Blue Zones : An Introduction

What is a Blue Zone?  A few years ago, some scientists did a study to find out how people in particular regions managed to live, and thrive, to over 100 at a higher than normal frequency. They marked these geographical regions on a map with a blue pen as it happens. And they became known, almost by accident, as “Blue Zones”.

Where are these zones? There are 5 original Blue Zones, Okinawa – Japan, Nicoya Peninsular – Costa Rica, Ikaria – Greece, Central Sardinia – Italy, and Loma Linda – California. Most of these zones originate from old natural peasant based societies, with the one exception in the USA.

What is so special about these places and the people living there? Their lifestyles have done this for them almost automatically. They haven’t deliberately done anything to live happy, healthy, long lives. To them, it’s a totally normal existence. None of them smoke, overeat, or get drunk. Sorry about that! But this is what kills most people prematurely. We already know this.

The whole of the city of Loma Linda are 7th day adventists. They have been living the Blue Zones way near perfectly without knowing it. They live much longer than the average USA citizen, so you can see through this example that it’s not some fluke of nature. The secret is that we can now look at their natural lifestyles with the eyes of scientists, and start to mimic these things anywhere else we choose to live.

What are these factors, and what do we need to do to copy them?  A lot of the factors are food related, but not all. Food-wise, they primarily eat a plant based diet, with nuts and beans featuring on a daily basis, to the point where these simple dietary changes alone can increase life expectancy by up to 10 years compared to normal averages. Other factors include moving around a lot under your own steam. Not at the gym, but just walking a lot, working around the home, shopping, gardening etc. The last components are made up of being part of social groups, having a purpose in life, a family first commitment, and maybe a faith. The 4 F’s cover most of this; Food, Fitness, Focus and Family.

How does this help climate change? Reducing your meat and dairy consumption makes a massive personal impact to climate change on its own; cows in particular, create more damage to the atmosphere than all global transport put together, including flying.  Blue Zone people don’t usually overeat either; making sure you eat just enough quality food for your body to operate correctly will reduce your food bill as well as reducing your demand on resources. Making your own food from scratch involves more standing up, and moving around, because you use less processed foodstuffs. Washing up by hand also reduces climate change. More standing up! Walking or cycling reduces car use of course, and fitter people reduce the cost to the NHS, which reduces the waiting list for others. No political party mentions these factors. (why not, may I ask?) but in the USA where there is no NHS, health authorities are saving millions when they introduce Blue Zone principles into their communities.

What can we do in Hythe to copy these people?  We have a perfect environment here to activate all of these processes. Hythe’s compact services represent a “Walkable Town”. Good quality and healthy plant based food is available from all of our supermarkets, farmers markets, and Food Assembly. Our high end and low end supermarkets have a great range of greens, beans, grains and nuts which is the central food message to follow.

We have allotments and plenty of garden spaces to use and share in order to grow some of our own veg. Our cafes and restaurants have vegetarian options, and dairy free milk alternatives. There are hundreds of recipe books available from the library, and currently plenty of plant based food ones are being published as this trend grows. If you are on a tight budget, the great news is that this way of life will save you a lot of money. Beans (and lentils) are a very cheap form of protein, and improve your health and the climate with every mouthful. It’s likely that you will lose weight naturally by following Blue Zone principles too, without feeling that you are on a diet.

Fitness is easy with great walking and cycling facilities, particularly along the canal and sea front. Litter picking, and organised walks are also regularly arranged in the town. A walk after your evening meal is particularly beneficial in reducing evening blood sugar spikes and there’s no better place than our central canal-side area or the promenade. We also have lots of other sporting opportunities, which tick the fitness and mental wellbeing boxes together.

Social and mental wellbeing can also be improved by the many clubs and groups we have available, and there are also many volunteering opportunities. Did you know that AgeUK, and the U3A (University of the third age) have no minimum age requirements to join ? Arranging a regular walk with a few friends allows you to share your lives and de-stress your problems while moving along. These walks are known as a “Walking Moai” (pronounced “Mow-eye”) and feature often. You may have done this yourself naturally with a group of friends, but you can now see the benefits of doing this regularly.

You will have your own ways of making family and faith feature more in your lives, but how about having more family meals together and start your children off into the Zone? That’s how it works in the real Blue Zones.  Dutch children are the happiest in the world at the moment, and it’s worth reading about this for some other clues.

Taking all of the factors from the Blue Zone people, you can extrapolate a set of behaviours and activities which will help you to emulate the lives of the longest living people. It’s not just about living a long time, these people also live a better quality of life right up to their natural end, without struggling along on drugs and medical interventions. We all aspire to that, but it’s knowing how to tap into it. You may now have some of the answers.

You can find out more by further reading. It is fascinating – start your journey here

At HytheAlive, Blue Zones living is one of the cornerstones towards our personal and natural contribution in reducing climate change. We can help you to take your Blue Zone thinking to a higher level; contact us if you want to join in or get more information on how we do it.