A review of the book, “Blue Zones”.

I have just finished reading the book, “The Blue Zones” by Dan Buettner. The book is published by National Geographic. This article contains some of the highlights that I found in the book. blue zones book

The book examines communities, known as Blue Zones, where people have in greater concentrations managed to live longer and healthier lives. Teams of scientists have gone into these areas to try and ascertain what life style habits these old age people share. The goal of the book is to get people like you and I to live longer and healthier lives.

I get to see people of all ages at SBR Sport. We have looked after a number of teens and lots of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. There is however, a growing group of people that we are seeing in their 50s, 60s and 70s, that are seeking to train regularly, and indeed, also compete.

I would highly recommend that you buy the book. In the interim, here some quotes from the book and then some thoughts afterwards. blue zones map

On enjoying your life and finding purpose in what you do.
“For instance, people talk about workaholics as being at higher risk from stress related illness. But there is no evidence that workaholics are necessarily a higher risk if they really are enjoying what they’re doing.” Pg 17.
That came as good news to me, because I find myself completely obsessed with what I do.

Buettner looks at the lifestyles of Sardinian shepherds and writes the following:
“Everyday hikes taken by Sardinian shepherds can burn up to 490 calories an hour: to get the equivalent, try 120 minutes of brisk walking (about 3.5 mph – that’s 7.7 kph), 90 minutes of gardening, 2 hours of bowling, or 120 minutes of golfing (be sure to carry your bag).
I have hash-tagged a number of our posts as follows – #movementismedicine:  I firmly believe that. blue zones farming

On flavonoids:
“Sardinian red wine isn’t the only place to find flavonoids. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables and dark chocolate also contain them. Studies have shown that a diet high in flavonoids is associated with a reduced incidence of certain cancers and heart disease.”

On humor and family:
“Finally, for me, Sardinia’s most important longevity secret lies in the unique outlook and perspective of its people. Their hardship-tempered sense of humor, which may seem quite caustic and persnickety to outsiders, helps them shed stress and diffuse feuds before they start. Their fanatic zeal for their families has always protected them from a historically hostile world by providing cooperation in times of hostility.” p56
It is interesting that the communities with unusual levels of longevity often have had to undergo extreme difficulty and stress. The quote from Epictetus, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”, comes to mind.

Your mom was right when she told you too eat your vegetables:
Dr Greg Plotnikoff makes the following statement when looking at how many vegetables Okinawans eat, “Okinawans see vegetables. I see powerful anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anticancer drugs,” he said. “You don’t just wake up one day with cancer. It’s a process, not an event.” Pg 89. blue diets

It seems as if all the communities studied eat diets rich in plants and fruits. They seem to eat less meat than what you would expect. None of the communities eat highly processed diets with almost all the communities being too poor (or should that read, too rich) to eat takeaway foods.

On Vitamin D:
Again, quoting Dr. Greg Plotnikoff, “I think vitamin D is an important ingredient in the longevity recipe,” he said enthusiastically, as if just struck by an epiphany. “Your skin manufactures vitamin D when it comes into contact with the sun. Without vitamin D, we increase our risk from nearly all age-related diseases including many types of cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes and even autoimmune diseases like MS (multiple sclerosis). Pg 94. blue zones swim

Later on the same page, “Vitamin D in our bodies controls key elements of the immune system, blood pressure, and cell growth, and is important for cancer regulation. And in the test tube, vitamin D kills the cancers that most often kill Americans.”
Obviously, though, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, and so you are going to need to decide how much sunlight you should get. I am however convinced that most people caught up in a 21st century life style do not get enough sunlight.

A few closing thoughts:

  • Many of the people interviewed had a strong sense of faith. No particular religion is singled out in the book.
  • Waking up with a sense of purpose, called, “ikigai” by Okinawans featured strongly through all communities. I would caution anyone who is in a hurry to retire to do so only if they have a strong purpose ahead of them.
  • Practice “Hara Hachi Bu”. Okinawans practice this as taught by Confucius. It basically means that you stop eating when your stomach is 80% full. This sounds to me to be a simple and sustainable way of reducing calories.
  • Nuts seem to have featured strongly in most blue zone diets.

My favorite section –

“I spent a morning on a Naha beach working out with Fumiyasu Yamakawa, a one-time banker. Every day at 4:30 a.m., he cycled to the beach, swam a half an hour, ran half an hour, did yoga, and then met with a group of other Okinawan seniors who stood in a circle and laughed.

“Why is that?” I asked,

“It’s vitamin S,” he said, “You smile in the morning and it fortifies you all day long.” Pg 105.

I hope you found this as interesting as I did. Go and get the book, it is a good investment. Also, do a search on the term, “Blue Zones”. There is some really interesting material both in web pages and on YouTube.

Long may you and I: swim, bike run, laugh, learn, love and live with a sense of purpose.

Mike Roscoe.
Mike Roscoe

 

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