Longevity, or how long someone lives and stays feeling young, is an important concern for everyone. For seniors, cultivating longevity could mean more time with loved ones and being there for more of their children’s and grandchildren’s milestones. Learn about blue zone research, how it relates to living a longer life and what habits may support longevity.
Across the world there are locations that show an exceptionally above-average life expectancy, called blue zones. The discovery of these locations and the origin of the blue zone concept is found in the demographic research of Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain. They began suspecting this phenomenon in 2004 with the discovery of a town in Italy with an oddly high number of male centenarians — men who live to 100. Since then, four more blue zone locations have made it on the list: Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Icaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California.
Beyond being an interesting phenomenon, blue zones may also be an important part of aging research. This is because blue zones all seem to have similar cultures and people with similar lifestyles. This means there may be a reason blue zones exist and their conditions could be replicated to achieve the same longevity benefits. By looking at the similarities between blue zones, you can find out what lifestyle choices might support longevity.
It’s no secret that eating veggies is good for your health, but the average diet in blue zones takes it further than a side of broccoli or the occasional salad. Blue zoners' diets are 95% plant-based on average. Instead of eating meat daily, as is common in most of the U.S., blue zone residents eat meat an average of five times a month. The rest of the time, they primarily eat vegetables, legumes and nuts.
Healthy eating habits, like the 80% rule, are also common facets in blue zone culture. The 80% rule says to only eat until you’re 80% full. Blue zones tend to not have harmful cultural food relationships, such as the idea of “cleaning your plate” or “there are kids starving in X country.”
Another unsurprising blue zone staple is regular exercise. The interesting part is that blue zone residents don’t typically exercise as an activity in and of itself; exercise is simply a part of the blue zone lifestyle. Walking, active outdoor hobbies such as gardening and active daily chores are all prevalent parts of blue zone life.
This one might seem obvious, but blue zoners aren't heavy drinkers. Alcohol is proven to have negative health effects, including lower life expectancy, especially when consumed regularly in large amounts. Alcohol in moderate doses is common in blue zones, but binge drinking and alcoholism aren’t prevalent. Some studies seemed to indicate that moderate alcohol consumption could increase life expectancy, but that conclusion has since been shown to be an arbitrary correlation. The medical community maintains that abstaining from alcohol altogether is best for your health and longevity.
Sleep is extremely important for health and longevity. Blue zone residents tend to both get enough sleep and have flexible sleep schedules. Generally, having a consistent sleep schedule is best for sleep quality, but blue zoners have a more go-with-the-flow attitude towards sleep. They just sleep when their body tells them to. This could help with sleep quality because they never force their body outside of its natural cycles.
An interesting feature blue zones share is a strong sense of community. Most blue zones are religious and family-centric. It’s likely the psychological benefits of strong personal relationships lead to better physical health and longevity. People living in faith-based cultures are also more likely to experience a sense of purpose and joy, which could have positive health benefits.
Seniors may be wondering if it’s too late to improve their longevity by implementing healthy habits. It’s not. While the benefits of a healthy lifestyle are greater the earlier you start, it’s never too late to improve your health. Eating well, seeing a doctor regularly, training your brain and staying connected with friends and family are some ways seniors may improve their health and longevity. Unfortunately, many seniors find themselves in a situation where they can’t achieve those healthy habits. Isolated seniors with mobility issues may not be able to get out to build relationships, manage all their health needs single-handedly or, in some cases, even find transportation to regular doctor visits.
One of the biggest longevity benefits of assisted living is the community. Just like blue zones, assisted living offers strong relationships and support systems. At Cambridge Court assisted living, seniors can find a rich, faith-based community. We also offer fitness programs and nutritious meals, and our caring staff provides regular health assessments. Assisted living provides seniors with all the resources to maintain healthy habits that may support longevity. It’s almost like a mini blue zone.