The other day I told one of my grandsons that I wanted to live to be 100 and we figured out how old he would be when I reached that goal. My conversation with my grandson was spurred by a book I just read, "The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the People who've Lived the Longest." First published in 2008, the book is the outgrowth of a magazine article, "The Secrets of Long Life" published in the November 2005 issue of National Geographic. "Blue Zones" is a term coined by demographers while mapping one of these regions on the island of Sardinia.
In the magazine article, author Dan Buettner focused on three regions of the world in which research scientists, funded in part by the US. National Institute on Aging, studied people who live significantly longer -- the majority were centenarians. These regions are Sardinia, Itay, Okinawa, Japan and Loma Linda, California, where the researchers studied a group of Seventh-day Adventists who, Buettner wrote, ranked "among America's longevity all-stars."
Following the publication of the article, Buettner and a team of medical scientists, demographers and journalists traveled to five of the "healthiest corners of the globe," to report on the high rate of the longest-living people. In addition to Sardinia, Okinawa and Loma Linda, the book includes chapters on Nicoya, Costa Rica and Ikaria, a Greek island about 30 miles off the western coast of Turkey in the Aegean Sea.
Buettner writes in a very personable manner with a text not bogged down in scientific jargon, but in layman's terms. He brings the reader right into the home environment of the centenarians and we feel as if we are sharing a meal or sipping tea or a glass of wine right with him and his subjects at the table as the warm breezes blow into the room.
Okay so here's the deal. Here's the not so magical formula or recipe for longevity. Yes, oh yes, it's diet and exercise, family, faith, friends, rest, low stress and a purposeful life. Here's an interesting point noted in the book. There is a correlation between faith and longevity. One Costa Rican centenarian believed that "no matter how bad things got, God would take care of everything. This reliance on God becomes a stress-reliever.
"They tend to relinquish control of their lives to God. The fact that God is in control of their lives relieves any economic, spiritual or well-being anxiety they might otherwise have. ...someone is looking out for them," Buettner says. The author notes that the Seventh-day Adventist faith was rooted in a strong faith tradition; Okinawan elders believed that their deceased ancestors watched over them; and Sardinians were devout Catholics.
In his magazine article, Buettner presents a graphic illustrating how "seniors in three widely separated regions -- Sardinia, Loma Linda and Okinawa, share a number of key habits, despite many differences in backgrounds and beliefs. In each Blue Zone, the elders do not smoke; they put family first; they are active every day; they keep socially engaged; they eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains. In addition, the Sardinians drink red wine and eat percorino cheese. The Adventists eat nuts and beans and the Okinawans eat small portions.
Buettner notes that in the U.S., the rate of female to male centenarians is about four to one. In parts of Sardinia it's more like one to one. Also, he notes Okinawans have fewer heart attacks than their U.S. counterparts and lower rates of breast and prostate cancer.
In the book Buettner notes a characteristic of longevity among the centenarians in Ikaria. They like their naps. Buettner writes, "The bottom line: Your kindergarten teacher may have had it right.." the Ikarians take a midafternoon break. "People, he says, "who nap regularly have up to 35 percent lower chances of dying from heart disease...napping lowers stress hormones or rests the heart."
Another interesting point I came away with in reading the book is that while many of the older people studied lived long lives, their lives may not have been necessarily void of disease or illness. However, their healthy lifestyles helped in coping with their health problems and in certain cases avoiding death from the health affliction.
Other interesting observations: honey may help control blood sugar levels; darker honey has more antioxidants and less water than lighter honey. Oranges, a source of Vitamin C, fiber and potassium help prevent heart disease, cancer and stroke. Also, sleep is important in keeping the immune system functioning, reduces risk of heart attack and recharges the brain. Buettner advises seven to nine hours of sleep a night; go to bed the same time and get up the same time. Sleep in a dark, quiet cool room and on a comfortable mattress and pillow.
The best part of this book is Buettner'sexplaining how each of us can create our own "Blue Zone" in our own life. He offers the "Power Nine" lessons patterned after the lifestyles of the Blue Zones' centenarians but modified to fit the Western lifestyle.
I am determined to create my own "Blue Zone." I want to see my grandchildren graduate college, get married if they so desire; and live purposeful lives. I want to see my great-grandchildren.
I don't want my life patterned after the final year of my father's life struggling with colon cancer that took his life. As he struggled with the disease at age 61, he lamented that it must have been caused by "all the steak I ate." The Centenarians in the Blue Zones would surely agree.
Rita Papazian is a freelance writer and can be reached at email@example.com.