Blue Zones: What, Where and Why You Should Care
The term “Blue Zones” was coined by Dan Buettner and it first appeared in National Geographic magazine in 2005. Dan then trademarked the term “Blue Zones” and has a successful business based on educating people on the advantages of following the Blue Zones lifestyle.
After studying the longest lived populations in the world, Dan found that there were five areas where the locals had exceptionally long life expectancies and a high proportion of people who were over 100 years old. These were the island of Okinawa, Japan, the Italian island of Sardinia; the Nicola peninsula in Costa Rica and Ikaria in Greece. There is also a small group of 7th day adventists in Loma Linda, California who way outlive the rest of the United States population.
Recently one of the best-known 7th Day Adventists, cardiothoracic surgeon Ellsworth Wareham died at the advanced age of 104. He had been born and raised in Alberta, and changed to a completely vegan diet in his late fifties. He was still in possession of all his mental faculties when he died.
Dan Buettner’s research on these “Blue Zone” areas revealed that sharing similar values, healthy habits and life goals with others makes people more likely to have low stress levels, be happier and to live longer. It is known that loneliness can decrease life expectancy by up to 8 years. Not surprisingly, people who feel that they have a good network of happy friends, report better quality of life.
Older people without close friends are more likely to develop chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and depression. They are also at higher risk of suffering a stroke. While science and studies have quantified these findings, intuitively it all makes sense doesn’t it?
Out of the five Blue Zone populations, the Okinawans are probably the best known for their longevity. Japan has highest life expectance of any country, with the life expectancy for women being around age 90 which is four years longer than that of women in the USA. Their men live to about 81 which compares favourably again to the life expectancy of 76 in the USA.
On the island of Okinawa the people there do even better than in the rest of Japan. There are more than 400 centenarians (people over 100) in Okinawa. There are undoubtedly many contributing factors, but the way the people eat is thought to be the main reason for this. The islanders eat a nutritionally dense diet which is low in calories. They enjoy smaller meals comprised mostly of green and yellow veggies with only very small amounts of pork and fish in broth, used more as a flavouring than the main event.
Interestingly they also eat less rice than on mainland japan, and instead the mainstay of their diet is sweet potato, which provides a lot of energy while keeping calorie counts low. Another low calorie staple in their diets is seaweed especially kombu, which is rich in protein, amino acids and minerals such as iodine. Indeed, seaweed and tofu in one form or another are eaten on a daily basis.
The spice turmeric is prevalent in the Okinawan diet. It has been historically known to confer great health benefits such as anti-aging properties, defence agains cancer and dementia.
Other health benefits of this diet include little weight gain as they age, maintaining low BMI throughout life, and low risk from the so-called age related diseases.