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Cultivate Your Own Blue Zone

Unfortunately, the longer you live the greater your risk of developing one or more chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. While genetics, to some extent, can determine your lifespan (20-30%) and susceptibility to these diseases, there are other factors at play.

So what is the key to aging well? It is not a secret potion, fad diet, or magic pill. The key lies in our lifestyle, the way a person lives their life. It’s a culmination of your beliefs, values, daily behaviors and habits. Understanding how lifestyle impacts your lifespan and the quality of your life is truly the key to aging well. A study by the Harvard T. H Chan School of Public Health looked at the impact of healthy habits on life expectancy and found five areas that significantly impact the risk of premature death. These include:

  • Eating pattern/diet
  • Level of physical activity
  • Body weight
  • Smoking status
  • Alcohol intake

We know from research and experience that our health behaviors can be influenced by the environments where we live, learn, work, and socialize which bring us to the “blue zone” concept. This is a non-scientific term given to geographic regions in which communities have very low rates of chronic disease and live longer than anywhere else in the world.

These locations are:

  1. Okinawa, Japan
  2. Sardinia, Italy
  3. Nicoya, Costa Rica
  4. Ikaria, Greece
  5. Loma Linda, California

These areas have high rates of people living well into their 90’s and 100’s (centenarians) free from disease. So what can we learn from the world’s longest-lived?
While each region has a unique cuisine, there are several commonalities among their eating patterns:

  • High intake of nutrient-dense foods
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Plant proteins
  • Herbs and spices
  • Moderate protein
  • Fish and seafood
  • Lean meats
  • Healthy fats
  • High intake of unsaturated fats
  • Rich in omega-3 fats
  • Low intake of saturated fats

**Emphasis is placed on whole foods rather than processed foods and snacks**
Common lifestyle behaviors found in the blue zones:

  • Natural movement- move more, sit less
  • Sense of purpose/faith
  • They find healthy ways to manage stress
  • And emphasis is placed on interpersonal relationships and social involvement

Despite where we live, we can all strive to adopt more of these lifestyle habits which can add years to our life and life to our years. Research shows each healthy habit you adopt can add two years to your life expectancy!
Let’s take these lessons learned from the blue zones and apply them to our own lives so we too can live well into our golden years. For more information on the blue zones and an assessment tool for your personal longevity, visit wvik.org/wellness.

Kristin Bogdonas believes that everyone deserves access to fresh, affordable food and is committed to helping people improve their health literacy. In this digital age it can be difficult to decipher what nutrition information is accurate and what is hype. Connecting people with factual information and evidenced-based programs will help people build the skills and attain the knowledge necessary for positive behavior change. Although nutrition is important for a long and healthy life, one should not overlook the other dimensions of health required for overall wellbeing; physical, mental, emotional, vocational, spiritual, environmental and social. Each dimension impacting the next.