Part of my trip I tried to fit a bit of playful research in, as we found ourselves in one of the few "Blue Zones" on this planet. Blue Zones is a concept equating certain demographics in particular geographical areas of the planet; mainly; communities in the world had the most centenarians to how and where they live. There has been a lot of research done on these discovered Blue Zones trying to figure out why a high percentage of population in these zones were living in good health much later in life than the averages of developed nations around the world.
Seems no matter what Blue Zone in the world, there was a few main contributing factors that they all had in common and were linked to the health and longevity of these peoples.
So as we all celebrate an unfolding New Year, we might take some of these simple lifestyle tips and fold them into our daily existence, trying to make it in GOOD HEALTH to 100!
While I was traveling through Costa Rica, there is the Nicoya peninsula that jets of the Pacific Coast making it fairly secluded and quite unique even to the rest of the country. Many homes are still not hooked up to electricity, most farm, and a main source of transportation in these remote areas is one's own two feet. Some noted lifestyle habits of this long lived area, where people often live to the 90s or even into their 100s, emerge from simple living. What may not be thought of by us as easy living, may just give some insight into longevtiy.
According to research done by Dan Buettner and a wide range of researchers on his team, a few key lifestlye habits were similar to these different Blue Zone groups around the world. Here are a few healthy habits that are easy to adopt this year!
Eat More Beans & Legumes and Plants.
This was one of the main dietary hubs of health among the main Blue Zone regions. From the Okanawins to Ikaria, Greece to the Seventh Day Adventist in Linda Loma , USA to the People living on the Nicoya Coast, beans and/or legumes were part of their everyday diets. Prepared traditionally, by soaking overnight and long cooking times, the beans were a staple. This was also paired with a Plant based diet, not plant exclusive but mostly plant based with small inclusions of meats and dairy, and fish. These inclusions of animal foods were much smaller portion and regularities than in North America and Europian countries.(1)
At first glance the Nicoyan diet may seem a very tipical to Central American with its staples of beans, rice, tortillas and variety added by other vegetables, infrequent eggs, or small portions of chicken or beef. Nicoyans eat a lot of fruit that rest of us will almost never see. While we might recognize bananas, oranges, and lemons, other more exotic tropical fruits would be a part of the Nicoyans steady diet with a huge antioxidant boost. As just one example, the cashew apple contains five times as much vitamin C as an orange. Papaya is grown in many home gardens and has huge anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The Seeds being a good anti-parasitic prevention and treatment. Fruit consumption may play a role in the low rate of cancer among Nicoyans, something not enjoyed by their fellow Costa Ricans outside the Blue Zone according to a study done by the University of Costa Rica.(2)
In many other countries with Blue Zones, having a kitchen garden, growing greens and other plant foods are a common trait. Having a variety of edible plants in season and on the table may give these zones a boost of phytonutrients that are so important for cellular health and maintaining good health in later years.
Natural Daily Movement.
Walking and physical movement was carried on into much later years and on a daily basis, and seemed to be one of the contributing factors in living healthier for longer. Movement was so integrated into daily lives so much so, that most centenarians needed little to no help getting around, whether it be up a rocky hillside, if that's what they were used to, or making it out to the garden to weed and work in the sun. Domestic chores, farming and the necessity of walking to get around all contributed to low intensity day long activity, and the fresh air couldn't hurt! This was also noted amongst all other major Blue Zones as a marker for longevity.
Get Good Rest.
Other lifestyle features undoubtedly assist in making the Nicoyans the longest-lived, healthiest people on the planet is the fact that many still live in traditional dwellings, often without electricity, which means that people go to bed early and, after a full night’s sleep, rise with the sun. This healthy habit wasn't one of the outcomes in the longevity research done by Buettner but has turned up in many research articles to date and has such great restorative benefits that it is an easy step to help tack on more good years!
Looks like all of these communities had healthy habits in dealing with stress, taking time for themselves with a focus on de-stressing activities, Okinawan would think about their loved ones for a few moments everyday, The Linda Loma Adventists pray, Sardinians do Happy Hour, the Ikarians take naps, and the Nicoyans breath in nature. What will you do to stress less in 2017?
A few other notable lifestyle habits amongst the longest lived people were that they have close knit communities, friendships, and social engagement. They put a priority on family above all else. They find and feel a purpose in life, whether it be family, work, spirituality, a sense of purpose was important to fill them up, but they weren't filling up on too much food, most practiced the 80% rule, only eating until they were “almost full”.
I wish you all the happiest and healthiest years to come, not just this year but all the years in front of you! Folding in simple helpful habits to live a thriving, purposeful, connected existence.