How to live a Long Life: Lessons from the Blue Zones

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Health for a Hundred Years….Cent’Anni

“Cent’Anni”, literally one hundred years, a toast Italians are known to give before enjoying their meal. A great sentiment. Not just because of my Italian ancestry but mostly because I’m a nurse practitioner with a focus on cardiovascular disease prevention.  For the last 2 decades I have been working with patients so they can live a long healthy productive life.

So when I recently read my county’s community health needs assessment announcing that deaths from heart disease are again on the rise, I was disappointed to say the least.

But that wasn’t all. Not only did heart disease surpass all leading causes of death including cancer but we also had the highest incidence of diabetes with 13.11% of our residents that have been diagnosed with diabetes-the highest in the state- a condition associated with increased cardiovascular risk.

And a quarter of the residents-25%, are considered obese. That’s a 22% increase since 2012.

It didn’t make sense……

Over the last few years I’ve seen advances in the science and our understanding about why people suffer from heart attacks, strokes, heart failure and diabetes. We have new targets and new therapies available. And we live in the information age with information literally at our fingertips.

So why aren’t people living healthier lives?

As I read on I find out what the contributing factors may be.

14% still smoke,

Only 26% reported eating recommended amount of fruits and vegetables,

18% report no leisure time physical activity,

There were also factors with air pollution/particulate matter, drinking water violations, severe housing problems and driving alone to work with long commutes.

What should we do to for a longer life?

Is it statins in the water? Fitness clubs on every corner? or maybe Kale smoothies?

The answer may come from the Blue zones, areas known to have 10 times more centurians, people living into their 100s, than other parts of the world.

Blue Zones

Blue Zones

The term Blue Zones was popularized by longevity expert Dan Buettner. Dan, a journalist, best selling author and National Geographic Fellow, discovered 5 areas of the world where people live the longest and healthiest lives.

What led to their longevity? Was this something in the DNA or was it some behavior or habit that contributed to their longevity? He found that they had certain characteristics in common.

Lessons in Longevity

After studying these blue zones, it was discovered they had 9 traits in common. And actually it turns out they are simple things most of us could easily incorporate into our lives.

Move more

Almost all centurians walked on a daily basis, and many of them worked. Participated in low level exertion for most of day with physical chores. Mindless movement

Eat light, Cut calories

The diet in the blue zones are rich in nutrients but not in calories. Most of the centurians also ate early. They were mindful while eating meaning they stopped eating once their hunger was satisfied.

Diet rich in Plants

Although many of the centurians did eat meat but in moderation. Many ate food from their own gardens where they planted foods and spices indigenous to their region. In Costa Rica, plant based foods included maize and beans, the Sardinian diet included beans, Okinawans sweet potatoes and soy, like in tofu or edamame. The Ikarians ate a mediterranean style rich in green leafy vegetables and the Adventists in Loma Linda snacked on nuts.

Wine in moderation

Sardinians and Ikarians enjoyed a glass of Red wine while Okinawans enjoyed a daily glass of sake. Consistency and moderation may be the key in these Blue Zones

A sense of Purpose

The centurians took time to “see the big picture”. Most all possessed a sense of purpose or reason for getting up in the morning. It may have been seeing their children or grandchildren grow but could even include a hobby or learning something new.

Stress Relief

Centurians learned to manage their stress. Although they worked hard they also were able to “press pause”, taking time to relieve stress.

A sense of Belonging

Healthy centurians had faith and participated in a spiritual community. Being connected provides an opportunity to “give back”

Being apart of the Right Tribe

A long healthy live involves being connected to those who share your values.

Having social networks

Centurians made social networks of family and friends a priority. Many made a regular practice to eat meals together.

Sardinian men socializing

Create your own Blue Zone

After reading about these blue zones, I’ve decided to make some of these changes myself. The best part is that it could be as simple as adding more beans in your diet or eating more meals together. For others it could be finding ways to be more active like taking a yoga class or biking to work. Planting a garden is a great way to stay active and get the benefits of more plants in your diet.

Or maybe it’s one of the loftier changes like recognizing, your purpose and mission and the importance of your contribution with your family friends or work. It may be a good to to reconnect to your roots and traditions, or even have a conversation with someone to learn about another culture or religion

If we are honest, each of us as individuals contribute to the health of our communities. Of course we need community leaders, politicians and health centers to provide services for our safety, clean water and air. But ultimately we have the power to make changes to benefit ourselves. But these changes can do so much more. We can make changes that impact those around us, improving our health and the health in our communities.

Want to learn more check out

Nicole Ciffone, MSN, NP
Lipid Specialist
Founder Az Lipid Center

Arizona Lipid Center

1 Comment

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