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We do a lot in the name of longevity. We avoid red meat, kick the tobacco habit, prioritise our health and workouts, sleep more, and some of us even give up sugar entirely from our diets. You’ll find many tomes in the bookstore that teach you how to lead a long and healthy life, and in general, millions of people google voraciously to help them on their quest for longevity. What if we told you, you could move to a country to enjoy a longer life? Moving to a particular region, with the largest number of centenarians who thrive well into their 90s and lead beautiful lives could be the secret. The concept of Blue Zones
In the 1940s, Stamatis Moraitis, a Greek war veteran was given a very poor prognosis because his lung cancer had spread quite a bit. After numerous tests and with only nine months left to live, he returned to his family home in Ikaria, Greece. He moved back in with his wife and parents and spent what were supposed to be his last days, with his loved ones. As the days went by, he started to go to the neighbourhood church and spent more time tending to the vegetables in his garden. A few months later, he started to feel stronger. Six months passed and he became stronger and more resilient. His family was shocked with his recovery, and so they celebrated each day with more social engagements, time in the sun and a moderate consumption of wine. 37 years later, he was in his 90s and cancer-free. So, what exactly cured him?
Ikaria is a small island in Greece with a large number of centenarians. People here enjoy a long and healthy life with almost no chronic illness or cardiovascular complaints. The residents eat off the land and walk everywhere they need to go, often on an incline, and are healthier than their American counterparts. Regions such as Ikaria are called the Blue Zones. The (long) life lessons from the healthiest countries in the world
Simply put, ‘Blue Zones’ is a concept that highlights the lifestyle of the people who live the longest in the world. Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest , collaborated with National Geographic researchers to find the pockets where people live long and meaningful lives with virtually no chronic illness or disease. They observed that these people spend a lot of time in the outdoors, drink a reasonable amount of wine, eat a lot of beans, tend to do a lot of work in the garden and are usually a part of a strong social group. Some enjoy a local honey daily while the Ikarians make a tea with shrubs and olive leaves for its antioxidants. People live well into their 90s and enjoy a purposeful life with little or no cognitive decline. In fact, the rate of cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers is lower here than anywhere else in the world. There are four recognised blue zones besides Ikaria in Greece—Nicoya in Costa Rica, Loma Linda in California, Okinawa in Japan and Sardinia in Italy. Here are the 6 things you need to know about living a long, healthy life, from those who are doing it best. 1. Eat mostly plants
Researchers and doctors have been harping about the anti-inflammatory effects of a predominantly plant-based diet . Eating seasonal, organic, colourful produce will give your body all the antioxidants it needs to fight inflammation and disease. This is not to say that you should give up on your weekly salmon indulgence, it just means you should fill your plate with veggies and lentils or legumes first. 2. Find your ‘Ikigai’
Ikigai is a Japanese word that refers to your reason for being, or your purpose. Researchers have found finding your purpose drives you and helps you channel your energies better, thereby keeping you healthier. Whether it’s being a doctor, a doting grandmother, working at an NGO over the weekend or teaching English—find what drives you. 3. Make social ties a priority
Everyone knows that loneliness is a slow and silent killer. The communities that form the Blue Zones make social interactions a very important part of the day. Show up to family dinners and evenings with friends and keep your ties strong. Be there for people when they need you and don’t alienate yourself from the world. Keep your loved ones close to you, this includes generations above you, your life partner and those below you. 4. Get plenty of sunshine
Most of us are deficient in vitamin D and don’t get nearly enough time in the sun. Vitamin D has curative effects that boost metabolism, fight inflammation and engage longevity genes to increase lifespan in humans. Slather on some sun protection and go enjoy the outdoors. In fact, take some time out everyday for your own mental peace, whether that means yoga, meditation or taking a nap. 5. Resist your urge to overeat
If you ask your grandparents, they will agree that you will live longer if you avoid overeating at all costs. The Okinawans stop eating when they are almost full and they wait 30 minutes for the brain to receive signals from the stomach to suggest that its full. It’s a very healthy method to avoid metabolic diseases and to allow the body to focus on repair. Most people fast regularly to facilitate healing. Drinking a glass or two of wine everyday with your friends or with food is also recommended by those in the Blue Zone—binge drinking is not. 6. Keep on moving
Most people who live in the Blue Zones don’t go to a spinning class or to the gym, but they do their best to incorporate movement into their daily lives. They walk everywhere—to community meetings and to their friend’s house, they work in the garden and do household work. Turns out, house work and running chores is as effective as a workout because it prevents diseases that come with living a sedentary life. They don’t do extraordinary things in the name of health and longevity either. You don’t have to omit food groups or do HIIT every day of the week to live longer. In fact, it might be worth your while to keep it simple when you are attempting to live a long and healthy life.
Jia Singh is a Delhi-based travel and wellness consultant and writer. Find her at Wanderingforwellness.com
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