There are populations scattered around the globe that live into old age, often reaching 90 to 100 years old. More importantly they have healthspan, not just lifespan. They have a decreased incidence of cardiovascular disease compared to Americans and neurodegenerative disease is almost unheard of! The secret? They live in “Blue Zones.”
Loma Linda, California - Seventh Day Adventists
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Even though these places are separated by oceans and mountains, their people have many things in common. They:
Move naturally: They don’t pump iron or run marathons, but live in an environment where they constantly move as part of their everyday lives. They plant gardens, walk or ride bikes to work and school, cook their meals and clean their homes.
Have purpose: They know why they get up in the morning. They feel they have been put on this earth to make it better. Having a sense of purpose can add up to 7 years to your life!
Downshift daily: Stress exists everywhere, even in the blue zones. But these people know how to destress. For example, Ikarians may briefly nap in the afternoon nap. Okinawans take a few minutes to honor their ancestors and Adventists pray.
Eat a plant forward diet: Vegetables, fruit, and beans, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. The diet is not necessarily low fat but the fats are healthy, mainly olive oil and omega 3 fatty acids. Fish and whole grains are a staple and red meat is eaten on an average only 5 times a month.
Drink a little wine: Except for Adventists, most drink 1 to 2 glasses of wine a day with food and friends. One serving of alcohol is 14 grams of pure alcohol which typically translates to 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer and 1.5 ounces of liquor.
Belong or have a spiritual practice: Belonging to some faith based organization, regardless of denomination, has evidence that it can add years and health.
Put families first: They invest in their families over monetary or career success. Generations of families often stay in close proximity and the elders are a revered part of the family unit.
Are born into the right tribe: This is not about genetics…In fact twin studies show that how long a person lives is dictated only 20% by genetics and up to 80% by lifestyle. Being born into the right tribe means being surrounded by others who are also invested in their health. Behaviors are contagious! And regardless of genes, lifestyle can turn off risky genes and turn on beneficial ones.
Even if we do not live in a Blue Zone, we can learn from them how to live a healthier, not just longer life by following simple steps. Research beyond the Blue Zones has shown that many chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, autoimmune disease and arthritis can be prevented or mitigated with the proper lifestyle. It is never too late to get healthier. Follow these steps:
MOVE: Any exercise is better than no exercise. Walking just 15 minutes a day decreased mortality by 30% in a sick, sedentary group with heart disease! Physical activity improves cardiovascular health, reduces metabolic risks and increases BDNF (Brain derived neurotrophic factor), the chemical in the brain that is needed for learning, resilience and mental health.
EAT nutritionally healthy food. A good general rule is that if you can’t pick it or kill it, don’t eat it! The SAD (Standard American Diet) is too high in processed food and is laced with toxins. Buy organic vegetables and fruits and if you eat red meat, make sure it is organic, grass fed. Stay away from smoked or charred meats that may contain carcinogens.
BREATHE. Learn a very simple 4-7-8 counting breath that can be done daily to destress. This yogic breath takes less than one minute and can be done multiple times during the day. Go to https://www.drweil.com/videos-features/videos/breathing-exercises-4-7-8-breath/ to practice with Dr. Weil.
LOVE: Surround yourself with people you love and who love you. Spread your healthy lifestyle to them.
For more information on wellness and to heal from and prevent heart disease see Dr. Vivian Kominos, a board certified cardiologist who is also trained in integrative medicine by the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine. The practice is accepting new patients. 732.395.3059.
This article appears in the September 2019 issue of Natural Awakenings Magazine Monmouth Ocean edition. Click here to subscribe, thanks :)