Is living in a “blue zone” the secret to living longer, staying healthy in old age?

Is living in a “blue zone” the secret to living longer, staying healthy in old age?

Certain locations around the world have a high percentage of centenarians who display remarkable physical and mental health. Photo / Getty Images

In recent decades, people life expectancy has grown steadily – we are now living longer than ever before. But while we all want a long life, how can we live well at the same time? The world’s “blue zones” — certain regions or countries where people tend to stay healthy into old age — may just hold the answer. It turns out it’s all about community, diet, low stress and a few other lifestyle factors, so how can you adopt the so-called “blue belt” diet?

Aging is an inevitable part of life, which may explain our intense fascination with the pursuit of longevity. The allure of eternal youth drives a multi-billion dollar industry ranging from anti-aging products, supplements and diets for those hoping to extend their lifespan.

If you look back at the turn of the 20th century, the average life expectancy in the UK was around 46 years. Today, he is closer to 82 years old. We are actually living longer than ever before, probably due to medical advances and improved living and working conditions.

But living longer comes at a price. We are now seeing higher rates of chronic and degenerative diseases – with heart disease consistently at the top of the list. So while we are fascinated by what can help us live longer, perhaps we should be more interested in being healthier for longer. Improving “healthy life expectancy” remains a global challenge.

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Interestingly, certain locations around the world have been discovered where there is a large percentage of centenarians who display remarkable physical and mental health. The Akea study of Sardinia, Italy, for example, identified a “blue zone” (so called because it was marked with a blue pen) where there were a higher number of locals living in the central-eastern highlands who had reached their 100th birthday compared to the wider Sardinian community .

This longevity hotspot has since expanded to now include many other regions around the world, which also have higher numbers of healthy people with longer life spans. Apart from Sardinia, these blue zones are now widely recognized as Ikaria, Greece. Okinawa, Japan? Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Loma Linda, California.

People inside
People in the world’s “blue zones” seem to share some commonalities, such as being part of a community, keeping stress levels low, and doing purposeful daily exercise or physical work. Photo / 123rf

In addition to their long lifespans, people living in these zones also seem to share some other common elements, which focus on being part of a community, having a purpose in life, eating nutritious, healthy food, keeping low stress levels and do purposeful daily exercise or physical activity. duties.

Their longevity could also be related to their environment, being mostly rural (or less polluted) or due to specific longevity genes.

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However, studies show that genetics may only account for 20-25 percent of longevity – meaning that a person’s lifespan is a complex interaction between lifestyle and genetic factors, which contribute to a long and healthy life.

Is the secret in our diet?

When it comes to nutrition, each blue zone has its own approach – so one particular food or nutrient does not explain the remarkable longevity seen. But interestingly, a diet rich in plant foods (such as locally grown vegetables, fruits and legumes) seems to be fairly consistent across these zones.

A diet rich in plant foods seems to be fairly consistent across the blue zones.  Photo / 123RF
A diet rich in plant foods seems to be fairly consistent across the blue zones. Photo / 123RF

For example, Loma Linda Seventh-day Adventists are predominantly vegetarian. For centenarians in Okinawa, a high intake of flavonoids (a chemical compound commonly found in plants) from purple sweet potatoes, soybeans and vegetables has been linked to better cardiovascular health – including lower cholesterol levels and lower incidences of stroke and heart disease.

In Nicoya, consumption of local rice and beans has been associated with longer telomere length. Telomeres are the structural parts at the end of our chromosomes that protect our genetic material. Our telomeres get shorter every time a cell divides – so they get progressively shorter as we age.

Certain lifestyle factors (such as smoking and poor diet) can also shorten telomere length. Telomere length is thought to act as a biomarker of aging – so longer telomeres could, in part, be linked to longevity.

In Sardinia, for example, meat and fish are consumed in moderation in addition to local vegetables and traditional foods.  Photo / 123RF
In Sardinia, for example, meat and fish are consumed in moderation in addition to local vegetables and traditional foods. Photo / 123RF

But the plant-based diet is not the only secret. In Sardinia, for example, meat and fish are eaten in moderation, in addition to locally grown vegetables and traditional foods such as acorn bread, pane carasau (sourdough potato bread), honey and soft cheeses.

In several areas of the blue zone, the inclusion of olive oil, wine (in moderation – about 1-2 glasses per day), as well as tea is also observed. All of these contain powerful antioxidants that may help protect our cells from damage as we age.

Perhaps then, it is a combination of the protective effects of various nutrients in the diet of these centenarians that explains their extraordinary longevity.

Another striking observation from these longevity hot spots is that the meals are usually freshly prepared at home. Traditional blue zone diets also don’t seem to contain highly processed foods, fast food, or sugary drinks that can accelerate aging. So it may be just as important to look at what these longer-lived populations don’t do as what they do.

There also appears to be a pattern of eating up to 80 percent (in other words, partially cutting calories. This could be important in supporting how our cells deal with damage as we age, which could mean longer lifespan.

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Many of the factors that make up these blue zone diets – mostly plant-based and natural whole foods – are associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Not only could these diets contribute to a longer, healthier life, but they could support a more diverse gut microbiome, which is also associated with healthy aging.

Perhaps then we can learn something from these remarkable centenarians. While nutrition is only one part of the bigger picture when it comes to longevity, it is one area we can do something about. In fact, it may just be at the heart of improving not only the quality of our health, but the quality of how we age.

Additional reports, NZ Herald

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