You may have heard of the Blue Zones – the term’s been around since 2005 when National Geographic writer Dan Buettner’s first article on the subject hit the news stands. The title came from the areas on the map that the team had circled in blue because they had the highest levels of longevity in the world. The article was followed up by the best selling book The Blue Zones in 2008. The rest of the title was ‘9 lessons for living longer from the people who’ve lived the longest’ and that is what is so different about this work.
Here we have no speculation about what might lead to a longer, healthier life, no lab experiments on rats or monkeys, no research projects. Just an examination of what has worked, not just for isolated individuals but for whole communities.
I haven’t actually read the original book but I heard Dan Buettner talking about his follow-up book, The Blue Zones Solution, on a podcast and thought it was worth a look. Being always unwilling to commit myself, I got it from the Library but I found it so useful that I’ve now ordered up my very own copy. That’s why I knew I had to tell you about it …!
The book is split into 4 parts. Part 1 introduces the Blue Zones with a chapter on each which covers the basics of the lifestyle and diet, illustrated engagingly with anecdotes about a specific individual. The Zones, by the way, are: Ikaria in Greece (1 in 3 make it to their 90s, and dementia is practically unknown); Okinawa, Japan (women there live longer than any women on the planet, and levels of cancer, heart disease and dementia are low); Sardinia in Italy (world’s longest-lived men, and nearly 10 times more centenarians per capita than the USA); a Christian community of around 9,000 people called the Seventh Day Adventists in California, who eat a mainly plant-based diet with many being vegetarian or vegan (their average lifespan is a good 10 years above the US average); and last but not least, the Nicoyan Peninsula in Costa Rica (again with low levels of cardiovascular disease, where men in particular live longer than their counterparts elsewhere).
Part 2 is about large-scale (ie city or state-wide) projects where planners have tried, pretty successfully, to change the environment to make the healthy choice the easy choice. I skipped on through this section because large-scale, public health initiatives are not something I can personally do anything about but it is amazing what has been achieved.
Moving on to Part 3 – this is called Building Your Own Blue Zone, and was the part I was most interested in reading. It doesn’t disappoint with chapters on Food Rituals and Food Choices (how and what to eat), Blue Zones Menus (how to successfully incorporate the ‘what to eat’ into your day), and Blue Zones Living. This last chapter is full of suggestions for how to Blue Zone your home (eg what equipment to have in your kitchen, how to make your bedroom sleep-friendly, how to create an indoor exercise area), and your life (eg making sure you’re getting and giving social support).
And still there’s more! Part4 is the recipes. 77 of them to be precise. There are a bunch of bean recipes to start with (how could you not be tempted by Brenda’s Maple-Ginger Red Beans!) – beans figure fairly heavily in the diets of all the Blue Zones populations. Then there are recipes from each of the 5 Blue Zones, so if you are particularly attracted to the Mediterranean diet you can go to the Greek and Italian sections (how about Ikarian Baked Fish or Angel Hair with Walnut and Fennel Frond Pesto), or if, like me, you’re more of a Japanese food fan, you can go directly to the Okinawan section (Grilled Tofu with Shitake Mushrooms anyone?).
So there you have it – a complete life-style guide in one book, and really none of it complicated, expensive or in any way difficult to do. You’re welcome!
If you’ve read it, let me know what you think. If you’re inspired to get hold of a copy, come back and comment later. (You can also find more info on The Blue Zones website.)
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