By Jacob Gerdes, Arizona State Nutrition Communications Student
Within this great blue planet of ours, lie many different cultures that live different lifestyles and consume different diets. Many people believe that we all generally live to be around the same age because we are all human and we couldn’t be that different from one another, right? Well the fact is: although humans are relatively similar despite heritage, there are areas of the world where the population live significantly longer and healthier lives due to their specific cultural and lifestyle practices.These areas of the world are called Blue Zones.
Blue Zones have an extraordinary amount of centenarians, or individuals that live past 100 years old. You may think to yourself, “I would love to live that long” or maybe, “I do not want to live that long if I am in poor shape.” In Blue Zones, the population not only has great longevity but also great vitality. Who doesn’t want a long, vibrant life?
So what’s the difference between Blue Zones and the rest of the world, and can I live in a Blue Zone to reap the benefits? Well, yes and no. The major difference between Blue Zones and the rest of the planet is the lifestyle factors and dietary practices such as eating smaller more frequent meals, following a plant-based diet high in beans and legumes, having small amount of alcohol occasionally, living relatively relaxed and stress-free lives and always surrounding themselves with friends or family; the list continues. So while living in these cultures could lend you some of the health benefits, we will take a look at the science behind these lifestyle factors, and why we should incorporate them into our own lives along with how they affect our health.
First, where are Blue Zones? NPR’s The Salt writer, Elizabeth Barclay, lists Blue Zones to include:
-Loma Linda, California (U.S)
-Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
The Typical Blue Zone Diet
These areas usually have a strong religious or cultural influence that leads them to practice specific lifestyle choices. For example Loma Linda, California has a high population of 7th Day Adventist who maintain a vegetarian diet as a part of their religious practices. Okinawa, Japan has many vegetarians, also due to a majority of the population being Buddhist’s that follow a vegetarian diet. According to a meta-analysis published in the American Medical Association’s Journal of Internal Medicine, researchers came to the conclusion that following a vegetarian diet lowers blood pressure.
Typical Blue Zone diets do, though, include red meat, often featuring a variety of lean beef, lamb and pork cuts.
Another factor is the geographical location of these regions such as living along an ocean. This serves a major purpose in regards to the quality of food. While the majority of food consists of plants, these regions have access to fresh fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, Omega-3’s have many different health benefits including the increase of HDL cholesterol that lowers blood pressure and reduces heart disease, helps prevent diabetes, and may support the relief of depression.
In general, increasing plant and omega-3 consumption have many health benefits, and may add a few extra years to you life. Both of these dietary practices have strong links to the prevention and treatment of disease within the body.
The Typical Lifestyle for Someone in the Blue Zones
I know many people will be excited to hear this, but an important factor of Blue Zone lifestyles is living a low-stress life. A great way to lower stress is to take short naps. The Mayo Clinic lists the benefits of napping to include:
-Improved performance, including quicker reaction time and better memory
While the science has not quite shown that short naps are beneficial, a study published by the American College of Cardiology has shown that excessively long naps may increase the risk of metabolic disease and heart disease. In Blue Zones, the citizens frequently take short naps but anything over 90 minutes may begin to have a negative affect. 20-30 minutes and you’re golden!
A second important lifestyle factor that greatly reduces stress and increases happiness is placing importance on family and friends. An article published in the Journal of Aging and Health looked into the effect of social support versus social connectivity and their relationship with health. The study showed there was a positive relationship between adults who were surrounded and in contact with members of their community and their health status. Feeling as though you have a purpose and a place to belong greatly effects your emotions that in turn greatly affects your health.
There are many slight changes we can make in our own lives to increase our health. By incorporating these practices daily we may be able to live long, healthy and happy lives just as the citizens of Blue Zones. So remember to nap, eat more plants and red meat, and keep good company each and every day!
- Barclay E. Eating to Beak 100: Longevity Diet Tips From The Blue Zones. NPR. Published on April 11, 2015. Accessed April 2016. URL: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/04/11/398325030/eating-to-break-100-longevity-diet-tips-from-the-blue-zones
- Yokoyama Y, Et. Al. Vegetarian diets and blood pressure: a meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. Published April 2014. Accessed April 2016. URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24566947
- Ehrlich S. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. University of Maryland Medical Center. Last reviewed August 5, 2015. Accessed April 2016. URL: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega3-fatty-acids
- Mayo Clinic. Napping: Do’s and don’ts for healthy adults. Mayo Clinic Healthy Lifestyle. Published October 3, 2015. Accessed April 2016. URL: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/napping/art-20048319
- American College of Cardiology. Long naps, daytime sleepiness tied to greater risk of metabolic syndrome: Findings suggest more research is needed to understand the role of sleep and heart risk factors. ScienceDaily. March 23, 2016. Accessed April 2016. URL: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160323185548.htm
- Ashida S, Heaney C. Differential Associations of Social Support and Social Connectedness With Structural Features of Social Networks and the Health Status of Older Adults. J Aging Health. Published October 2008. Accessed April 2016. URL: http://jah.sagepub.com/content/20/7/872.short