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Life in the Blue Zones

bluezonesWant to live long and be happy? With your mind intact?

Put away the rose-colored glasses and move to a Blue Zone.

Linda Uhrig Hitchcock, MD, Director, Geriatric Medicine, describes the Blue Zones, geographic areas where people live demonstrably longer and healthier lives. Dr. Hitchcock discusses what we can learn from the Blue Zones about lifestyle choices that encourage longevity.

The Blue Zones

National Geographic researchers and author Dan Buettner noted in 2004 that people living in five specific areas of the world lived to be 100 at ten times the rate of the population of the rest of the world.

“As a geriatrician, I’m interested in the areas of the world called the Blue Zones, where some people have lived into their 100s and don’t have dementia — and they’re very healthy and happy,” says Dr. Hitchcock.

The five identified Blue Zones, the areas where people are healthiest, happiest and live the longest, are:

  • Ikaria, Greece
  • Loma Linda, California (in a Seventh-Day Adventist community)
  • Nicoya, Costa Rica
  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Sardinia, Italy

Nine Common Behaviors of Life in the Blue Zones

The researchers found that the people in these five areas shared nine characteristics in common, Dr. Hitchcock says. It’s suggested that adopting these behaviors may add as many as 12 years to your life.

“Explore."
  • Be constantly moving (but not necessarily “exercising”)
    • Walk to the store, church, friends’ homes
    • Spend free time in activities that require movement
  • Have reason to live
    • Engaged in purposeful activities
    • Productive citizens — even in their 90s and 100s
  • Engage in daily stress-relieving activities
    • Build downtime into daily routine
    • Take time to pray, take a nap, read a book — just do it every day
  • Eat wisely
    • Don’t eat until you’re full
    • Eat in early evening and not later
  • Cut back on meats
    • Select a diet heavy on vegetables and legumes
    • Eat lean meats only twice a week
  • Enjoy a glass of wine every day
    • Research shows moderate drinkers outlive nondrinkers
    • Wines high in antioxidants are best
  • Belong to a faith group
    • Be a practicing member of a faith-based community
    • Attend a Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish or some other service that meets in community at least four times a month
  • Surround yourself with family
    • Keep your elderly parents or grandparents in your home where you can care for them (if possible)
    • Spend time and energy with your children
    • Be in a loving, committed relationship
  • Have a committed circle of friends or family
    • Have relationships that last throughout your life
    • Develop lasting relationships that promote the above behaviors

“These Blue Zones are known to have particular commonalities including some sort of spirituality, some nutritional aspects — such as having components of high antioxidants, the people stay active and are part of the family group,” says Dr. Hitchcock, “and they’re part of a core group that checks on each other.”

To illustrate: “There was a group of four women who were bonded at age five,” Dr. Hitchcock says, “and over the years they always checked on each other. One afternoon, when they were well into their 100s, one of them didn’t arrive for their gathering, so the other three tottered down to check on her and found she just hadn’t woken from her nap. We learn that it’s the bond that people form that keeps them focused on life and living,” says Dr. Hitchcock.

“All in all, communal activity, healthy diet, socialization, involvement — these may be the keys to a healthy brain and a long life,” says Dr. Hitchcock.

Having an Identity and Purpose in the Blue Zones

Centenarians in the Blue Zones “have positions and jobs in their families. Some of them oversee their grandchildren or great-grandchildren, preparing meals and things like that,” Dr. Hitchcock says.

“It’s fascinating to know that those people who live up into their 100s are still productive,” says Dr. Hitchcock.

“Losing our identity and having people ignore us for that may be part of the reason our brains deteriorate,” says Dr. Hitchcock. “Having a reason to live and having an identity are part of what keeps us alive,” says Dr. Hitchcock.

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Life in the Blue Zones