Last year, I read a book that has really changed my perspective. It’s titled The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.
In the book, Dan Buettner and National Geographic set out to find the places on the planet where people live the longest and have the healthiest lives. They found five regions that met their criteria and colored them blue on the map—then they started calling them the Blue Zones. These places are the Barbagia region of Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; and Loma Linda, California (where there is a high concentration of Seventh Day Adventists).
Once they found the places where folks live long and healthy lives, they interviewed people, watched them in their daily routines, and studied their health. They noticed nine similarities in the way that people in these places lived, and called these lifestyle habits the Power 9:
1) Moving naturally. People in the Blue Zones didn’t go to the gym to work out. They walk to the market, they work in their gardens, they bike to visit friends. They move all day long.
2) Purpose. They all have a sense of purpose in their lives.
3) Slowing down. People in the Blue Zones have time during their day to slow down. Whether it is prayer, meditation, siesta, or happy hour with friends, they all downshift, which helps to lower chronic stress.
4) 80% rule. They stop eating when they are 80% full. They tend to eat a lighter meal in the evening.
5) Plant-based diets. Blue Zone people eat mostly plants, and their diets are rich with beans, lentils, or sweet potatoes. They only eat meat a few times per month and even then it’s smaller portions. They don’t eat highly processed, modern foods.
6) Moderate and regular alcohol. They like to have 1-2 drinks a day with their friends (except the Seventh Day Adventists).
7) Belonging. They belong to a faith, it didn’t matter which religion.
8) Family first. Family is very important, so they take care of their kids, grandkids, parents, and grandparents.
9) Social networks. They are in a group of people who also share their healthy lifestyle. Being around people who do healthy things means that you will too.
Fresno as a Blue Zone
Since The Blue Zones was published, the author and others have begun to work with cities that want to become Blue Zones. Wouldn’t it be great if Fresno and other Central San Joaquin Valley cities decided to become Blue Zones? If we know what people who live in the Blue Zones are doing, couldn’t we adopt these policies and improve our own overall health? One of the key findings of the Blue Zones project is that these healthier people aren’t making healthy choices. They live around healthy people. They live in places where people live an older way of life.
There are cities in the U.S. that are working toward becoming Blue Zones by changing policies to promote more walkable and bike-able environments. They are seeing remarkable improvements that are reducing health care costs as health improves, like reducing obesity and smoking. They are finding that it improves their economy by reducing sick days at work.
In a world filled with opinions, I really appreciate a book that uses data as its foundation and then makes it very readable and useful. The people in the Central Valley are only a couple of generations removed from a time where kids walked to school, and adults walked to the corner store, made home-cooked meals from scratch for their families, and grew gardens in the yards.
It might take a couple of generations to make our cities into Blue Zones, but we’ll never get there unless we get started!