With this blog, I would like to re-address the world’s 5 well-researched Blue Zones, including the Barbagia region of Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan, Loma Linda in California, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, and the Greek Island of Ikaria. I would like to raise the question: Besides what we have already learned (the importance of family/ friends, the value of living with purpose, and the crucial role of embarking on a path of giving) what else can we learn to maximize our health, vitality, and longevity?
In this second section – Part II – let me start with a review of the level of physical activity in these Blue Zones. In Sardinia, many of the individuals were shepherds, hiking daily. In Okinawa, everyone seemed to work in his or her garden on a daily basis. With the Adventists in Loma Linda California, exercise seemed part of their religion. So, for each group of centenarians, daily physical activity was a central part of their health regimen. The Adventists expressed it most directly, claiming that our bodies were a gift from God and that it was our responsibility to take care of our bodies, including daily exercise.
So, what is the basic recommendation? Americans spend far too much time sitting in front of the TV. They need to develop daily exercise routines. Remember Dr. Cooper’s admonition to walk 10,000 steps a day? Well, Americans need to walk probably 4-5 miles a day or at least 30+ minutes a day if they hope to maintain their vitality. Feeling young and staying young does not happen by accident. With the study of these Blue Zones, it is clear that those people who exercise on a daily basis live longer than those who do not exercise. It is also clear that we need both types of exercise – aerobic exercise and muscle-strengthening exercise. Try to incorporate both activities if you want that extra decade of good health and that extra decade of time with your family / friends.
Now, what about diet? In Sardinia, they eat a plant-based diet with some periodic meat. Mostly, they eat whole-grain bread, beans, vegetables, and fruits. In Okinawa, they also rely on a plant-based diet, eating much of their food from their gardens. Their diet is rich in tofu and soy, plus ginger and turmeric. With the Adventists in Loma Linda, they focus on adding more plants to their diet, and any meat is consumed in moderation. On the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, they eat beans and maize with meats once or twice a week. In the Greek Island of Ikaria, they eat the Mediterranean diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, beans, and potatoes, cooked with olive oil. Again, meats are eaten, but not as frequently.
The common features of these various diets of the centenarians? They are diets slanted toward plants with only periodic (not daily) meats. However, none of these groups (except a subset of strict Adventists) are vegetarians. Almost all of the groups eat meats, just less frequently. Repeatedly, their main eating focus in toward the whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. One common item, which I have not addressed, is the nuts. In some ways nuts are the most impressive longevity food. People who consume nuts on a daily basis have longer life spans. The best nuts for longevity? Almonds, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, hazelnuts, walnuts, and pine nuts. All nuts are healthy, but some nuts like macadamia nuts contain too much saturated fat. Still, if you want that addition decade of good health, switch your daily meals toward the vegetables, fruit, and nuts while limiting your consumption of meat and dairy products.
How about drinking? Water plays a significant role. All of these groups drink more water than most Americans. Most of the groups also drink more teas than most Americans. In Costa Rica, the water ranks as one of the hardest waters in the world, provide additional calcium with health benefits against heart disease and osteoporosis. In general, Americans need to steer away from their consumption of other beverages and try to increase their intake of water. We would also be wise to follow the lead of the Japanese and some of the other groups with more cups of hot tea, especially green tea.
Is there any good news for Americans? Yes, red wine! Most of the centenarians seemed to consume a daily glass of wine, beer, or some other alcohol. There were no examples of alcohol abuse, as the alcohol was consumed in moderation. But it was a habit that seemed to offer longevity benefits. Red wine, of course, contains polyphenols that help fight arteriosclerosis, plus resveratrol to help fight cognitive decline. However, in Okinawa, a daily glass of sake appeared to have health benefits. Maybe some of these benefits come from simply relaxing, allowing the body to take a break from stress – allowing the body to repair and rejuvenate. Regardless, when someone says, “drink to my health”, maybe you should follow their advice? Relax and sip that glass of red wine?