Healthy Life Lessons From The Blue Zones
Healthy Life Lessons From The Blue Zones

Healthy Life Lessons From The Blue Zones

There are five places in the world where people live the longest and healthiest lives – known as Blue
Zones, you can find them in California, Costa Rica, Greece, Japan and Italy. These places might be far
apart, but research shows the people who live in them share some common lifestyle habits, which we
can all learn from and incorporate into our own lives…
By Tor West

Eat More Plants

“The typical Western diet is very much at odds with the way the Blue Zone inhabitants eat. First, their diet is plant heavy – some studies suggest up to 95% of their diet is plant based. Cooking from scratch, Blue Zone inhabitants eat diets rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes and wholegrains. These foods are rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which are associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases. They’re also fantastic for gut health. Think of plants as the star of the show, not a side dish, to reap vast health benefits. Nothing goes to waste, either – produce is eaten fresh, but also dried or pickled to save for the months when it's out of season. Try to cook with plant-based oils, such as olive oil, rather than animal-based fats. Quality olive oil is linked to reduced cholesterol.” – Clarissa Lenherr, nutritionist 

Think Quality, Not Quantity

“Blue Zone inhabitants naturally tend to consume fewer ingredients and their diet is free from emulsifiers, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners and flavourings. Quality matters. In some Blue Zones near coastal areas, fish is part of the diet. They don’t, however, over-farm the waters for their fish and tend to eat smaller fish like anchovies and sardines, which are not only a great source of omega-3, but are less likely to have high levels of mercury, a known pollutant.” – Clarissa

Practise Portion Control

“As a nutritionist, the dietary patterns of the Blue Zones are fascinating, but how they eat is just as interesting. In the Blue Zones, Dan Buettner – the National Geographic journalist who leads the research – found people stopped eating when they were mostly full, not when they had finished everything on their plate. Try pushing your plate away when you feel 80% full, eat mindfully and in the company of loved ones – these habits can help support weight management and digestive health.” – Clarissa

Get A Daily Dose Of Beans

“Beans are the cornerstone of every longevity diet in the world: black beans in Nicoya; lentils and chickpeas in the Mediterranean; and soybeans in Okinawa. Get into the habit of eating more beans and legumes – as well as lentils and tofu. They’re a prebiotic food, a key component for a healthy gut, and have proven benefits for the immune and cardiovascular systems, bone health and even mental health.” – Lucy Epps, nutritionist

Think of plants as the STAR OF THE SHOW, not a side dish, to reap vast health benefits.

Nurture Friendships

“Strong social bonds are vital as we age, with studies showing people who participate in community activities are more likely to be in good health. Plus, studies show loneliness can increase the risk of early mortality by 30%. Thanks to the Blue Zones residents’ social connections, they are less likely to experience loneliness. Spending time with family and friends fosters a sense of belonging, which is often associated with lower levels of stress.” – Clarissa

Move More

“Those in the Blue Zones often have exercise incorporated into their daily lives – perhaps they live in hilly areas that require them to put more effort into walking, or they cycle or walk as their main form of transport. Many Blue Zone communities also have a strong tradition of gardening – both as a hobby and to generate food. Gardening is a form of low-intensity exercise that provides fresh, nutritious produce and helps with a sense of purpose and connection to the land. You don’t have to go to the gym to be active – non-exercise movement is a big win that people can implement without overthinking it.” – Clarissa

Manage Stress

“People in the Blue Zones experience stress like the rest of us, but it’s how they deal with it that matters. In Sardinia, they nap in the afternoon or have a happy hour gathering with friends and family to talk about the day’s events, usually over a drink or two. What’s important here isn’t how they manage stress but the feeling of ‘winding down’ that results in the reduction of stress. We know long-term stress can impact the immune system, cause chronic inflammation, and is associated with diseases such as Alzheimer’s.” – Lucy

People in the Blue Zones experience stress like the rest of us, but it’s HOW THEY DEAL WITH IT that matters.

Find Your Purpose

“Whether it’s religion or faith, volunteering, helping others or having a passion or hobby, having a reason to get up consistently appears in longevity research. In the Blue Zones, this sense of purpose is often their work, which continues far beyond retirement years into their 80s and 90s. In the UK, retirement is considered a time for slowing down, but this couldn’t be more different for Blue Zone residents, who hold onto their younger years, and in doing so live with great vitality. Having a sense of purpose is worth up to seven additional years of life expectancy.” – Lucy

Choose Sourdough

“Carbohydrates may get a bad rap in the UK, but in the Blue Zones bread features heavily in the diet. A meta-analysis by Buettner across all five Blue Zones found their carbs mostly come in the form of beans, fruit and vegetables, as well as wholegrain and sourdough bread, rather than breads leavened with yeast. Most commercially available breads here in the UK are made with bleached white flour, which quickly converts into sugar and spikes insulin levels. In Ikaria and Sardinia, bread is made from a variety of whole grains, such as wheat, rye and barley, each of which offers a wide spectrum of nutrients. Traditionally made sourdough bread also has a lower GI.” – Dr Maroof Harghandiwal, GP & healthy ageing specialist at ZEN Healthcare

Start Small

“The habits of those living in the Blue Zones have been proven to improve longevity and overall health, but there’s no need to implement everything at once. Small changes, introduced incrementally over time, will add up. Start slow and lifestyle changes will become second nature. Try adding one extra portion of vegetables into your meals for two weeks, and then add another. If you’re used to a sugary snack in the afternoon, swap for a handful of mixed nuts every other day. Aim for one change at a time that’s realistic for your lifestyle and give yourself time for it to become a habit.” – Lucy

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