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Live, Beautifully

Healthy "Artful Living" Moment #23: Living to be 100 the Blue Zone Way

Posted on July 15 2018

Faithful readers of this blog will recall that my interest in healthy living is largely prompted by my desire (and plan) to live to be at least 105 years old (and I just celebrated another milestone on my journey, my 72nd birthday). Because of this goal, I am particularly interested in scientific information that relates to living longer. One of the most useful sources of this kind of information is derived from studies of people who have lived to be 100 years old or older. Interestingly, these people are not necessarily randomly scattered over the globe. In fact, there are intriguing “clusters” of these centenarians in spots around the world (nicknamed “Blue Zones) ranging from Okinawa, Japan to the Sardinia region of Italy, Ikaria, Greece, the Nicoyan Peninsula in Costa Rica, and most improbably of all, Loma Linda in California.

I first learned about these Blue Zones in “The Longevity Diet” by Dr. Valter Longo who is the Director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California. Dr. Longo bases his research findings and recommendations on five “pillars” of knowledge, one of which is to study populations of centenarians (not just individuals). I was fascinated to learn that these “Blue Zone” populations have a much higher percentage of their total populations who live to be at least 100 years old, and short of moving to one of these locations, I hoped that studying these populations would result in findings and recommendations that would be beneficial to me and to others who desire to live long, healthy lives (which, surprisingly, does not apparently include everybody).

Dan Buettner (a National Geographic Fellow) and a team of researchers have studied Blue Zones and found that these populations tend to share certain characteristics which contribute to their amazing longevity. Among those characteristics are the following behaviors: they move a lot and incorporate physical activity into their daily lives, they have strong social connections with family and friends, they take time for themselves to relax and “destress” (this isn’t sounding so bad!), they have a sense of purpose which gives meaning to their lives, and they have a healthful diet.

OK, self-evaluation time. How are you and I doing on these behavioral traits?

  • I go to the YMCA six days every week. I hope you are incorporating physical activity into your daily routine (at least 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise, or 150 minutes of lower intensity exercise every week is the current recommendation)
  • People with family hopefully have strong social connections with family members (though that can sometimes be a challenge). I probably do less well with the “friends” portion of this criterion, I tend to have more “acquaintances” than close “friends”, but, hey, I’m a guy. How about you?
  • I take a few moments of time to relax and destress: breakfast on the patio, reading the newspaper, a book before bed; but most of the time I feel like I am running a mile a minute. Hmmm, maybe I could do better on this one. I need to stop feeling guilty when I am not working on something “urgent”. Most people probably do this better than I do. You?
  • I have a strong sense of purpose (which is why I started a business after retiring from the University of Findlay) and more than one “mission” (one of which is to live to be 105!), so I think I have successfully incorporated this one into my behavioral repertoire. How about you?
  • Healthy diet. I work hard at this every day. Let’s explore this in more detail, shall we?

According to Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones Food Guidelines those of us who want to take advantage of the examples set by these populations of centenarians should

  1. Eat more plant-based foods (about 95% of what we consume should be plant-based rather than animal based)
  2. Eat more minimally processed foods and foods with simple ingredients lists
  3. Among the non-plant based foods, we should limit meat consumption to no more than once or twice a week and eliminate processed meats like luncheon meats, sausages and hotdogs from our diet
  4. For other non-plant based foods like eggs and dairy products, we should limit consumption to no more than 1 egg or 2 ounces of cheese per day. And as for milk, we should switch to plant-based milk (like soy milk, almond milk, etc.) and avoid cow milk
  5. Eat more beans and tofu (one cup per day)
  6. Eat more fish (up to one 3-ounce serving per day)
  7. Cut down on sugar, especially added sugars in processed foods
  8. Eat more nuts (2 ounces per day)
  9. Include up to 2 slices of whole grain bread in the diet
  10. Drink more water and less alcohol (hmmm, this is a hard one for me!)

Well, there you have it. If I want to live to be 105 then I have to eat like folks who actually make it that long. I am trying hard to adhere to these recommendations, but I find it difficult to only eat meat once or twice a week. And I love cheese, but I probably don’t eat more than 2 ounces per day. And I don’t eat much seafood, either. But I am doing pretty well on the rest of the suggestions (except the last one).

How about you? Can you move in the direction suggested by these research findings? Everyone knows we should eat more fruits and vegetables. Starting there is not too difficult. And, there are natural, whole-food supplements like Juice Plus (which I take every day, available at Objects of Desire) to help us easily increase our consumption of a wide variety of naturally grown, organic fruits and vegetables.

There is quite a lot of literature on these Blue Zones. If you are interested, you should check out some of it (just Google “Blue Zones” and you will get a good list to start your research with). It makes sense to me that if I want to live to be over 100 then I should learn from people who are successfully doing it. And these findings are not just based on random individuals who make it to 100, but identifiable populations of individuals who are achieving the century mark in numbers far greater than random.

So, let’s try it. What have we got to lose?


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