Live Long, Live Healthy – Life in the Blue Zone

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Those who live the longest share common healthy habits.

When you read stories about people who’ve lived a century or more, they’re almost always asked to reveal the secret to their long life. And their answers are often all over the map. Some think the key is abstinence from alcohol and tobacco, while there are others who attribute their endurance to a daily breakfast of bacon and eggs.

There are plenty of factors that determine an individual’s life span, all part of a complex interplay between genetics and environment. While there’s yet to be a clear-cut path to the fountain of youth, there may be, at least, some small springs. Centenarian hot spots termed ‘blue zones’ are home to unusually high numbers of people over 100 years old. And naturally, everyone wants to know what makes these blue zoners tick—and keep on ticking.

The term blue zone became popularized after researchers in Italy used blue ink to map the concentrations of centenarians inhabiting the island of Sardinia. As the map evolved, they identified a particularly large concentration in east-central Sardinia—a very blue zone where life expectancy was higher than anywhere else on the island.

Since that time, other blue zones have been identified: Okinawa, Japan, the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica and the Greek Island of Ikaria. There are also some blue zones in the US: there’s one in Loma Linda, California, which is home to a large concentration of Seventh Day Adventists. And there’s another patch that runs through the Dakotas and Minnesota and up into Canada.

Clearly, these zones are wide-ranging in distance and culture. But there do seem to be similarities in how residents of the blue zones lead their lives. They don’t overeat, and the majority of them don’t smoke. They stay active, both physically and mentally, they walk a lot, they socialize and they keep themselves busy. Remarkably, most centenarians live independently past the age of 90, and the majority of them stay quite healthy until the end of life.

Their diets feature whole grains, beans, nuts, an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables and—with the exception of the largely vegetarian Seventh Day Adventists—plenty of seafood. Mealtimes are an important event in everyday life. It’s a reflection of a commitment to the importance of maintaining strong connections to family and community.

They’re simple things, to be sure, but these lifestyle practices may be key to a longer, healthier life. We can learn from and adopt some of these habits ourselves. Keep moving, eat the right foods (and not too much), cultivate a sense of purpose in life and stay connected to family and community. You may not live in a blue zone, but it can’t hurt to behave as if you do.

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