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What’s the Secret to a Longer Life? Think Blue

Want to live the longest, healthiest life possible? 'Blue zones' are places around the world where people live the longest. Here’s a closer look at how those populations eat, and takeaway tips for how to adopt their longevity habits, no matter where you live.

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Longevity is a hot topic as people look for preventative ways they can improve their health for the long run. While many fad diets are here today, gone tomorrow, that’s not the case with this one. Known as the Blue Zone way of eating, this is more than just a dietary pattern, it’s a way of life.

Back in 2004, a team of researchers worked with National Geographic to discover why certain populations from areas all over the globe lived to be over 100. Drawing a blue line around these locations, the team set out to find what these particular communities had in common. From mountainous villagers in Sardinia, Italy, to island residents in Ikaria, Greece, to centenarians in Okinawa, Japan, and right here in the United States in Loma Linda, California, where Seventh-day Adventists live up to a decade more than the rest of the United States, the commonalities found amongst these global communities were fascinating.

As the team explored these connections that promoted longevity amongst these diverse populations, 11 common food principles began to emerge, alongside other important lifestyle habits, such as movement and social connection.

Principles of the Blue Zone Diet

The Blue Zone diet and lifestyle pattern focuses on eating a predominantly plant-based diet while incorporating regular movement and community interaction. The main commonalities across those in the Blue Zones tend to follow the below dietary patterns:

  • Eat 90 to 100 percent plant-based foods.
  • Minimal meat, fish, dairy, and egg consumption.
  • Eat a daily serving of beans.
  • Snack heart-healthy with nuts.
  • Choose whole-grains (or sourdough) bread.
  • Aim to eat whole, unprocessed foods.

Alongside these dietary principles, Blue Zone residents move every 20 minutes while focusing on engaging in community connection (technology-free.) Their communities aren’t built for modern conveniences of appliances, cars, and public transportation, but rather kneading bread by hand and walking to run errands.

While some of these principles may not be entirely possible for urban communities in the United States, the premise behind them is certainly modifiable to your lifestyle (and is successfully being done across America with the help of the Blue Zone Project Communities.)

Can What You Eat Really Promote Longevity? What Experts Have to Say

According to Registered Dietitian Lisa Young, Ph.D., “a nutrient-dense diet rich in colorful produce along with a stress-free lifestyle goes hand in hand to promote longevity.”

Dr. Young suggests swapping meat for fish, beans, and legumes as a great way to fight inflammation, prevent aging, and promoting brain health. “What we eat can make a difference in preventing cognitive decline,” shares Dr. Young.

“Foods high in certain vitamins, antioxidants, and phytochemicals may help to boost brain health. Deep red foods such as tomatoes and watermelon contain the antioxidant lycopene, which fights free radicals that come with aging. Leafy greens such as kale and spinach are rich in vitamins E and K, which may prevent memory loss and help reduce our ‘brain age.’ Berries contain anthocyanins, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.”

Nutrition expert Dr. Divya Selvakumar, Ph.D., RD, echos what Dr. Young shared, noting the major aspect of diets that promote longevity like the Blue Zone dietary patterns is that “they are lower in cholesterol, fat, and sugar, which is beneficial in preventing common disorders such as heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension.”

Dr. Selvakumar recommends increasing plant-based foods such as legumes, lentils, fruits, vegetables, and nuts while emphasizing the fact that eating for longevity extends beyond just what we put in our mouths. She notes the key to nutrition and health behaviors that promote living our best and longest lives also include stress management and the daily practice of yoga and meditation to maintain a positive outlook and sense of calmness.

Key Takeaways

  • Eating to promote longevity is possible through following a Blue Zone dietary and lifestyle pattern.
  • Focusing on eating more plant-based foods while incorporating daily movement and social connection are important aspects that help promote longevity.
  • You do not have to overhaul your life overnight. Focus on making small, simple changes on a regular basis to help live your best (and longest) life possible.

Bottom Line

While genetics and environmental factors inevitably play a role in total health, there are many positive takeaways you can begin to incorporate from the Blue Zone dietary and lifestyle patterns that can help you live your healthiest (and longest) life! Start small by increasing your intakes of plant-based foods, moving more, and disconnecting from technology, and engaging in meaningful social connections with your loved ones.

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