Island Senior: Tips From the Blue Zones For Hearty Longevity

Posted October 17, 2020 at 5:45 am by

Island Senior is a reg­u­lar col­umn on the San Juan Update writ­ten by Peg­gy Sue McRae…

Ingredients for a plant based diet - photo Peggy Sue McRae

The con­cept of “blue zones” grew out of a demo­graph­ic study iden­ti­fy­ing Sar­di­na, Italy as a region with a high con­cen­tra­tion of cen­te­nar­i­ans. Researchers who drew con­cen­tric blue cir­cles on maps high­light­ing vil­lages of extreme longevi­ty began to refer to the regions with­in the blue cir­cles as “blue zones”.

Dan Buet­tner, author of, The Blue Zones, built on that study iden­ti­fy­ing five longevi­ty hotspots around the world; Oki­nawa, Japan; Sar­di­na, Italy; Nicoya, Cos­ta Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Lin­da, California.

Buet­tner and his team stud­ied these com­mu­ni­ties and iden­ti­fied qual­i­ties they have in com­mon. They are not espe­cial­ly wealthy com­mu­ni­ties; in fact most live mod­est­ly per­haps with sev­er­al gen­er­a­tions under one roof.  They are all phys­i­cal­ly active and incor­po­rate rest, social time, and spir­i­tu­al uplift into their lives. They eat plant-based diets, lots of beans, and most of them drink wine. 

In Sar­di­na, while the farm­ers reach an aver­age Ital­ian life span, it is the shep­herds who live the longest lives. They spend their days walk­ing out with their flocks; they take lunch breaks and naps, and by five o’clock are in the vil­lage drink­ing wine with their friends. Their Mediter­ranean style diet includes pecori­no cheese made from the milk of grass fed sheep that con­tains high lev­els of omega‑3 fat­ty acids.

The Mediter­ranean diet is also a fac­tor in the longevi­ty of the res­i­dents in Ikaria, Greece. Says Buet­tner, “what set it apart from oth­er places in the region was its empha­sis on pota­toes, goat’s milk, hon­ey, legumes (espe­cial­ly gar­ban­zo beans, black-eyed peas, and lentils), wild greens, some fruit and rel­a­tive­ly small amounts of fish.” As long as they live, often into their 100s, these hearty folk do not suf­fer from dementia.

In Nicoya Cos­ta Rica they work hard but also know how to relax, most often with fam­i­ly around meals based on corn, squash, and beans plus huge amounts of trop­i­cal fruit. Here elders are not only treat­ed with respect, they are expect­ed to con­tribute. Whether their con­tri­bu­tion is cook­ing or child­care it pro­vides them with a “Plan di Vida” or pur­pose, anoth­er uni­ver­sal fac­tor in longevi­ty. The same is true in Oki­nawa where a 99 year old will go out dai­ly to catch fish for his grandchildren.

The Oki­nawans have a tra­di­tion called the moai. At five years old chil­dren are cer­e­mo­ni­al­ly placed in a small group with oth­er five year olds called their moai. The moai will con­tin­ue as a sup­port group for them for the rest of their lives. Through shar­ing both their good for­tunes as well as sup­port dur­ing hard times these groups pro­vide a valu­able social safe­ty net. For a long hap­py life Oki­nawans rec­om­mend eat­ing some­thing from the land and some­thing from the sea every day.

Some of you prob­a­bly remem­ber the Ten Tal­ents cook­book. First pub­lished in 1968 it became a pop­u­lar resource among counter-cul­ture veg­e­tar­i­ans. The cook­book pro­motes a whole food veg­e­tar­i­an diet in keep­ing with the teach­ings of the Sev­enth-day Adven­tist Church, teach­ings that help put Loma Lin­da, Cal­i­for­nia, just 80 miles south­east of LA, on the blue zones longevi­ty map. Loma Lin­da is home to the world’s largest pop­u­la­tion of Sev­enth-day Adven­tists. Besides the whole food diet oth­er fac­tors con­tribut­ing to the long lives of this group include tak­ing the Sab­bath seri­ous­ly by set­ting aside 24 hours every week for com­mu­ni­ty, fam­i­ly, church, and nature walks.

Take a walk, take a nap, share some pecori­no cheese and red wine with your friends. Don’t for­get to eat plen­ty of greens and beans and you just may live a longer and hap­pi­er life.

Link to: The Blue Zones

Link to: Ten Tal­ents Cookbook

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  1. Good article–as usu­al. I remem­ber when we moved her–over 40 years ago–the Sev­enth Day Adven­tists had cook­ing class­es. They were great. I think that class­es would help peo­ple do more veg­e­tar­i­an cooking–but alas–we can’t have classes–so–the inter­net is a good source. Also–the Library has many good books.

    Comment by Janet Wright on October 17, 2020 at 8:37 am
  2. Won­der­ful arti­cle. Thanks for writ­ing it. The San Juan Island has a fair­ly new book called How Not to Die: Dis­cov­er the Foods Sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly Proven to Pre­vent and Reverse Dis­ease by Dr. Michael Gre­gor that looks at rep­utable sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies and what they tell us about diet and dis­ease pre­ven­tion and revesal. It comes to many of the same con­clu­sions that you men­tion with some up-to-date new infor­ma­tion. The libray also has four copies of the How Not to Die Cookbook.

    Comment by David Bentley on October 17, 2020 at 9:38 am
  3. Pre­vi­ous com­ment should have said “the San Juan Island Pub­lic Library has a fair­ly new book”

    Comment by David Bentley on October 17, 2020 at 9:40 am

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