Friday, February 8, 2013

Nine Tips to Create Your Own Blue Zone

30 Day Mediterranean Lifestyle Challenge
One of the things I find most appealing about a Mediterranean diet and, more specifically, the Sonoma Diet cookbook that we'll be using to guide our upcoming 30 Day Lifestyle Challenge, is how consistent all the pricipals are with what I learned from the Blue Zones. In The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest, National Geographic explorer Dan Buettner visits four places where people are living the longest, healthiest lives anywhere on the planet -- Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California and Nicoya, Costa Rica. The book is an engaging easy read filled with so many good stories and ideas, I took notes to share. 

Here are nine tips that could help you lead a long and healthy life:

1) Move. People that live the longest are physically active much of most days. Most don't run or go to the gym, but they engage in low-intensity activities like walking and gardening as part of their daily work. The time outside also allows people to get a steady dose of vitamin D from the sunshine. It was interesting that they pointed out that Okinawans sit on the floor and probably strengthen their legs just by getting up and down throughout the day.

2) Hara Hachi Bu - eat until you are 80% full. This comes from the Okinawans, stopping when you are no longer hungry, but not quite full is a good way to avoid overeating. Eat your biggest meals at breakfast and lunch. Nicoyans, Okinawans and Sardinians all eat their big meal at midday. Loma Lindans eat their big meal for breakfast. Without exception, the people that live the longest maintain a healthy weight over the course of their lives.

3) Eat whole, unprocessed foods and a mostly vegetarian diet. The cornerstones of a longevity diet are beans, whole grains and vegetables. Pork was eaten in three of the four Blue Zones, but it was only consumed three or four times per month. Seventh-day Adventists consume nuts daily and they have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and have other health benefits. People in all four Blue Zones maintained gardens growing their own fruits and vegetables.

4) Say Cheers. In Sardinia they drink red wine. In Okinawa, it's sake. Consistency and moderation seem to be the key. The other beverages consumed by centenarians seemed to be limited to water, coffee and tea.

5) Live with a strong sense of purpose. The people that live the longest have a reason to wake up in the morning. They enjoy caring for their families, engage in work they find meaningful or volunteer.

6) Slow down and de-stress. People in each of the Blue Zones take time to appreciate family, friends and their surroundings. I was at a conference recently where one of the speakers suggested that we should all try to be calm, confident, patient and present. Centenarians seem to have mastered this. They also have close relationships with friends and neighbors and visit almost daily. Oh, and I almost forgot, get enough sleep -- 7 to 9 hours each night.

7) Practice your religion. All the centenarians interviewed seem to have faith. Studies show that attending religious ceremonies even just once a month increases you life expectancy.

8) Put your family first. The people that live the longest marry, have children, and build their lives around that family core. Their lifelong devotion pays dividends as they get older and their children reciprocate their love and care. In three of the four Blue Zones, the younger generation welcomes the older generation into their homes.

9) Surround yourself with those that share these values. Social connectedness is ingrained into the world's Blue Zones. In the book Connected by scientists Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, they present compelling evidence for our profound influence on one another's tastes, health, wealth, happiness, beliefs, even weight, as they explain how social networks form and how they operate.

There is a corresponding website that allows you to calculate how long you're likely to live given you current habits using a tool called the Vitality Compass. It didn't take long to complete and it's kind of fun to see the results. Here's mine.  

The Danish Twin Studies established that less than 25% of how long the average person lives is dictated by genes. In other words, most of how long and how well we live is up to us. Join us in our 30 Day Mediterranean Challenge to create your own Blue Zone and lead a long and healthy life.

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