Make Ireland a 'Blue Zone' to live longer and healthier

Make Ireland a 'Blue Zone' to live longer and healthier

Portarlington Psychologist and Operation Transformation expert Dr Eddie travelled to Minnesota to see the 'Blue Zone Project.

Now he wants Ireland to take it on, to help us to live longer and better.

“I was so excited to visit America and look at the Blue Zone project in Albert Lea. It is particularly relevant for Ireland 2040 - National Planning Framework, the government’s 20 year plan, for where we will live, work, and travel, as our population grows.

Aspects of the Blue Zone Way can help. Dan Buettner an American explorer teamed up with National Geographic to see ‘how can people live better for longer’ by studying the world’s longest-lived people. Most of the answers lie in lifestyle and environment, as only 20 percent of longevity is in our genes.

They found five pockets of people who live longer, the Barbagia region of Sardinia, Ikaria in Greece, the Nicoya Peninsul in Costa Rica, Loma Linda, a Seventh Day Adventists community in California, and Okinawa in Japan.

Experts found nine evidence-based common denominators:

1. Move Naturally

The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron or run marathons. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it. They grow gardens and don’t have mechanical conveniences for house / yardwork.

2. Purpose

The Okinawans call it “Ikigai” and the Nicoyans call it “plan de vida;” or “why I wake up in the morning.” A sense of purpose adds up to seven years.

3. Down Shift

Even people in the Blue Zones experience stress. It leads to chronic inflammation, associated with all major age-related disease. What they have that we don’t, are routines to shed stress. Okinawans take a few moments a day to remember ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians nap and Sardinians do happy hour.

4. 80% Rule

“Hara hachi bu”  – the Okinawa's 2500-year old Confucian mantra said before meals reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. This gap between not being hungry and feeling full could halt weight gain.

People in the Blue Zones eat their last and smallest meal by early evening.

5. Plant Slant

Beans, like fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets.Meat - mostly pork - is eaten maybe five times a month, in servings the size of a deck of cards.

6. Wine

People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly.  Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers.

And no, you can’t save up all weekend and have 14 drinks on Saturday.

7. Belong

All but five of the 263 centenarians interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. 

Denomination did not matter. Attending faith-based services weekly adds 4-14 years to life.

8. Loved Ones First

They put their families first, keeping aging grandparents nearby or in the home (lowers disease and mortality rates of children too). They commit to a life partner (adds up to 3 years) and invest in their children with time and love, as they will care for them in turn.

9. Right Tribe

They live in social circles that support healthy behaviors. Research shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness is contagious. So these people have favourably shaped their health behaviours.