By Linda Pecone
There are five places in the world which are referred to as “Blue Zones. These zones are where people live the longest, healthiest lives. These zones are Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California. In their work Michel Poulain and Gianni Pes came up with the term “Blue Zones” to describe villages and communities with extreme longevity hotspots.
Life expectancy of an American born today averages 78.2 years. Life expectancy in the “Blue Zones” is 97 and higher. Though residents of the Blue Zones live in very different parts of the world, they have commonalties which lead to longer, healthier, and happier lives.
In their communities they don’t join gyms or run marathons. Instead they live in environments which encourage movement naturally, like tending to their gardens and walking to places they need to get to. They don’t have all the modern conveniences in their homes.
Residents of the “Blue Zones adhere to the 95/5 rule of mostly plants, fruits, vegetables, grains, greens, beans. They use olive oil to saute and spices to flavor. They rarely eat meat, and avoid dairy and eggs when possible. People in the “Blue Zones” eat a lot of nuts and drink mostly water. They do not eat sugar with the exception of honey. They enjoy wine with friends. They listen to their hunger signals and stop eating when they reach the feeling of no longer being hungry. Centenarians eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon, early evening and don’t eat anything more the rest of the day.
While people in the “Blue Zones do experience stress, they have routines that shed stress. People of the “Blue Zones” pray, meditate, and some even celebrate a daily happy hour. Important to them is having a faith based community. Studies show that having a faith based community can add up to 14 years to one’s life expectancy. They also have a sense of purpose, which in turn adds years to one’s life.
Healthy centenarians in the Blue Zones put family first. They take care of their aging family members. Surprisingly this practice lowers disease and mortality rates of children who grow up with their elders. Living with their families helps centenarians shower their grandchildren with time and love. It is important to them to commit to a life partner which can add years to their lives.
People in the “Blue Zones” have “tribes”, people who encourage one another, and who support healthy behaviors such as not smoking, over eating, or excessive drinking. These tribes also help create joy and combat loneliness. Here is a typical recipe for a “Blue Zoner”:
Easy Lentil and Vege Soup
(Main Dish, vegan and vegetarian, serves 6)
½ pound (1¼ cups) green, black, or brown lentils
7 cups (1 quart plus 3 cups) vegetable broth
2 large red globe, beefsteak, or heirloom tomatoes, chopped (about 1½ cups)
1 medium yellow or white onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped (about 2⁄3 cup)
2 medium red potatoes, peeled and chopped (about 2⁄3 cup)
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon salt
Finely chopped scallions, for garnish
Extra-virgin olive oil, for garnish
Spread the lentils on a large baking sheet and pick them over for any bits of stone.
Stir the lentils, broth, tomatoes, onion, carrots, potatoes, bay leaves, and salt in a large saucepan or soup pot. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low, set a lid askew over the pan or pot, and cook until the lentils are soft, for 45 minutes.
Discard the bay leaves. Ladle the soup into bowls. Garnish each with scallions and up to 1 teaspoon olive oil.
Linda Pecone, along with her husband, is a long time resident of Lyons Colorado. She is a certified herbalist, has a degree in nutrition, and is a postpartum chef and infant night doula. She is also the owner of The Little Yellow House Healing Center on Second Avenue.