March 15, 2021Preventive Healthcare

The magic of the Blue Zones and healthy centinarians

What actually are the Blue Zones?

Blue Zones have been a definition used  in the world of longevity for over a decade. So  what actually are the  Blue Zones? where are they? and what can we learn from this experience?

At the turn of the new millennium, demographers and longevity experts, Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain conducted research into the strange phenomenon of Sardinia's Nuoro province which was home to the world’s highest concentration of male centenarians. In 2002, it also boasted the world’s oldest man, Antonio Todde, who lived to almost 113 years. As the scientists continued their studies, they filled a regional map with blue circles or zones, denoting the oldest population clusters.

The research results were disseminated in the Journal of Experimental Gerontology and in 2005, Dan Buettner featured them in National Geographic. The trio joined forces and further studies revealed another four ‘blue zones’ in the world with similar characteristics to Nuoro.

The Blue Zones which have been identified so far are Okinawa -  Japan, Sardinia -  Italy; Nicoya -  Costa Rica; Ikaria -  Greece and Loma Linda in California.

What Can We Learn from These Areas – Power 9

The obvious question posed was what do these totally unconnected places have in common? Dan and his team of international researchers and experts have studied these areas to identify common factors that may be linked to longer life. They have identified 9 factors that they believe are linked to longer life - the “Power 9”.

Below we will look at what makes the Blue Zones special and explain the Power 9.

Modern life implementation of the Blue Zones concept

The author then embarked on a more ambitious project, not simply to share this insights but to actively encourage change and implement some of the findings in our modern world. Through his Blue Zones Project®, is helping transform communities across the U.S. into areas where the healthy choice is easy and people live longer with a higher quality of life. The Blue Zone team has helped communities across the USA to apply Power 9® principles, the nine secrets of longevity, to improve where we people live, work, learn, and play. They make it easier to get up and move, eat healthy, make new friends, find a reason for being—and live longer, better.The projects seek to influence six key areas:

By now whey have involved 42 communities and impacted directly over 2,250,000 people. One of the examples of communities that have implemented the Blue Zones concept is Albert Leean agriculture-based community in Minnesota. Local businesses, schools, restaurant and store owners, local leaders and individuals worked together to increase wellness through movement. Interventions included pedestrianization, encouragement of walking and exercise, dietary changes and tobacco cessation.

  Some of the measurable outcomes of the project were:

  • 2.9 years were added to the lifespans of residents participating in Blue Zones initiatives within one year of joining
  • 30% decrease in tobacco use among adults
  • $7.5 million in healthcare costs for employers was saved from the decline of tobacco use
  • 11% decrease in prescription costs and no increase in insurance premiums for school district employees
  • 38% increase in walking and biking among community members
  • 69 (50%) of businesses joined the Blue Zones Worksite project
  • 7,800+ citizens took action. (40%) of Albert Lea residents were involved in some way
  • 8,000 pounds was the combined weight lost from participants

Many such initiatives are taking place across the country with the underpinning principles of starting with the health systems, structures, and cultures that people interact with. To make change work, all players need to be involved: businesses, citizens, schools, employers, restaurants and community leaders to be a part of a real and sustainable change.

When two centenarians in a sleepy hilltop Sardinian village sat down to share a glass of wine, fresh tomatoes and goats cheese, little did they know what they had started but the Blue Zone genie is out of the bottle and making a positive impact in countless places.

Highlights

  • Long-term fitness does not depend on vigorous gym workouts but daily, natural movement.
  • The best diets is about 80 percent vegetarian with plenty of fresh produce but that a glass of wine, particularly shared with family and friends, is beneficial.
  • There is a strong social dimension to the influential factors with living in a positive and supportive social environment, having a sense of purpose and faith, being equally as important as physical elements.

Author

Joanna Bensz

Founder and CEO of the International Institute of Longevity.