Funny thing with us Americans, we tend to see ourselves as the movers and shakers in the world, the ones with all the answers. But there are times when that is simply not the case. Take for instance our health-care system. Not so good, right? Well, according to a U S News and World Report study, the United Kingdom and Australia are way ahead of us. Yet we don’t look to them as a model worth following. So too with our personal health. America’s obesity situation is horrendous, despite the proliferation of US-based gyms and named diets. In fact, the US ranks only 43 among countries of the world in terms of life expectancy. It’s a case of the Blue Zone Blues!
So where might we find advice for following a lifestyle that leads to a long and healthy life? Well, much of the work in this area has been done by a fellow named Dan Buettner. Dan looked around the world and found 5 distinct geographic areas where people have unusually long lifespans and, more importantly, they live the latter part of life with health and vigor. Buettner reported his results in a 2009 book called “Blue Zones”.
What Buettner observed after spending time with the residents is a handful of traits that were common across the areas. His work does not directly show cause-and-effect, but rather associations, so it can be difficult to know which of the traits matter most, and of course, genetics no doubt have a role. The diagram below lists the key findings of Buttner’s studies.
The list might be summarized as follows: Have a predominantly plant-based diet, move throughout the day, have a few close friends, and have a strong sense of purpose and the divine. Another common feature of most of the Blue Zones is that the areas tended to be hilly. That means the residents have to exert themselves occasionally as part of their comings and goings. What’s interesting, especially compared to the US way of doing things, is that there are no gym memberships, mindfulness, centers, or paleo/keto/you-name-it diets, or “cleanses”! (You may be wondering about the use of alcohol. Yes, most people of the Blue Zones imbibe regularly some sort of alcoholic beverage, most commonly wine. But let us address that controversial issue in another post!)
What we discover is that simplicity is the key. The Blue Zone folks are not on a “diet”, they are not preparing for an “event”. They are living life in a natural and consistent manner. For the rest of us this means setting up our environment and schedules so that… eating right is what happens when we partake of the healthy foods in our refrigerators, taking the stairs and walking to and from work is just what we do to get around, taking time to meditate on God’s word and talking with close friends is just part of our daily routine. The Bible tells us “I know the plans I have for you”, so an abiding sense of purpose and God’s presence is a given in our lives.
We Americans know a lot, but we can learn a lot as well. Maybe the people of Buttner’s Blue Zones can teach us something!