Is there a recipe to live past 100, and at the same time have a good quality of life?
That’s what Dan Bruettner tries to investigate in his book entitled “The Blue Zones, Second Edition: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest”.
With his team, Dan went to Barbagia in Sardinia (Italy), Ikaria (Greece), Okinawa (Japan), Loma Linda (California, United States), Nicoya (Costa Rica). These have relatively a high percentage of centenarians, and low occurrences of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes or COPD. Dan interviewed them on their diet, daily lifestyle, social networks and various habits. His findings are then discussed with doctors and health experts.
So how do you live a good life past 100?
I have read the second edition book. The diets and habits differ by country. Sardinians and Greeks eat a Mediterranean diet and are Christian. Okinawans eat sweet potatoes and live around their families. Californians adventists are devout. Nevertheless, Dan Bruettner managed to find common habits and lessons that readers can use as guidelines:
- Don’t eat too much. This is similar to caloric restriction.
- Eat vegetables, beans, nuts. Limit meat to once a week. Red wine, olive oil, and turmeric are good for your health.
- You need to have exercise in your daily routine. Sardinians are sheepherders, Okinawans cater to their gardens, Adventists take nature walks similar to shinrin yoku.
- You need to be part of a community and have close ones. You care for them and they care for you. Religion can help. It can also be a large family or the whole village.
- Have a sense of purpose. This does not need to be grandiose. In the Blue Zones, the “life mission” often revolves around family and community.
Each habit or lesson is discussed and backed by various validated studies. It makes sense to include them in your lifestyle.
The Blue Zones is more than just a book. There’s a whole marketing team, partners such as National Geographic and a plan. One of their goals is to advise municipalities in the United States to integrate Blue Zones recommendations.
It is a worthy goal. If all towns in America followed their recommendations, I expect longevity to rise and quality of life to increase. But did the focus on the “average American” prevented them to push further?
Living near the Sea
The book fails to highlight that all Blue Zones are either hilly islands, peninsulas, or very close to the sea.
- Okinawa is 640km away from mainland japan. Its area is only 2,271 km².
- Sardinia is located in the middle of the Mediterranean sea, and so is Ikaria. There is not any bridge connecting the islands to the mainland.
- Nicoya is a peninsula, far away from San Jose
- Loma Linda appears to be the outlier. It’s not an island or a peninsula. Nevertheless, it’s on the Pacific coast. Like others, you can find mountains and hills nearby.
This is more than a coincidence. In Canada for instance, highest life expectancy is not in wealthiest cities like Toronto but in counties near the Pacific Ocean, in British Columbia. In France, highest life expectancy is in provinces on the southern coastal area. In the United States, Anchorage in Alaska has the highest life expectancy. And surprise, Gulf of Alaska is just right there!
Let’s look at the countries with the highest life expectancies:
|5||San Marino||83.24||2015 est.|
|7||Hong Kong||82.86||2015 est.|
Monaco, Singapore, Macau, Hong Kong are essentially sea ports. Japan, San Marino, Iceland, Guernsey are islands. Further down, Andorra and Switzerland are mountainous countries with no sea border and could be the exceptions. You can go further but the maritime countries dominate life expectancy ratings.
What is this sea factor? Is it the fresh air from the sea? Is it seafood? Could you add a few years, if not a dozen, automatically to your life expectancy just by moving to a seaside city like Monaco or Vancouver, BC? This deserves further study and is in my opinion the largest weakness of the Blue Zones book.
Living like it’s 1850
Another interesting fact is that Blue Zones centenarians don’t use much technology or modern conveniences. No Internet, no GPS sports watch, no microwave or cars. Cooking is simple and don’t use food processors. They do a lot of walking or cycling. Most professions involve manual labor. There is not any reliance on the industrial food system.
Additionally, money is not a focus in Blue Zones. Nobody ambitions to have a high-paying job, a large condo or suburban house. They are content with a simple life while everyone around is living at faster pace with more money. As a result, stress induced by modern life is non existant in the Blue Zones. You could even say that their life is boring.
For me, this akin to returning back in time, where daily routine is not dictated by companies but by family and simple manual labor obligations.
I’m not about to ditch my laptop or my sports watch but this is certainly worth a thought !
Integrating Blue Zones lessons
Reading Blue Zones is worth it and I recommend the book. You can rent it from your local library. However there is a lot of reference information so it can be good to buy a paper copy to consult later on.
For me, I found interesting information such as having a family shrine that I will look into. I am also planning to study further the sea connection. I’m living far away from the sea and this might not be the best choice. I will report later here on what I have implemented and how it worked out!
If you find the book interesting, comments are certainly welcome. There are still a lot of questions worth studying.