The Blue Zones: Where living to be 100 is easy
In an article for the New York Times, Blue Zones expert, Dan Beuttner told the story of Greek War Veteran Stamatis Moraitis. Whilst living in the U.S during the 1970’s, Ikarian born, Moraitis was diagnosed with lung cancer. At the time Moraitis was given the option to be treated in America but instead returned home to Ikaria. He chose to do this on the premise that funeral costs would be cheaper and he could be buried with his ancestors, overlooking the Aegean Sea.
Moraitis and wife, Elpiniki, moved back into his parents white washed home on the north of Ikaria. Moraitis spent his days in bed and was tended to by his mother and wife. He caught up with old friends and eased back into an Ikarian way of life. As the months went on Moriatis started to feel stronger. So much so that he planted some vegetables in his garden. Although he was unsure if he would see the harvest or not, he was nonetheless happy to be outside in the sunshine. To the surprise of many, six months later, Moraitis was feeling better than ever and was able to reap the rewards of his garden. In a 2013 interview, the then 97, Moriatis told Beuttner “and now, 45 years later, I’m still here!”
Some may call this a miracle and some may question the validity of Moraitis’ story. Either way with one third of residents living well into their 90’s there is something to be learnt from the Island of Ikaria. Ikaria is just one of the five “Blue Zones” recognised worldwide, in these areas people live substantially longer lives than anywhere else in the world. The other areas are Okinawa (Japan); Sardinia (Italy); Nicoya (Costa Rica); and Loma Linda, California (USA).
The key factors
So what exactly makes residents of these five places live such long and healthy lives, seemingly effortlessly? Dan Buettner and his team have pinned it down to a few key factors which are outlined below.
Moving to achieve longevity is nothing new. What makes movement in the Blue Zones so interesting is the way in which physical activity is carried out. Residents don’t attend spin classes or pump iron, instead they can be found tending to the garden, walking with friends and dancing.
At Burnie Brae: Join our walking group, get involved with our community garden or take up a dance class. Blue zone residents know that when physical activity is enjoyable and social the benefits are tenfold!
Find your Sense of Purpose
Okinawans call this “Ikigai” which translates to “why I wake up in the morning”. Knowing your sense of purpose is said to add up to seven years of extra life expectancy.
At Burnie Brae: Finding a sense of purpose can be hard, trying new things makes it a little bit easier. Consider trying a new activity (check out our activity timetable here) or volunteering at the Burnie Brae Centre.
Scientists are continually finding stress, and the inflammation it produces, to be a major precursor to many age-related diseases. On the island of Ikaria you won’t find people wearing watches or rushing out the door to get to work. Ikarians wake up with the sun and schedule in an afternoon nap to manage their stress levels.
Eat Mindfully & don't forget the vegetables
In Okinawa residents aim to stop eating when they are 80% full. This may explain why lifestyle diseases such as type 2 Diabetes are much less prevalent amongst residents. Plant based foods make up a large portion of all Blue Zones diets. In Sardinia, meat is reserved for Sundays and special occasions with whole grains, beans, vegetable, fruit, nuts and fish consumed regularly. Beans and lentils are a great food for longevity, they contain a large amount of fibre, protein and are generally quite cheap and versatile. Why not swap out mince for some black beans next time you make tacos or chili con carne like they do in Nicoya (Costa Rica).
prioritise your loved ones and have a sense of community
Successful centenarians put people first. They keep their family close, foster strong bonds amongst friends, make time for socialising. They often live a village style lifestyle which places emphasis on community. In Ikaria you will find residents staying up late playing dominoes together. In Okinawan the tradition of forming a Moai, a close group of five friends, ensures they have a secure social network for life.
So what are you waiting for? Grab life with all that you can and take some tips from these inspiring people.