Who wouldn’t want to be 100 years old? Someone who says this is not his or her wish probably says this as they think about quivering people walking behind a stroller,  old people that can hardly move forwards or backwards,  people who can no longer take care of themselves and are stuck in a nursing home. Not very appealing, I know.

Reaching 100 years old in good health

What about that? Here I mean becoming 100 years young! Did you know there are 5 areas in the world where people regularly become 120 -130 years old?  They are called the Blue Zones.  Research has been done into what the reasons are that people in these areas reach such high ages.  There are 9 secrets that these 5 areas have in common and I am sure you will want to know which ones they are.

Factors

There are 2 major factors that determine whether or not you can grow old in good health:

  1. Genetic factors – these are your genes and hopefully you will have won a lot of good ones in the gene lottery. Yet your genes only determine for a small part whether or not you have a chance to grow old healthily.
  2. Epigenetic factors – These are the environmental factors and they have more influence on your health than the genetic factors. The epigenetic factors can be subdivided into:
  • Influenceable factors – think of things such as food, exercise, drinking, smoking, etc. etc. All things that you more or less control yourself.
  • Unaffectable factors – here think of environmental pollution, electro smog, stress, financial worries, relationships that are under pressure and those sorts of things. No matter how you do your best, they are difficult to get out of as they are inherent in life today.

Jean Calment

Jean Calment is an example of how you can stay healthy and energetic well into old age. She was 122 years young and until a short time before her death was fit and energetic. When you asked her about her secrets, she always said: “A lot of laughing, eating a kilo of chocolate a week and using a lot of olive oil”. That may have played a role in her situation, but I wonder if it would help you and me if we were to apply this. Life in this century in a country like the UK will require more adjustments than eating chocolate, using olive oil and lots of laughter if you want to grow old healthily.

The Blue Zones

Did you know that a person can genetically become 130 years old? However it are the environmental factors that prevent that from happening unless you live in one of the 5 Blue Zone areas where the environmental factors are ideal. They are:

  • Sardinia, an island of the Italian coast
  • Okinawa, a Japanese group of islands
  • Lomo Linda, California
  • Ikaira, Greece
  • Nicoya, Costa Rica

The 9 Secrets that these areas have in common

The areas that belong to the Blue Zones appear to have 9 ‘big secrets’ that help the people in these areas to easily grow old in extremely while staying in good health. And if you look at them, you will see that there isn’t a lot of talk about nutrition. At least, not in the way we in our Western World are used to. Especially at this time of the year when there is a lot of talk about diets and losing weight after the indulgence of the festive season. Let’s see what these are.

  1. Natural Movement. By natural movement I mean gardening and housework. The people in these areas do not go to the gym or go for a run. They have no mechanical resources to help them in their household tasks or in their gardens: they do everything on their own. This is the most natural form of movement there is.
  2. Daily pause button. Of course people in these areas suffer from stress, just like you and me.  You do need a certain amount of stress to enable you to function. But they also have daily routines to shake off the stress so that the stress doesn’t cause disease.
  3. The 80% Rule. This rule refers to the amount of food consumed. There is a big difference between eating until you are not hungry anymore and eating until you are full. People in these areas eat until they have filled their stomach for 80% and then they stop. In the late afternoon or early evening they take their last (light) meal and then don’t have anything else to eat. This in stark contrast to our culture where we often have dinner or snacks late at night.
  4. Beans. In these areas, beans are often the chosen source of protein and meat is not eaten every day. A maximum of 5 times a month, meat or other animal protein sources are eaten. They mainly eat a plant based diet.
  5. Red Wine. In these areas 1 or 2 glasses of red wine are drunk daily but always during a meal eaten with friends. Cosiness, being together and having conversations are the priorities and that together with a glass of red wine is adding to the fun and will not damage your health. This is a completely different way of consuming alcohol than what we know in our culture where alcohol is often used to drink away our sorrows or difficulties.  Then alcohol can do more damage than good.
  6. Faith community. The people who become so old in these areas all tend to be part of a faith community. Studies have shown that being part of a faith community and attending services 4 times a month can add 4-14 years to your lifespan.
  7. Loved ones. Almost all centenarians in the Blue Zones put family and their loved ones first. Grandparents often live near the children or in the same yard and grow up with each other. As a result, there appears to be less disease and death among the children. People in these areas are often much more loyal to their life partners than we are accustomed to in Western Europe. Parents and grandparents invest a lot of time and effort in children and grandchildren more than that we are used to.
  8. The Right Social Network. People are part of a good environment and a good social network. Things like smoking, obesity, happiness and loneliness turn out to be contagious. If you are part of a group with good healthy habits, you take it over automatically.
  9. Your Ikigai: goal in life. Having a life goal, your Ikigai, is perhaps the most important factor of all and one of the secrets of a long, healthy and happy life. Having a life goal can easily add 7 years to your life. Your ikigai is your passion, your life mission, the reason why you leave your bed in the morning, the meaning of your existence. According to Japanese tradition, everyone has an ikigai. It is one of the secrets of a long, contented and healthy life. There is a beautiful book written about it. It is called Ikigai by Hector Garcia. 

This Blog shows us that it is not only food that is important for good health but that other things matter too.

To Better Health,

Leonie x