the blue zones and longevity story

I just returned from an island in Greece called Ikaria. If you are presently watching the Blue Zone series on Netflix, or read Dan Buettner’s book, titled Blue Zones – 9 Lessons for Living Longer, as I did in 2008, you will know what I am talking about. If not, the blue zones were a term coined by a group of demographers for 5 areas in the world where people were living long and well.

It seems that Dan Buettner visited these 5 regions to explore and discover their secrets to longevity and where the success was coming from. The 5 regions are Okinawa in Japan, Sardinia in Italy, Loma Linda in California, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, and Ikaria in Greece. The goal with each of his visits was to discover the culture that led to the years of longevity and the success of living well.

As a naturopath, I have had the desire for many years to explore and see how these people were living including what they were eating, drinking, exercising etc.. Was it just a question of genes? Is it true that the M26 genetic marker is found in 35 percent of Sardinians today and is very rare elsewhere? I knew from reading the book, however, that there were some common lifestyle habits that led to longevity in all the five places.

I decided to go to Ikaria as part of my Greek holiday to learn more about what was then and now in relation to lifestyle habits.

Here is what I discovered. It appears that there is an opportunity to live well until later years, but sadly a large percentage of the younger generation are not choosing to follow the habits of their ancestors. I believe this is probably happening elsewhere as well.

Ikaria is a mountainous island of approximately 8000 people. There is no public transportation, which means that if you do not own a car, you walk. Years ago, this is what most men and women did. They would walk to the fields to work, walk home (usually steep walks), tend to their gardens, and then eat with family and friends. Most of the food consumed came from what they grew, or from the goats and fish. I went for a hike in the mountains and along the way, nibbled on beautiful herbs, berries and nuts that included curry, oregano, rosemary, sage, chestnuts, carob, blueberries. Sadly, this was end of season, so I was not blessed with too much, but I was still able to get an idea of how they are surrounded by so many nutrients growing in their soil.

A sense of community living and sharing is very important to these areas. They have a strong desire to spend time together. No one eats alone. If you are without family you are invited to friends and at the end of each day, the ritual of drinking beautiful herbal teas, and or homemade wine is common.

There is no stress! Time is not taken too seriously. Rushing to get anywhere at a specific time is not important. A slower pace and way of life is encouraged.

Although there are supermarkets now which do carry junk food, there are no fast foods restaurants. This is very special as it allows the younger generation to adopt better eating habits and not get accustomed to the artificial tastes that can be addicting and designed to leave you wanting more.

I cannot speak for the other blue zone areas but from talking to the people in Ikaria, one thing is for sure. They do not think about death or getting sick. If they are not well, they will not think about taking medication or drugs. They will go to nature first, drinking more tea, consuming more olive oil, and resting. There is no retirement or assisted living homes.

My takeaway and message for all is that we can create our own “blue zone” way of life wherever we live. Yes of course some of us are more challenged than others with climate and what we can grow ourselves, but there are still choices we can make when it comes to nutrition.

Here are some “blue zone” practices that you can start to implement:

* Eating as close to nature as possible and staying away from fast food and sugar should be a number one priority. The abundance of flavonoids and polyphenols in bright colored fruits and vegetables are the source of your vitamins and minerals and should be consumed daily.

* Although many people still drink too much coffee and there are numerous conflicting reports about the benefits and or detriment of coffee, herbal teas have incredible healing properties and should be a part of your daily hydration.

* Finding a like-minded group of people that you can feel comfortable with and call your community is very important. Loneliness can be very stressful. Gathering and laughter reduces stress, but gathering with the right people is most important. Look for those that support healthy habits and think like you!

* Exercise does not have to be joining a gym. Staying active throughout the day is most important.

* Having a sense of purpose that is not only about your job is crucial. It can be as simple as watering your plants. Exercising your brain by doing new things is shown to decrease memory loss.

* Finally, and what I consider to be the most significant is to slow down. Rushing is stressful and can lead to needless accidents and additional tension, pressure, and anxiety.

Cheers to your own “blue zone” creation 🙂

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