“Blue Zones” are regions that have more centenarians and fewer cases of chronic disease than anywhere else in the world, a pattern that experts attribute to occupants’ healthy diet and lifestyle habits. There’s now 6 Blue Zones identified but you don’t have to move to them to benefit from the secrets uncovered. I’ve long been intrigued by the health benefits of living in Blue Zones and the secrets behind the quality of the inhabitant’s longevity.
What are they doing that I’m not doing? What can I change?
Here are 4 Habits you should consider to support healthy aging inspired by the blue zones.
- Eat Healthy Fats
- Move everyday
- Prioritize sleep
- Make time for community
Let’s look at each one more closely.
Eat healthy fats
One commonality between people living in blue zones around the world is the amount of healthy fats in their diets. In Okinawa, Japan they eat fatty fish such as salmon, while in the Mediterranean people consume plenty of local olive oil. One of the reasons they’re associated with longevity is their ability to reduce inflammation, which is at the root of chronic health conditions like heart disease, strokes, depression and anxiety.
Instead of setting yourself ambitious, potentially unachievable fitness goals, take your cues from the blue zones and build some movement into your daily routine. It doesn’t necessarily have to be “exercise”: in a study published by Nature Medicine, short “bursts” of activity (like running up the stairs) that were measured using wearable tech devices were found to be beneficial in staving off ill health. The results revealed that those who did short but intense bouts of movement reduced their heart disease mortality risk by 50 per cent and their risk of death from cancer by around 40 per cent, compared with those who did no vigorous activity. Although it might not feel like you’re doing much, this kind of movement is enough to stress the cardiovascular system, which increases your oxygen uptake and prevents your cardiac arteries from clogging.
Daily movement of some kind is important for healthy lymph flow too, which is essential for keeping the immune system in shape. Start by making small incremental changes every day. Whether it’s factoring in more stairs to climb, adding some counter push-ups while you’re waiting for your coffee to brew, or including a few gentle stretches to your pre-bedtime routine, aim to move more a little each day. Going for a 10-minute walk after dinner will help to improve your digestion and lower your stress levels before you
head to bed.
Want some simple guidelines for adding movement into your day? The BoneSmart Bursts™ are 5-10 minute movement snacks created by a PT with variety, creativity, and bone safety in mind.
Prioritize your sleep
In blue zones, people understand the importance of a great night’s sleep. Good quality sleep re-energizes brain cells, repairs skin and strengthens every major system in the body, including the immune, respiratory, endocrine and central nervous systems. Naps are also a priority in blue zones. Experts agree that the right kind of nap (around 20 minutes is optimum and never after 3pm), can not only restore a sleep deficit but also improve concentration, mood and energy. As for healthy nighttime habits, sticking to a regular sleep schedule of set times and getting between seven and nine hours a night all contributes to better overall health.
Blue zone inhabitants all share a common belief in the importance of community and connection. Given that humans are naturally sociable creatures, it’s really no surprise that social connection is key to a long and healthy life. A recent study found that people who socially isolated had a 26 per cent higher risk of all-cause death, while prolonged loneliness also resulted in an elevated risk of 14 per cent. Being around other people is also key to better brain health. When we interact with others, blood circulates to different parts of the brain to help us listen and formulate responses. Constantly using the brain in this way increases our neuroplasticity, the connections made between brain cells and the neural circuits that are used.
Wrapping it up
In closing, try to include more healthy fats, move more, honor your sleep and connect with others to promote healthy aging.