helps Blue Zone residents avoid weight gain and the obesity epidemic currently surging in the United States.
- Red wine: Chronic inflammation is linked to health problems ranging from Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes to autoimmune conditions like lupus and multiple sclerosis. Diet and exercise are believed to be two avenues for avoiding it. Another way is by consuming foods and beverages rich with resveratrol. Many residents in Blue Zones enjoy a glass of red wine, which contains resveratrol, each day.
- Spirit: Blue Zones seem to be places where people nurture their spirit. For some, it is through organized religion, while others do it by connecting with nature or through meditation. Whatever the method, Blue Zone residents are guided by a strong set of personal beliefs.
At Sunrise Senior Living communities, we are committed to helping older adults live their best lives. From our award-wining dining services to our life enrichment activities and wellness programs, we provide residents with an environment that promotes healthy living. Call the Sunrise community nearest you to learn more today!