A few months back I read The Blue Zones by Dan Bleuttner. Following are three pieces of information from the book followed by my reactions to the book.
Herein lies the premise of The Blue Zone. If you can optimize your lifestyle, you may gain back an extra decade of good life you'd otherwise miss. What's the best way to optimize you lifestyle? Emulate the practices we found in each one of the Blue Zones.
Four Blue Zones
- Loma Linda, California
- Costa Rica
The Nine Lessons
- Move Naturally - Be active without having to think about it
- Hara Hachi Bu - Painlessly cut calories by 20 percent
- Plant Slant - Avoid meat and processed foods
- Grapes of Life - Drink red wine (in moderation)
- Purpose Now - Take time to see the big picture
- Down Shift - Take time to relieve stress
- Belong - Participate in a spiritual community
- Loved Ones First - Make family a priority
- Right Tribe - Be surrounded by those who share Blue Zone values
In my opinion, the blue zones lessons make sense. They align with published research. Over the last several years I've read books, news articles and subscribed to email services that focus on health and longevity. The consensus appears to emphasise the importance of diet. However, exercise trumps diet and relationships appear to be most important. Each of these can be found in the blue zones lessons.
After reading the book I have three reactions. These are not contained in the book but are my opinions.
First, we live in a time and environment that violates all nine of the principles. Our population is mobile so, for many, family, friends and community are absent. The speed of our lives, popular culture, corporate marketing and the media push us toward processed food that is quick if not nutritious. It appears net participation in a spiritual community -- whether christian, pagan, jewish, muslim, atheist, animism, buddhist, etc -- is declining. Technology (remote controls, elevators, automobiles, power appliances, etc) have deprived many people of movement and natural exercise. Many of us are educated but have not learned stress management. On the contrary, multitasking and a fast paced life are valued. Few people seem to have a sense of purpose, a reason to begin each day, other than to earn money to buy more stuff, to stufficate themselves.
Second, creating a personal blue zone is challenging. It requires courage and a side step out of the crowd to slow the pace and create time. Exercise takes time. Planning, shopping and preparing healthy meals take time. Nurturing family relationships and friendships require time. Stress management and participation in a spiritual community necessitate time. Working 40 hours per week with a commute through congested traffic leaves little time for a blue zone self. Many people have too much debt and must work full time or work multiple jobs.
My third reaction relates to the spiritual aspect and, in part, to the admonition to belong and participate in a spiritual community. My personal religion focuses on evolution. I am an evolutionist. I define religion as beliefs, values and practices that anchor our lives, give us a sense of purpose, enable us to cope with life's passages and provide an ethical guide. I find all of these components in my understanding and interpretation of evolution. I question how we can create a blue zone environment and violate our evolutionary heritage. We evolved to live in small personal communities of about 150 people or fewer. Daily life was controlled by the weather, seasons and cycle of the sun. Natural exercise was abundant. Stress management came naturally through family, clan, evenings around the fire and extreme weather (summer heat, winter cold, heavy rains) that caused people to stop work until the weather improved. Diet was primarily plant based and was void of modern chemicals. We no longer live in this kind of environment and community. Can most of us maximize our longevity, our contentment and the richness of our lives apart from this kind of environment? This is not to say that we should eliminate technology but we should create intentional communities and environments.
Nature or nurture? I think nature is the stronger influence but not the determinate. Recent evidence suggests that our genes may set outer limits but are under the influence of environmental stimuli. By creating a blue zone for ourselves we won't lengthen our lives but we will increase the probability of living to our maximum limit and living with increased quality of life in our last years. Even if we die early due to accident, the richness of our lives will be improved now.
After reading the book I asked myself, "how can I create a personal blue zone?". Diet and exercise are easy. Stress management is doable. Maintaining family connections is more difficult due to distance. Finding and participating in a spiritual community with intellectual honesty and a sense of personal integrity is extremely difficult. (Read that to mean "I won't go to church/synagogue/meeting just because it's expected of me or it may add to my longevity. I have to believe with honesty and be myself rather than conform to some dogma or code of behavor.) Perhaps the most difficult is finding a group with blue zone values to surround myself. These things are difficult but not impossible.
My reaction to the book may sound negative, a condemnation of current American society and culture. So be it.
Mojoman asked about my reaction to the book. He has read the book and written his reaction to it. I haven't read his article yet since I wanted to write mine first because I generally like to form my own opinions before reading or hearing other peoples opinions. He always writes thoughtful articles so I encourage you to read Marathons Not Required
Browse the Blue Zones