The recent Netflix special Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones has once again brought the Blue Zones research into our collective consciousness, and we could not be happier about it! In our never-ending quest for long and healthy lives, the Blue Zones research has provided invaluable insight into the factors that seemingly contribute to longevity.
Blue Zone Basics:
There are five specific geographic regions noted for their residents’ consistently living into their 90s and even 100s: Loma Linda, Calif.; Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Ikaria, Greece; and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica). Researchers have identified a few central themes in terms of lifestyle, dietary habits and cultural practices that seem to contribute to the lengthy lives of Blue Zones residents. One central theme that consistently emerges in all 5 regions is the profound importance of belonging to a community.
The Power of Connection:
Residents of all five Blue Zone regions live in communities that value social connection. The Blue Zone research has illuminated the truth that individuals living in close communities tend to live longer and healthier lives. We believe this sense of community is something we can all be striving for as an aspect of our overall self-care.
A sense of belonging in a group can significantly impact a person’s mental health, reducing anxiety, stress and loneliness (which we know also impact oxidative stress and inflammation!). Humans have traditionally lived communally, looking out for one another, supporting one another and sharing in the joys and challenges of life. It is a beautiful fact that our lives are more fruitful and rewarding when we share them with others.
Individuals living in the blue zones also have more opportunities for social engagement as they age due to more multigenerational families living together. Daily gatherings, family meals and communal tasks continue to bolster cognitive function in the aging population, which likely positively impacts overall well-being and longevity.
In addition to the benefits to the aging population of living in community, the impact on the younger generation also sets them up for a long and healthful life. Having healthy aging role models in their community and in the home truly allows young people to learn from their elders. Having positive role models who inspire active lifestyles sets an example for what healthy and active aging can look like.
Many Cultures, One Lesson:
The Blue Zones research highlights the importance of community in fostering both longevity and well-being. Although blue zones traditions and practices vary greatly by region, the common thread of strong social connections is striking.
As we seek ways to live long and healthy lives, we can turn to Blue Zones research on community for actionable ways to foster healthy relationships. Cultivating or building social connections within communities, prioritizing quality time with family and friends, finding ways to support those in need and seeking out ways to be positive role models for those around us is key.
The lessons of the Blue Zones teach us that full and healthy lives are not just determined by how effective our medications are, how much money we have or how fancy our medical testing is. We have the power to impact the quality and quantity of our years by investing in those around us and fostering community with the people in our homes, workplaces and cities.
As we enter a season of gatherings, holidays and festivities, we challenge you to cherish the time with your loved ones and community, and to seek ways to bring others into your fold. We have the capacity to impact our own health and longevity, as well as the lives of those around us.