Blue Zone Principles: What Older Adults Can Learn from These Regions

Why People in "Blue Zones" Live Longer Than the Rest of the World

The average lifespan today is around 72 years. However, in certain parts of the world, people live way longer. In Okinawa, for example, the vast majority are centenarians. Meanwhile, in Nicoya, Costa Rica, inhabitants could still celebrate their hundredth birthday.

These two regions, along with three more, comprised the Blue Zones. These are places, according to Dan Buettner, where people don’t just live for a long time but are also able to maintain their quality of life despite their age. They are less likely to be diagnosed with a chronic disease compared to the general population.

Although they are scattered around the globe, Buettner found a common thread, which now makes up the Blue Zone principles that even older adults can follow:

1. They Have a High Sense of Purpose

Okinawans eat a healthy diet usually composed of tofu, beans, and herbal plants. They rarely eat meat. Moreover, because they are surrounded by water, they consume plenty of fish, which is a good source of omega-3.

However, for Buettner, one of the ultimate reasons for their long lives is a sense of purpose called ikigai. Interestingly, more studies show that this factor may indeed promote health and well-being. For example, in a 2015 research by Wolters Kluwer Health, it could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

In line with ikigai is moai, which refers to the social support groups in Okinawa. It is a tradition among its people to group themselves into at least five. These individuals will have to meet regularly to check up on one another, ensure their needs are met, and provide whatever type of support they require. In other words, their sense of purpose can include taking care of others.

Many older adults prefer to age in place alone. However, they may benefit more when they move to an assisted living facility, retirement community, or even a nursing home where they can build their moai.

2. They Move Naturally

People living in the Blue Zones keep themselves fit. But unlike those who probably live in more urban areas, they don’t enroll in gyms or follow a specific exercise plan. Instead, they prefer to move naturally.

In Sardinia, Italy, people may forage the mountains for plants they can incorporate in their dishes. Meanwhile, the Greeks in Ikaria would love to spend their days gardening or visiting their neighbors on foot.

Natural movements are advantageous to older adults, who may already have physical limitations to participate in rigorous or strict workouts. Brisk walking for at least an hour a week could already decrease the odds of disability, according to a Northwestern University study.

Moving naturally is also a “mindless activity,” which means it demands less willpower or motivation to do. It is also easy to integrate into anyone’s lifestyle.

3. People in the Blue Zones Eat a Healthy Diet

Many experts say that health is 20 percent exercise and 80 percent nutrition. The question is, what types of food should one eat?

People in the Blue Zones consume a wide variety of foods. Those in Ikirai consume a Mediterranean-style diet. The food of the Okinawans is usually based on soy. The Adventists in Loma Linda, California, avoid drinking coffee or alcohol.

But, according to Buettner, their meal plans often have the following features:

  • They are at least 90 percent plant-based.
  • Rarely, they eat meat. They limit its consumption to less than five times or no more than two ounces a month.
  • They also control their sugar intake.
  • The food they consume is usually whole, which means they are unprocessed or unrefined.
  • They consume mostly water. While they drink wine, they do so moderately.
  • They reduce their intake of dairy and avoid eggs, which some studies suggest could trigger food insensitivities.

These characteristics may also be science-backed. A 2020 study by the University of Georgia revealed an association between light to moderate drinking and improved cognitive function. On the other hand, a meta-analysis in 2018 shared that the Mediterranean diet may help protect seniors from becoming frail.

Seniors who live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities may be in a better position to maintain a healthy diet. They have access to professionals who can create the ideal meal plan for them.

Either way, older adults may want to increase their intake of whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans, and then limit the consumption of meat.

Aging is a part of life, but everyone has the option to go through it gently and gracefully. These Blue Zones principles will allow older adults to maintain a good quality of life by maintaining their brain function and physical health for as long as possible.

Meta title:How Older Adults Can Practice Blue Zone Principles
meta desc: The Blue Zone principles contain the best ideas to live a healthy long life. Here’s how older adults can practice them.