The places on the planet where people live longer and in excellent cognitive and health conditions have certain characteristics that help explain the reasons for this longevity. There is not a single reason, but multiple factors related to aspects such as the natural environment, a wise diet, movement and rest, a positive vision of life and high sociability come together.
A mark on a map with a blue pen established the first of these areas and from there came its name. There are, for the moment, five blue zones around the planet and the one that started this search for the oldest inhabitants was established by Michel Poulain, a demographer, and by Gianni Pes, a doctor, at the end of the 20th century. They found that, in the Barbaglia region of Sardinia, the population was very long-lived.
Later, after an exhaustive investigation, the American Dan Buettner, together with ‘National Geographic’, marked four more points on the map, including Loma Linda, in California, United States; Nicoya, in Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; and Icaria, in Greece. They all have in common that their inhabitants live more than 90 years, some even exceed 100, with a great quality of life.
(Keep reading: What if your dog could live a hundred years?: scientists are working on it).
Why does this happen? According to Luis Aguilar Allen, a Costa Rican doctor and president of CALM (the lifestyle medicine association of that country), who lives 80 kilometers from Nicoya (in Monte Verde), there are 9 ‘powers’ that explain the longevity of these populations in the world.
“Plant-based eating, drinking wine, living in the right tribe, a good circle of friends, belonging, natural movement, stress reduction, the 80 percent rule, and living with purpose are the common characteristics of these blue zones”, says Aguilar Allen, a specialist on the subject.
The nine ‘powers’ of the blue zones:
1. Plant-based diet: Although it is a trend today, for these communities it is a circumstantial condition for which they eat less than 200 grams of meat a week. Their diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, seeds and legumes.
2. Came at five: it is simply the custom of meeting with family, friends or neighbors. “In Sardinia, particularly, they get together at five in the afternoon to meet, eat healthy food, produced in the area, without chemicals, which they accompany with the moderate consumption of a wine full of flavonoids, extracted by them with grapes from the area. ”, explains the specialist doctor in blue zones.
3. The correct tribe: it means joining or associating with people who have a healthy lifestyle. “Some behaviors can be contagious like a virus, for example, a study by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler -published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007- shows how when approaching people who have bad eating habits, they begin to follow that type of behavior”, says Aguilar Allen, differentiating himself from those who related to others with positive behaviors such as sports activities, healthy eating and meditation and began a path towards well-being.
4. Circle of friends: have a group of care and mutual respect. In Okinawa, Japan, the moais are groups of friends who commit to caring for and protecting themselves for the rest of their lives, a support that becomes essential for the mental health and well-being of those who make it up.
5. Belong: Being part of a spiritual or religious practice group increases quality of life and longevity by up to 15 years. “It does not matter if you are Catholic, Christian or if you practice Islam, it is scientifically proven that the mere fact of sharing in a group, of having a belief and of belonging, generates well-being”, warns the president of CALM.
6. Natural movement: It refers to the concept of “natural physical activity”, that is, it is not about going to a gym, but in these populations exercise is part of daily life. “Most of these populations are rural and have limited resources, they produce their own food. So, physical activity and sun exposure are something natural”, clarifies the Costa Rican doctor.
7. Stress Reduction: slowing down is a common characteristic of blue zones that brings great well-being to its inhabitants.
8. “Hara hachi bu”: another of the powers results from putting into practice one of the advice of the Chinese thinker Confucius. This proposes to use 80 percent of our stomach, that is, not to fill up completely when eating, it invites us to eat moderately.
9. Live with a purpose: “Having a purpose in life is everything that improves our quality of life for human beings and makes us live longer,” emphasizes Aguilar Allen.
(It may be of interest to you: Why do men live fewer years than women?).
The two pillars for a better quality of life
For María de los Ángeles Sánchez Calvin, a medical specialist in nutrition and psychonutrition, the reason for longevity in these blue zones is directly related to habits and lifestyle. First, in these regions, people eat food from nature, so that they learn to wait for biological processes such as fermentation, the activation of certain foods, they respect the chronobiology and the circadian rhythm of the body. “In addition, they move more, oxygenate better, socialize, spend time outdoors and give importance to rest and meditation,” he summarizes.
A key element is, without a doubt, the way they are fed with a clear predominance of natural products that help reduce cholesterol levels and increase immune defenses. “Among the nutrients that they incorporate are first-pressed olive oil, fermented olive oil, fish rich in omega 3, a rich diet with a wide variety of vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts, which ensure a high fiber content. and a high quality of nutrients, such as the use of soybeans in Okinawa and beans in Nicoya,” says the nutritionist.
(Also read: Can biological age be reduced? Research says yes; learn how).
But there is another relevant factor that explains why its inhabitants are so long-lived, for Sánchez Calvin it has to do with the stress reduction. “It is not new that we live running and stress is the silent principle of many diseases. Those of us who work with stress know that reducing it will substantially change the quality of life of our patients. Teaching them to know how to say no, living in the present moment, learning to stop and meditate, reducing distorted thoughts, are many of the tools we use to accompany them in these changes of habits forever”, he explains.
A clear example of this slow pace is Sardinia, where siestas and long daily walks are still respected. “All Blue Zones spend time exercising and creating a good work-life balance. Japan continues with its Buddhist teachings, where the culture of cooperation is favored over individualism,” he adds.
How to create our own blue zones
Is it possible to approach the way of life of these earthly oases in the big cities? Can blue zones be generated? “With this question, we doubt that, perhaps, it is genetics that determines a long and healthy life in these areas. However, the reality is that only 20 to 30 percent of longevity is genetic, the rest is lifestyle and the decisions and habits that we follow on a day-to-day basis”, warns Sánchez Calvin. At the same time, he believes that building small blue zones in our community is possible if we use tools such as mindful eating, psychonutrition, functional medicine and movement.
This last one is, without a doubt, one of the most important aspects to replicate of the inhabitants of the blue zones. “It is very important that physical exercise is habitual.
It doesn’t have to be intensive, but it is a habit like in Sardinia, where, for example, those who kept sheep got a lot of exercise going up and down hills to graze the goats,” he says.
(Don’t miss reading: ‘Longevity pill’ could extend human life by more than 100 years.)
Matías Manzotti, head of the geriatrics section of the medical clinic service of the German Hospital and member of the board of directors of the Argentine Society of Geriatrics and Gerontology.
For the specialist in the elderly, another highly relevant variable is personal fulfillment, that is, when one lives thinking that he is emotionally satisfied with his life and has a purpose. “Healthy aging is based on physical exercise as a routine, socialization, healthy eating and, above all this, there is the fact of having a life project”, she warns.
Likewise, Sánchez Calvin assures that from our habits we can create our blue zones. First, we have to start with our body: we have to respect it, move it and take care of it; At the same time, it is necessary to improve the thoughts in our mind, increase flexibility and build awareness of the here and now.
“We also have to focus on our soul: nurturing ourselves from helping others, replacing the individual to socialize and collaborate in community. And encouraging ourselves to learn new ways of listening to our bodies, without so much judgment or social mandates, will give us the freedom to create our best quality of life”, he concludes.
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The Nation / Argentina (GDA)
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