“At 100, Konstantinos Spanos still reads history daily & walks to his Ikaria office. Indeed, seniors who put off retirement and seek ongoing education live longer His goal: live to 125. I think he’ll make it.” This post on the Facebook page of the Blue Zones is just one example of how inhabitants in Blue Zones live. The Blue Zones are five places on earth (Barbagia, Italy; Icaria, Greece; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Loma Linda, California/US; Okinawa, Japan) where people live longer than anywhere else. Moreover, they live the longest part of their lives without health problems.
The Netherlands which have, compared to other European countries, a high life expectancy still do not even come close to the average life expectancy in the Blue Zones. The trend towards a “graying” society and a simultaneous increase in life expectancy are motivating to take a closer look at the well-being and health of the elderly living in the Blue Zones.
Research conducted by Dan Buettner for National Geographic Magazine (2005) has led to amazing insights into how to live a longer and better life. In 2008, he has written the book Blue Zones about his findings. To reach the high life expectancy present in the Blue Zones it is helpful to take a look at the lifestyle of local people. A plant based diet, two glasses of wine a day, and eating until 80% full, as well as a focus on religious practices and loved ones, and a meaningful purpose in life are just a few factors that could add up to many years of your life. Buettner also suggests to skip the early morning jogging habit and replace it with a walk; natural moving can increase life expectancy. Moreover, it is important to take time to wind down and lower stress levels. The most important factor in explaining the higher life expectancy, however, might be the environment where one is born into; the right group of people surrounding you can teach and transmit healthy habits from a young age.
Following the Blue Zones research, several projects in the United States have been set up trying to pursue the vision of longer and better lives for inhabitants outside of the Blue Zones. The outcomes of these projects are still unclear though. The major question is about whether these projects can create the same effect outside as within the Blue Zones. It will be interesting to see if the factors researched within the Blue Zones can have an effect in societies that have many values differing from the lifestyle in the Blue Zones. In other places, paid work has a very different importance in people’s lives, and under these conditions there is often no time for taking afternoon naps. Also, in times when people are (becoming) less religiously involved, there won’t be a focus on religious practices. Moreover, does taking a walk in Amsterdam, during inhalatory exposure to exhaust fumes, have the same impact on your health as a walk in the cleaner air of Icaria mountains?
Blue Zones projects might not have the same effects outside as within the Blue Zones but it might still have a positive impact on our life expectancy. The goal of these projects is to help people optimize their lives by transferring healthy lifestyles from the Blue Zones. This could increase life by ten to twelve years. As Buettner points out, to reach the age of 100, you need to have won the genetic lottery. It might not be easy to adapt the lifestyle in a city as Amsterdam but to reach the age of 125, it’s worth a try.
Picture by: Lars Van De Goor