The Blue Zones, Second Edition: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest – this book by Dan Buettner looks at the lives of people who live longer than anyone else in the world. They’re located in Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, CA; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Ikaria, Greece.
These regions were called “Blue Zones” because the originator of the concept, Dr. Michel Poulain, a Belgian demographer, circled regions on the map with a blue marker that he thought might be areas of long life and good health.
In these areas, it’s common for people to live vibrant, healthy lives well into their 90’s and early 100’s. They aren’t laying in hospital beds, using walkers or sitting in wheelchairs, either. They’re chopping wood, gardening, walking long distances and enjoying life.
What are the common denominators among all of these seemingly disparate and far-flung peoples?
1) They eat a whole-food plant-based diet with very little or no meat, dairy or eggs. Some eat meat once per year; some once per month and some once per week. None consume dairy from cows, but some consume goats milk and cheese made from it. They eat organic fruits and vegetables grown in their own gardens. They eat lots of complex carbohydrates in the form of whole grain bread, rice, corn, potatoes and legumes. Some eat a completely vegan diet.
2) They live in sunny climates and spend a large portion of their day outdoors working or gardening (remember, many of these people are in their 90’s and 100’s). This gives them ample Vitamin D, which boosts their immune system and helps build strong bones.
3) They have a “plan de vida,” as the Costa Ricans call it, or a purpose in life. They have a strong reason to get out of bed in the morning, such as a strong religious belief, familial responsibilities, volunteerism or duty to ancestors.
4) They stay physically active, working in their gardens and walking long distances to visit nearby towns, family and neighbors. Thai Chi and Yoga are also popular activities.
5) They have a strong social and family support network which helps them reduce stress by talking through issues, and getting emotional and financial help when they need it.
6) They live very simple lives with minimal financial stress. They don’t have televisions or Internet access. They don’t have demanding bosses (except for wives, who often don’t live as long as the men).
Despite these common denominators shared among all of the Blue Zones, the author seemed determined to credit America vices for their longevity. In Sardinia, it must be the goats milk. In Okinawa, it must be something in the pork consumed once per year at the Lunar New Year festival. In Loma Linda, it must be the nuts loved by the 7th-Day Adventists. In Nicoya, it must be the calcium content in the water (since they don’t drink milk). In Ikaria, it must be the olive oil.
Even with the overwhelming similarities between the diets of these isolated and widespread people, the author couldn’t suppress his urge to justify his own dietary preferences. Meat can’t really be that bad, can it? Surely my milk and cheese isn’t to blame, is it? Maybe if I just eat more nuts and olive oil, and swap out cows milk for goats milk, that’ll make me live longer.
The cognitive dissonance is astronomical, sometimes.
My interest in this book wasn’t because of how long these people live, but how WELL they live. They are active and healthy until their bodies finally grow too old to continue in this plane of existence. Most people focus on quantity of life (especially the America medical establishment), but quality of life is what makes life worth living.
I think the moral of the story that we can all learn from these long lived, Blue Zone peoples is:
- Eat a healthy, plant-based diet with no processed foods and very very minimal or even better, no animal products.
- Get some sun every day.
- Find your purpose, your big “why” in life.
- Stay active everyday throughout your life.
- Develop and maintain a social support network.
- Simplify your life. In Ecuador, they call it “tranquilo,” which means stay calm and take time to smell the roses.
Despite the author’s attempt to give credit to our vices, the Blue Zones diet, sun exposure and physical activity are probably the most significant factors in the quantity and quality of their lives. Physical and mental health may be intricately intertwined, but if you fuel your body with toxic substances and shun physical activity, no amount of mental health (or medication) can repair the daily damage being done.
Overall, this book is well-written and worth reading. I enjoyed the stories of these people’s lives and the journeys the author took to meet them and document their life experiences. What an amazing adventure that must have been!
If you enjoyed reading this review or think others would benefit from reading this book, please share it with your family and friends to help spread the word about what it takes to live a long, vibrant life.Please share your thoughts in the comments below. And please share with your friends to help spread the word about healthy plant-based eating.