Want to live a longer, healthier, happier life? If so, look no further than the life lessons learned from communities around the world where the average life expectancy is over 100 years. From diverse areas and economic backgrounds these Blue Zones hold the key to a happy, healthy, long life.
What are the Blue Zones?
According to the Blue Zones website, www.bluezones.com, Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Explorer, traveled throughout the world searching for unique areas where people’s lifestyles and health habits led to average lives of more than 100 years with a high quality of life and less diseases than typically found in the general population. From the island of Okinawa, Japan to the mountains of Sardinia, Italy and the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica, and Linda Loma, California, Dan Buettner discovered common patterns that can be emulated no matter where you live to help you obtain a happier, healthier long life.
Physical Life Lessons from the Blue Zone
According to Dan Buettner in his article The Secrets of Long Life published in National Geographic Magazine, everyone knows that regular exercise can keep you fit and lowers your chance for disease, in the Blue Zones, physical activity is a way of life. More than an extra activity to add to the day, individuals in the Blue Zone live exercise. Their daily activities include walking instead of driving, being physically active with family activities, gardening, cooking, and cleaning. Many of the Blue Zones do not have access to many of modern day conveniences, so life’s daily chores require more exercise. So, to capture this lesson and put it work in your own life, try to move naturally and incorporate extra physical activity into the activities you already enjoy. For example, instead of heating up a frozen pizza for dinner and watching a movie with the family, try making a pizza from scratch as the family activity. Your children will enjoy helping create their ‘own’ pizza and you all will get more exercise in the process. If you enjoy your physical activity, you are more likely to make it an integral part of your life.
Eating Life Lessons from the Blue Zone
Most meal planning seems to start with determining what type of meat to use and then vegetables are added as a complement to the meat dish. This way of eating is contrary to the life lessons learned in the Blue Zone. Due to economic conditions, meat is not a primary source of protein, but rather a secondary source that adds flavor and variety to dishes. According to a Wikipedia article, diets in the Blue Zones rely heavily on a variety of vegetable and legume based sources such as beans, nuts, and leafy vegetables. This life lesson is even true in Linda Loma, California, where the diets are heavily fortified with nuts throughout the week. Additionally, in the Blue Zones, processed foods are rarely eaten and portion sizes are about 20% less than those consumed in the United States. So, to take advantage of this life-extending lesson, eat less overall and change from a meat-based diet to a vegetable and legume based diet.
Social and Mental Life Lessons from the Blue Zone
Dan Buettner also asserts that mental outlook in the Blue Zone is a great contributor to the overall well being that helps to keep individuals sharp, healthy, and happy throughout their lives. The Blue Zones are tight nit communities where family is put ahead of other concerns, and family activities are a routine occurrence. Friends many times are considered part of the extended family and the whole community is an active, supportive social structure. Instead of watching television every night, participation in community activities is life’s central core. At times these activities range from sitting on the front porch and chatting the night away to religious activities. You can take advantage of this life-changing lesson by trying to plug into your community and family. Even if you do not live near your family, you can consciously try to engage on a daily basis with others who are around you. This engagement will help you feel more connected to life and can help you weather the ups and downs that may come your way.
In addition to being active members in their family and community, individuals in the Blue Zones feel a sense of purpose in their life. They know who they are and where they fit into their society. Every day has a sense of purpose and is filled with need-based activities. While days are filled with activities, they are punctuated with multiple periods of calm. In order to put this lesson to work, you need to have a long-term perspective and see your life full of purpose. Whether that purpose is to raise your children, or to provide for your family, the long-term sense of purpose helps to create a daily sense of purpose in the routine items that can feel like drudgery without a mental vision of purpose. Additionally, it is important to fill your days with moments of calm where you can regroup and take a breath. These moments of calm in your life should not be filled with the electronic devices that have invaded every space of our life. Truly take a moment to disconnect from everything and breathe.
Conclusion to Life Lessons from the Blue Zones
It is estimated that Americans could add up to 14 years to their life by incorporating the lessons learned from the Blue Zones into their life. Even if life is not extended, the healthy habits of the Blue Zone are a model that can help to create a more positive, happier life. So, take a moment to connect, breathe, and think about your next vegetable based meal.
Dan Buettner, The Secrets of Long Life. National Geographic November 2005.
Dan Buettner, Blue Zones Website, www.bluezones.com
Multiple authors, Blue Zone article, Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Zone