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Blue Zone

Blue Zone

We are all wondering the same thing here… What is a blue zone? Well, I have the answer for you! What if I told you that there are 5 specific communities, that statistically live longer compared to the rest of the world. These communities have the key on how to live longer and feel better. They don’t just live longer but they clearly know how to have a better quality of life. Now, hold onto your hats folks, one of those communities is in California! Don’t believe me? Keep reading. 

What is a Blue Zone?

A national geographic fellow, Dan Buettner, conducted a study to identify the healthiest parts of the world. He claimed that there are 5 areas in the world where there are more people that live to be 100 and over compared to the rest and called them Blue Zones. Some of you may not even find living that long desirable, but these people don’t just live longer, they live better. They maintain a better quality of life compared to the rest of us. Buettner documented a man over the age of 100 still riding his bike to work every day with ease.

Why are they called Blue Zones?

When Buettner and his team were marking these zones, they drew blue circles around them. How silly is that? I thought maybe it had to do with the proximity of the zones to the ocean, or perhaps air quality. Boy, was I wrong.

What countries are the Blue Zones in?

  1. Sardinia, Italy 
  2. Okinawa, Japan
  3. Loma Linda, California (No, it’s not because of the hospital but the high population of Seventh Day Adventists)
  4. Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
  5. Ikaria, Greece 

There are a few key components that these areas share but there are some major differences as well. The key factors include:

  • Diet
  • Lifestyle 
  • Faith
  • Healthy social networks
  • Treatment of older people

Let’s dive deeper into how you can apply these blue zone qualities into your own routine to live a healthier life. 

How to have a better quality of life?

The two things found across all groups is faith and a strong social network. Each of these communities have a strong sense of faith in whatever religion it may be and furthermore a positive outlook on life. It’s no coincidence that in over 2 decades of practice, I have found that patients who believe in a higher power have a better outcome concerning their health. Higher power maybe God, Nature, Universe or something else. I just know that people who have a sense of faith, are more grounded and heal better. Buettner reported that in Okinawa, Japan they have life-long social networks called a Moai. These groups are formed at a young age and they support each other in every aspect of life. This is literally a group of life long friends. In today’s society we call them the ‘tribe’ though it seems to have more of a fad sense than the actual meaning of the word.

This coincides well with another aspect of blue zone living, which is how old people are treated. Did you know in these zones, living homes or retirement homes don’t even exist? The older family members live with and are cared for by family. The elderly are involved in all aspects of everyday life, just at a slower pace. Which brings us to the main lifestyle factor!  In Japan, there is no official word for retirement. Why? Because they don’t retire! The word, Ikigai, in Japanese, translates to “a reason for being” and that reason does not end with old age. Activity is simply a part of their daily routine, they don’t go to the gym in these communities. Walking to the store daily, working the fields, maintaining the garden, and caring for children are all part of blue zone living. 

Blue Zone Diet

I know you could not wait to get to this part! There are so many diet fads out there and of course, the diet was a big part of the blue zone study. Sorry to disappoint, but there’s no crazy secret, it’s quite simple. The zones in Italy, Japan, Greece, and Loma Linda consume a plant-based diet. Sure they eat meat, but it’s very limited. The vegetables and fruit they do eat in Japan, Greece and Italy are mostly home-grown or organic. In the specified region of Costa Rica, they actually consume much more meat than the other zones but still, everything they eat is produced by their own hands from the meats to the veggies. Do you see the words “ NO FAST FOOD” in big red letters flashing in your head? They cook every meal they eat, which is basically unheard of here in the states. 

When we raise our own animals and eat our home-grown veggies and fruit, there is no over eating, there is plenty of moving around to attend the animals and crops and boy, why go to the gym? I know, not everyone can own a farm to raise their own animals and eat them with the veggies they grew BUT thankfully we can get those at our local Farmer’s markets, associate ourselves with groups like Westin Price Foundation and their local chapters which for us, is here in Orange County, California.

Where most factors of these blue zones are similar, diet is where things seem to differ. Alcohol consumption is one of those differences. In Greece and Italy, as most people know, red wine is consumed daily with a meal, which is exactly what Buettner reported. These wines, of course, come from their land and are known to be much higher in antioxidants. Note that alcohol is consumed in moderation. This conflicts with the Seventh Day Adventists population where no alcohol, as well as caffeine, are consumed. So don’t be so quick to stock up on your favorite cabernet!

Aside from a simple plant-based diet and properly portioned meals (All you can eat buffets are not really their style) diet is not the big deal maker like most people would expect. 

How is your lifestyle affecting your health?

Life expectancy is the U.S is 78 years old, which is sadly no surprise to some of you. The majority of people work 40+ hours a week. Sitting behind a desk for hours at a time is the norm. Our food is tainted with genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), preservatives and all kinds of unnecessary things. It’s not enough to go to the gym 4 days a week (and lift weights probably with improper form). Health is much more than dieting and working out. These blue zones are proof of that. 

What is health?

There are 3 pillars of health:

  1.  Emotion
  2.  Physical 
  3.  Nutrition 

Proper care and wellbeing in these three areas are what I believe it takes to make a healthy person, and this is what I base my practice on ( and proper posture of course!). We cannot consider the physical and disregard the emotional components, because they play a part. Commonly, I see patients with physical pain, but there is no indication that the cause is musculoskeletal and when I approach the potential emotions attached, I find the problem. An emotional issue manifesting as physical pain or problem. This fact has found its way to our language! For instance, we all have heard, ‘calm down, you will have a heart attack”, or, ‘if you worry too much you are going to end up with a stomach ulcer’, and so-and-so ‘died of a broken heart’. 

In all blue zones, people took time to wind down and just be. Even with the ridiculously hectic lifestyle of a Californian, the group of Seventh-Day Adventists takes a Sabbath day where they do nothing but surround themselves with like-minded individuals and meditate (without any Lulu Lemon or fancy yoga outfits!!). They don’t even cook! All the food for the day is prepared the day before so they can fully rest. This downtime is important and clearly contributes to a better quality of life. 

Health is much more than living longer, it’s living well. That plant-based diet isn’t going to do much for you if movement isn’t a part of your day-to-day living, your social network is lacking, and your emotional wellbeing is negative. Just like most things in life, health is a delicate balance. 

Remember, you are the Designer and the Director of your own life so design and direct it the way you wish to live it.

Dr. Shakib