The Blue Zones
My daughter shared with me a magazine written by a journalist for National Geographic. Dan Beuttner and his fellow journalist searched and discovered five groups of people that seemed to enjoy much greater health and longevity than any other culture. They found groups living on islands in Greece, Italy and Japan as well as the mountains of Costa Rica and of all places Loma Linda, California.
Looking at lifestyle and diet, they were able to discover similarities. None of the groups were vegetarians, however they did eat very little meat (about 4-5% of their diets). Diets centered around whole grains (sourdough bread) and beans. Oils, such as olive oil, were not restricted (the Greeks and Italian averaging 6 TBS per day). Vegetables and fruits were eaten in an abundance. And of course, EVERYTHING, was made from scratch. This type of diet is what I refer to as Vegetarians that cheat once in a while. Their diets consisted of whole natural foods.
Beuttner and company established nine key principles that were followed by these people which they believe accounted for their health and longevity.
Exercise was not something they regimented into their lives, but was a natural extension of living. Primarily, because these people lived in more primitive environments and had to walk everywhere. Making healthier choices more convenient than unhealthy choices seemed an important concept that was observed.
Our culture today is all about convenience. Cars, microwaves, drive-thru's, etc. If we could somehow make eating healthier and moving about more convenient than eating unhealthy and being sedentary, we would gain much.
These elderly people (many over 100 years old), kept to a variety of routines that had been part of their lives for generations. This included family structures that cared for and supported each other. There definitely seemed to be a rhythm to their lives.
The Japanese (on the Island of Okinawa) began each meal with the phrase Hara hachi bu. Which means to stop eating when their stomach are 80% full. Boy, that is certainly not very American.
Most groups drink some wine with meals. But always with food and friends. For those of us who contientiously abstain from drinking alcohol, as with wine, dark-colored juice provides the most health benefits. Research suggests that red and purple grape juices may provide some of the same heart benefits of red wine, including reducing the risk of blood clots; lowering cholesterol; protecting the blood vessels in your heart; and lowering blood pressure.
Support groups, exercise groups and church groups have embraced many of the concepts and principles taught in The Blue Zones as part of these journalists outreach programs which educate communities.
I agree with so much of what is taught in the book, however, the problem that I see, is without exception modern life with all of it's conveniences have crept in to the younger generations (those under 80 year olds) who are not embracing the lifestyle and the diets of their centenarians.
Whereas, the old ones lived lives pretty much isolated from the modern world, and when introduced to the modern world were entrenched enough in the old ways that they chose not to adopt modern life. The younger ones seem to enjoy life in both worlds. Enjoying the traditional foods but including modern imported ones as well. Careers shifted from simple sheepherders walking the mountainous grazing paths to jobs which fit in to modern society.
My point here is this. While the information in The Blue Zone is interesting from an anthropological viewpoint, adopting the longevity lifestyle and diets of these ancient ones is not really possible - even for the people living in these regions. With that said, what can we glean from their examples.
A key point that is brought out is that we must get better connected with others. We can do this as families, friends and religious communities.
As families, I suggest we turn off the TV, computers, cell-phones and all other electronic distractions. Sit down and enjoy regular meals. (More regular than Thanksgiving and Easter).
Many of us are so busy and over extended that visiting regularly with friends is difficult. Take the initiative and begin inviting friends over for dinner, discussions or games. Keep inviting until you find a few that you really click with and get closer to them.
Becoming involved in a religious community actually increases longevity. This doesn't mean you need to volunteer to be on every committee at church. But get involved spiritually. Study the gospel. Search the scriptures. Attend lectures and fireside and discuss with others what is taught. Develop spiritually. Stop going through the motions and seek God with other likeminded friends.
Finally decide whether or not you are serious about your health. Are you willing to spend time in the kitchen preparing delicious and healthy foods? Are you willing to teach your children healthy lifestyle attributes? Understand that unless you make a very conscious decision with your family to make changes and eat for health and longevity, it won't happen.
Trust me, I have heard all of the excuses. Picky eaters (husband and kids), no time, don't like to cook, I like my junk food, diet coke, candy, etc. That is all fine, however, as the years roll along, you must realize that the ill health, pain, obesity, arthritis, diabetes, and every other condition you may be genetical predisposed to is going to manifest as a result of your indecision. In our day, no one can claim ignorance as far as their food and lifestyle choices.
One of the great blessings that can come with a diet and lifestyle centered around food and loved-ones is that it is good for the soul. To be able to connect with others over a well planned and lovingly prepared meal (even a simple meal of soup and salad), truly is one of the great and satisfying pleasures in life.
My prayer for all of us is that we can reconnect with the whole natural foods of the earth surrounded again and again but those we love and care for.
Dr Kyle Christensen