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The Talon

The Talon

    The Blue Zones: How 5 Regions of the World Can Teach us to Live Longer and Healthier

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    Image created in Canva by Sullivan Nolan

    Introduction:

    In 2004 Michel Poulain, Dan Buettner, and Giovanni Mario Pes discovered Sardinia, Italy as the first of 5 regions where people are claimed to live exceptionally longer than average. They would coin these regions the “blue zones”. People in these zones share a lot of the same diet and exercise habits, but each zone also has other habits unique to themselves. It is important to note that the claim that people in these places live longer than average is based on demographic anecdotes and not scientific data. The idea that the diets and habits of the people living in these regions is the formula for longer, more prosperous living is based on speculation not solidified scientific backing.

    Zone 1: Sardinia, Italy

    Sardinia was the first blue zone discovered, noted for having a high concentration of male centenarians, or people reaching the age of 100. Sardinian’s diets are composed of majority dairy and whole grains, the sources of each being primarily sheep and goat’s milk and barley. They also eat a large amount of vegetables and moderate amounts of meat and fish. Sardinia is also noted for drinking moderate amounts of red wine, as opposed to some other zones which abstain from drinking alcohol entirely. Consumption of red wine could possibly contribute to lower stress levels and improved heart health, however, how much it truly is a cause for longevity in the region is up to question though, as modern research suggests the bad outweighs the good even when it comes to moderate consumption of alcohol. Low intensity exercise is weaved into Sardinian’s lives naturally through their jobs. Men often gather in the streets of Sardinia in the afternoon to laugh and joke which helps reduce stress.

    Zone 2: Ikaria, Greece

    Ikarians eat a variation of the mediterranean diet, which is a plant based diet composed of fruits, vegetables, heart healthy fats (olive oil), legumes and nuts/seeds. They also occasionally consume milk, but they opt for goat’s milk over cow’s milk, similar to the people in Sardinia. People in Ikaria only consume meat on special occasions such as holidays, but eat fish on a more consistent basis. Mindless, low intensity movement is also programmed into people’s lives as walking is a prominent mode of transportation in Ikaria. Outside of diet and exercise, people in Ikaria prioritize relationships with friends and family and hold strong familial values which helps this community live long and happy lives.

    Zone 3: Loma Linda, California

    Loma Linda is home to the 7th Day Adventist church. The religious principles of this zone contribute a lot to its health practices. A large number of people in Loma Linda are vegetarian and their diet consists mostly of fruits, vegetables and legumes. The 7th day Adventists of Loma Linda also are known for often snacking on nuts which is known to improve heart health. They also do not smoke or drink, which likely stems from the religious belief that one’s body is a temple that should not be tainted by such substances. Walking daily is a common practice in the 7th Day Adventist community in Loma Linda. The people of Loma Linda also take the Sunday Sabbath as time to destress and rest from the long work week. Similar to those in Ikaria, people in Loma Linda have strong relationships with family and friends and the common thread of the church helps foster that relationship. A unique practice that the 7th Day Adventists of Loma Linda attribute to their long, happy lives is giving back to the community, which provides exercise and helps find a sense of purpose in life.

    Zone 4: Nicoya, Costa Rica

    Nicoyans eat roughly equal parts dairy and whole grains as the majority of their diet. The main source of those whole grains is corn. They also tend to eat a good helping of vegetables and eggs, legumes and meat in moderation. The water in Nicoya has the highest calcium content in Costa Rica which could contribute to lower rates of heart disease and stronger bones. Costa Rica is near the equator and warm and sunny year round, couple that with the fact that most Nicoyans work physical jobs outside, and you have a formula to get much more Vitamin D than the average person. The physical job factor also allows Nicoyans to stay active without intentionally setting aside time for exercise. Nicoya is a community powered by tradition and this both contributes to their healthy diet and helps them foster strong social relationships. Nicoyans also emphasize having a “plan de vida” or life plan/purpose which drives them to live fulfilling lives.

    Zone 5: Okinawa, Japan

    The people of Okinawa eat a diet shockingly high in sweet potatoes, having around 67% of their diet comprised of the starchy root vegetable. The second largest foods in Okinawans diet are rice and soy based foods like tofu followed by vegetables and legumes. They also eat small amounts of meat, fish and other forms of whole grains. Many people in Okinawa grow medicinal plants in their gardens such as ginger, mugwort and turmeric which have proven health benefits. The practice of gardening paired with lots of walking allows Okinawans to stay active even into old age. Consistently spending time outside through activity also allows Okinawans to get lots of Vitamin D. Similar to the people of Nicoya, Okinawans live a purpose driven life powered by their ikigai or life meaning. The people of Okinawa make keeping close relationships a priority even into old age, and many older Okinawans continue to gather with younger friends which could help them hold on to their youthful days.

    Common threads across the zones and what to take away:

    While each blue zone has a few of its own unique qualities that could contribute to its peoples longevity, there are a few things that stick out across all regions that could be pinpointed as main contributing factors. Firstly, each region eats some variation of a majority plant based diet and reduces meat consumption. Furthermore, most of this food is farmed, raised, hunted or caught on the sea. Most of the zones either do not drink or smoke entirely or only do so in moderation. Low intensity exercise like walking was also a common thread across all 5 communities. Maintaining healthy relationships with friends and families and living tradition based lives was also common across each zone and likely helped the people in the zones reduce stress. Overall the blue zones show that despite a lot of current health/nutrition media which says you need to eat these extreme diets or follow a rigid exercise routine, there are a few simple changes that can likely help anyone live a longer and healthier life. Eat more plants, walk more, talk to your friends and family more, drink and smoke less, and you too might be able to live like the people in the blue zones.

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    About the Contributor
    Sullivan Nolan, Junior Content Editor
    Sullivan Nolan is a second year journalism student and a member of the Class of 2025. Sullivan is a part of the soccer and track teams here at school. Outside of school he enjoys hanging out with friends and cooking.