Reading Time: 2 minutes
During his travels and research, Dan Buettner found that there are a few places in the world where people live long and extraordinarily healthy lives, often reaching and even crossing 100. He set out to travel to what he called Blue Zones, to find out the reasons for this, wrote a book and has now hosted an illuminating docu series (directed by Clay Jeter), taking viewers to Okinawa in Japan, Sardinia in Italy, Loma Linda in the US, Ikaria in Greece Nicoya in Costa Rica and Singapore.
He observes that there is not just an increase in lifestyle ailments like heart disease and diabetes, but also a “loneliness epidemic” in the US. Societies where people live in strongly knit communities have a larger number of healthy centenarians.
Lifestyle and diet, are of course, crucial, but people in these Blue Zones keep physically and mentally active. In rural and agrarian societies, retirement is unheard of. They eat fresh, healthy, home-cooked food, and prefer plant-based over meat and processed dishes. Carbs are not the enemy, it is not what is prepared but how it is prepared, concludes Buettner. In Nicoya, people get their proteins from corn and beans, in Ikaria the magic ingredient is herbs and honey, in Okinawa it is sweet potatoes.
In Sardinia, a remote hilly place, the roads are not flat, so when people walk, it’s at a steep incline which keeps their joints and muscles healthy. In Loma Linda, senior citizens play a lot of pickle ball. Everywhere, healthy old people, sing, dance, do physically demanding work and socialize regularly. In America, observes Buettner, the old are sent to live in retirement homes that actually reduces their life expectancy. In Loma Linda, the church, volunteering and spiritualism add to well being of the elderly. In Blue Zones everywhere, the old are a part of the community and are valued for their wisdom. The solutions are always simple and a strong community is at core of healthy living; plus a lack of stress and a sense of purpose that makes people want to get out of bed every day.
In the last episode, Buettner talks of the possibility of reverse-engineering the concept of Blue Zones, by applying the ideas and principles in a chosen area, and he has been successful in a few places in the US. He picks Singapore as a country where the government supports pro-elder initiatives, like grants for families to move into homes to be near one another, and high taxation on cars to encourage people to walk, cycle and use public transport.
Health is not or should not be dependent on fad diet and gyms. In big cities, with people often living far away from their places of work, and doing stressful, deadline-linked jobs, it may be difficult to fully embrace a Blue Zone lifestyle, but walking, climbing stairs, meeting friends, and eating wisely are easy choices to make.
Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones
Directed by Clay Jeter