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Blue Zone Living

Want to live to 100 and enjoy life to its fullest? Here's how:

In 2012, Dan Buettner travelled around the world looking for areas of longevity. These were places where people reached age 100 at an extraordinary rate, or else had the lowest rate of middle age mortality. He found several of these Blue Zones, as he called them. When he compared his findings for Greece, Nicaragua, Japan and others, he discovered that there were certain common factors:

  1. A whole food diet rich in plants

  2. Exercise as part of everyday life

  3. A strong social structure

  4. Spirituality

  5. Moderate consumption of alcohol

  6. Adequate sleep

  7. Regular sex and cuddling

Let’s take a closer look at the science behind these factors.

  • Diet:

In order to research a whole food diet, I’ve decided to concentrate on the foods in Dr. Fuhrman’s nutrition pyramid.

The bottom of the pyramid is made up of low calorie, nutrient rich foods, while the high calorie foods, such as meat and processed foods, are listed at the top in the smallest part of the pyramid.

Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage are rich in glucosinolates. When these compounds are broken down during digestion, they produce others which act much like some anticancer drugs inhibiting cell division. As these compounds are water soluble, cooking the vegetables drastically reduces the bioavailability of these cancer fighting compounds. Therefore, a portion of vegetables should be eaten raw on a regular basis.

Beans are low in fat, high in fiber and protein, and best of all, very affordable. They are rich in phytochemicals lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, and reducing chronic inflammation by helping to maintain healthy blood glucose and insulin levels. To reduce the discomfort of gas and bloating from beans, soak the dry beans overnight and discard the water before cooking. Adding carminative herbs and spices such as ground fennel, cumin, ginger, and bay leaves can reduce the risk of bloating.

Berries are low in calories and high in moisture and fibre. They contain natural antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, as well as folic acid, calcium, selenium, alpha and beta carotene, and lutein. Berries are said to have a positive impact on cardiovascular as well as cognitive health.

Onions are part of the allium family which includes chives, garlic, scallions and leeks. They are rich in flavonoids and alk(en)yl cysteine sulphoxides (ACSOs). Consuming onions may reduce the risk of cancer and can have a positive effect on your mood as well as the health of your skin and hair.

Mushrooms are a source of Vitamin D, and B including riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, and antioxidants. In addition, mushrooms are rich in minerals such as Selenium, Copper, and Potassium. Mushrooms help with the production of hormones, maintain a healthy nervous, digestive and immune system, protect red blood cells, and promote healthy skin. Since mushrooms are both hearty and filling, they can aid in weight management.

Seeds are an important element of a healthy diet, since they are a source of protein and rich in bioactive phytochemicals, minerals, and vitamins, particularly tocopherols and folic acid. There is substantial evidence that a diet rich in seeds, including whole grains, nuts, legumes, cocoa products (mainly dark chocolate) and coffee has a significant impact on reducing inflammatory diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

  • Exercise: When physical activity is part of the everyday lifestyle, it has an overall beneficial effect. It helps to control weight by burning calories. It boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL – the good cholesterol) and decreases unhealthy triglycerides. It improves mood by stimulating brain chemicals such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. It oxygenates muscles and organs improving their efficiency. It improves sleep and can have a positive effect on your sex life.

  • Social structure: There are many studies on the effect of social support and improved health. A strong social network can reduce overall stress by lowering cortisol. Women especially benefit from friendship with other women. Studies have shown that when women bond with each other, they release oxytocin, the ‘love hormone’. Oxytocin has been shown to reduce cortisol and lower blood pressure Oxytocin also decreases intestinal inflammation. Even though the topic has been understudied, current research suggests that there is a link between physical and emotional health in multigenerational family units. Both children and grandparents benefit when they socialize regularly with each other. Children often develop higher self-esteem and improved social skills, while seniors experience ‘joyful freedom’ and the satisfaction that comes with ‘making a difference’.

  • Spirituality / Meditation: Since spirituality fosters feelings of hope, love, compassion, gratitude, and inner peace, it has the overall effect of reducing stress and anxiety. This in turn has a positive effect on the immune, cardiovascular, hormonal, and nervous systems.

Meditation increases emotional wellbeing, improves brain function and decreases chronic inflammation.

  • Alcohol: This appears to be a double edged sword and to depend on the individual. The evidence about possible health benefits is not certain. Alcohol may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke as well as diabetes. Moderate alcohol consumption may be of most benefit to older adults.

  • Sleep: The effects of chronic sleep deprivation are far more serious than most of us realize. In addition to making us accident prone and groggy, the health risks include high blood pressure, heart disease, impaired brain activity, weight gain, a weakened immune system, depression and type 2 diabetes. Over the past decade, our society has become more and more sleep deprived. Adults need 7 – 8 hours of sleep a night, children about 10 hours, and teens 9 to 10. To get a good night’s sleep, try to develop a routine of going to bed at the same time, avoiding late meals, caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime. There is also evidence that the light from tablets and cell phones inhibits Melatonin production, so leave the electronics outside the bedroom. In addition, a daily 20 to 30 minute nap has been found to increase alertness and improve both learning and performance.

  • Sex / Cuddling: Regular sex and cuddling helps to boost the immune system, lowers blood pressure, improves sleep, decreases stress, reduces anxiety, and releases oxytocin. And… sex counts as exercise. It’s a win win!

You will have noticed that these factors leading to longevity in the Blue Zones cover all three aspects of mind, body, and spirit. Remember, you are what you think, eat, and do.

Now it’s your turn. Please share your favourite Blue Zone recipes and tell us what you do to balance mind, body and spirit.

Annette Zoheret - Author of Survive Life And Live It Up!

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