Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

(Q24N) Dan Buettner was born in Minnesota and spent time enjoying the outdoor adventures that Minnesota has to offer. As he grew up, he trekked all over the world. He received support from National Geographic and the National Institute of Aging to research places in the world where people were living healthy lives well into their 100s.

In 2004, along with a team of scientists including dietitians, he began researching these “longevity hot spots” or “Blue Zones.”

“The Blue Zones,” a New York Times best-seller was published in 2008.

The Blue Zones are identified as five regions of the world with the highest life expectancy or the highest proportions of people who reach age 100. They are:

Then, the team of scientists looked at an evidence-based common denominator among the locations and came up with nine.

1. Move naturally. These populations do not have specific workout regimens. Instead they maintain a physically active lifestyle; many walk as their main mode of transportation.

2. Purpose. They all identify a reason for getting up in the morning.

3. Down shift. Take time to relax: pray, nap, meditate.

4. 80-percent rule. Eat until you feel 80 percent full.

5. Plant slant. Meat is consumed about five times per month and is limited to 3-4 ounces per serving.

6. Wine at 5. People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly: 1-2 glasses of wine per day.

7. Belong. Research shows that being part of a faith-based community can extend your life expectancy.

8. Loved ones first. Families are a central focus for these regions, often multiple generations live in the same home.

9. Right tribe. The Framingham Studies show that obesity, happiness, loneliness and smoking are contagious, so surround yourself with people who lead healthy lifestyles.

Here are the common dietary trends from the locations.

  • The 80 percent rule comes from a Confucian-inspired saying “hara, hachi bu” a reminder to stop eating when your stomach feels 80 percent full.
  • An important point in The Blue Zones is that this way of eating is a lifestyle; the populations studied did not go on diets. These populations eat less every day, and that continues throughout their lifetime. I like the distinction the book makes between saying “I’m full.”
  • The next rule is Plant Slant. Most centenarians that were studied consumed very little or no meat. All Blue Zone diets incorporated at least two vegetables at every meal. Aim to consume at least six servings of fruit and vegetables each day. Keep servings of meat to a size less than a deck of cards. Find ways to incorporate plant-based proteins such as beans and nuts.
  • The third and final dietary rule is named Wine at 5. The Blue Zones show that having a daily drink of beer (12 ounces), wine (5 ounces), or alcohol (1.5 ounces) may be beneficial to your health and longevity. But if you go over the daily 1 drink per day recommendation, it will negate any health benefits. Another key to the puzzle is that many of The Blue Zones had a daily happy hour of sorts, where friends would gather to talk about their day. This sense of community may be just as beneficial as the wine.
  • The Wine at 5 rule demonstrates why nutrition can be a difficult and imprecise science. Food nourishes our bodies, but there are many cultural and emotional reasons that influence our diet and our overall health. My opinion is the most beneficial component from what we’ve learned from the Blue Zones is to be mindful. Take time to savor your meals and let this extend to being mindful with your relationships and your daily activities.

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