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4 Things We Can Learn From the Blue Zones

The Blue Zone lifestyle discoveries have had significant impact on how we have developed our programme here at the DRC so we wanted to introduce you to some key principles. The Blue Zones were identified by National Geographic fellow and author Dan Buettner in 2005 and refer to 5 distinct regions in the world where inhabitants live longer, healthier lives naturally. The zones identified by Buettner and his team include Sardinia (Italy), the Okinawa Islands (Japan), Loma Linda (USA), the Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica) and Icaria (Greece). The researchers found that the inhabitants of all of these geographically distinct locations shared a certain set of 9 lifestyle characteristics, which likely lead to their enhanced health and longevity. Our approach at the DRC was strongly inspired by the Blue Zone discoveries so we wanted to share some of them with you here as well as give examples how people have implemented learning into their own lives here in the UK.

“Drink without getting drunk, love without suffering jealousy, eat without overindulging, never argue and, once in a while, with great discretion, misbehave.” Dan Buettner, 2005

  1. Community and Family Focus

Having a strong community focus is a common theme across all Blue Zone inhabitants. Social interaction and support provides a great amount of confidence, ease and purpose to our lives and nurturing close relationships also contributes to overall life quality and expectancy. 

Make sure you reach out to the people who make you feel loved and supported and let them know how important they are to you. Include them in your life and make them feel like they matter to you just as much as you matter to them. Support them when they need you. Helping others provides a great sense of purpose to you and makes them feel loved and valued. Chances are they will continue to make you feel loved and supported in return. 

We have seen our patients who have involved their families, friends and work colleagues have tremendous success on our programme. They felt that having a supportive community around them that wants them to do well was instrumental for achieving their success on our programme. Several of our patients have also involved their spouses/partners/siblings/cousins on their weight loss journey – doing things together to achieve a common aim is one of the best ways of nurturing close family relationships.

2. A mostly plant based, moderate diet

This likely doesn’t come as a surprise to you although it is important to remember small amounts of unprocessed animal products are absolutely fine. Blue Zone inhabitants thrive on a predominantly plant based diet with moderately sized portions and small helpings of meat or fish on occasion. Meat is generally treated as an add-on to the plant based meal for flavouring rather than the main event. They’re getting all the nutrients they need, feel satisfied and rarely eat beyond comfortable fullness. This is easier said than done, particularly in high stress environments where ultra-processed foods are available cheaply and abundantly. It is therefore crucial to try and plan ahead, cook in batches and identify trigger foods and situations which may lead you to inadvertently over eat. Working on stress management strategies like including a simple 5-minute morning or evening meditation, reading a few pages of your favourite magazine or going for a nice walk also help to manage unhealthy cravings better. 

One of the main things our patients notice when they transition to our food education phase is how much more energised and satisfied they feel when they start consuming more plant based foods. We have found this to be one of the keys to helping you keep your weight off for life.

3. Continuous, natural movement

This is another frequently undervalued element Blue Zoners get right. They tend to walk and cycle frequently and are physically active naturally throughout the day. This is profoundly different from most western societies like ours where people predominantly drive to work, sit at their desks all day and then either drive to a gym to exercise in a confined space or drive straight home again. Natural movement isn’t only good for your physical health, it is also invaluable for your mental health. Your mind thrives in nature and a change of scenery gives you a chance to relax and unwind. 

Our patients see incredible physical and mental benefits when they start moving more in a way they enjoy regularly. They feel delighted to be able to choose their preferred choice of movement, which enhances their wish to keep doing it consistency, and feel that that their mood and energy improve significantly as a result. An example of this are short 5-10 minute “exercise snacks” recommended by Dr. Ranjan Chatterjee in his book “4 Pillar Plan”. These can be done almost anywhere at anytime. For example we set a 30 minute reminder on our phone when we are sat at our desks working. The timer reminds us to get up and go for a quick walk up/down the stairs or do some unweight squats. 

You need to find what works for you, what you enjoy and what you feel you could do every day – it could be as simple as getting off the bus 1 or 2 stops earlier on your way home!

4. Spirituality

This might be the most surprising element to discover here. Most inhabitants in the Blue Zones are part of some kind of spiritual community. This, in turn, provides them with a sense of purpose as well as a community. Both elements have frequently been linked to healthier, happier, longer lives. This can come in multiple forms from volunteering to yoga to religious meet ups. See if there are meetings in your area for groups that encompass what you believe in and would like to explore. Make sure this makes you feel good and your new social circle is kind and supportive.  

We help our patients explore how they can connect with encouraging communities around them. We have had patients join various communities from local walking to gardening groups, which has helped them meet new friends and got them fit at the same time. It’s a win-win!

Applying some principles from the Blue Zones could have a profoundly positive impact on your life. Give the ones that speak to you a try and see how you like it. Chances are you’ll like what you discover and be able to maintain it long term!

By Dr. Farhan & Marie Spreckley

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