"Eat well, stress less, move more, and love more." - Dean Ornish, M.D.
When my grandmother, aged 72 years, passed away peacefully in the late 1970s, our family thought she had lived a reasonably long happy life. My mother is 86 years old now and none of her children sees her as 'too-old' yet. She is active, full of life and humour, cooks three fresh meals a day herself, and her cognitive functions are as good as they were 50 years ago. Not just her, I know many people in India in comparable age groups who are in a similar state of physical and mental health.
Who doesn't want to live a long healthy life! Science and medicine have made so many advances that minor ailments can be treated, managed or eliminated. Notwithstanding individual genetics, it's possible to keep at bay major ailments like heart disease, stroke, lower respiratory illnesses, cancer, diabetes and likes through our diet and lifestyle choices. Some studies have proved that genetics only account for approximately 20-30 per cent or even less of an individual's chance of surviving to age 85.
Interestingly, there are some specific areas in the world where most inhabitants live much longer than the average human lifespan. These areas have more centenarians than anywhere else in the world. From 2003 to 2009, Dan Buettner, a renowned US explorer, writer and researcher, and a team of scientists, demographers and dietitians, undertook numerous expeditions supported by National Geographic and identified five such longevity hotspots and called these areas 'Blue Zones'.
These Blue Zones (see image) where people go on to live very long and happy lives are: Okinawa (Japan), Icaria (Greece), Sardinia (Italy), Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica), and Loma Linda (California, US).
Buettner and his team of experts identified nine lifestyle practices that account for longevity in the Blue Zones and called these 'Power Nine'. These practices are:
- Physically active life.
- Sense of purpose in life.
- Stress mitigation.
- Eating in moderation.
- Predominantly plant-based diet.
- Alcohol in small amounts, preferably red wine.
- Good company.
- Strong family ties.
I have encapsulated below some of the features of traditional diets in these hotspots. Buettner's books cover these Zones and practices at great length and for a reasonable understanding of diets in these hotspots, his "The Blue Zones Solution - Eating and Living Like the World's Healthiest People" is a good read (Available on Amazon both as paperback or Kindle formats).
Diet: Mostly plant-based, pork or fish sometimes.
Popular Ingredients: Bitter melon, Sweet potato, Tofu, Garlic, Turmeric, Brown rice, Mushrooms, Seaweeds.
Alcohol: Small amounts only - millet brandy is popular..
Beverages: Green tea.
Notable practice: Hara Hachi bun - meaning "eat until you are 80 percent full".
Diet: Mediterranean - primarily plant-based, dairy and meats (occasional fish) in small amounts.
Popular Ingredients: Potatoes, Wild greens, Goat's cheese, Beans, Chickpeas, Lemons, Olive Oil, Herbs, Honey
Alcohol: Moderate amounts.
Beverages: Coffee, Herbal teas.
Notable practice: Eat slow and eat with family and friends.
Diet: Mediterranean - primarily plant based somewhat akin to Icaria.
Popular Ingredients: Bread, Barley, Beans, Potato, Greens, Goat's milk and cheese, Lemons, Olive Oil
Alcohol: Red wine - 3-4 small glasses a day spread over the entire day.
Beverages: Milk thistle tea.
Notable practice: Lunch biggest meal of the day (includes wine).
Diet: Mesoamerican - primarily plant based with plenty of fruits.
Popular Ingredients: Black beans, Corn, Squash, Papaya, Yams, Bananas.
Alcohol: Very low consumption.
Notable practice: Early light dinner.
Diet: Biblical - plant-based with very small amounts of meat, dairy and eggs.
Popular Ingredients: Beans, Nuts, Avocado, Oatmeal, Wholemeal bread, Soy milk.
Beverages: Herbal teas. Coffee is discouraged.
Notable practice: Drinking 6-8 glasses of water a day.
In the sequel to this article, we will touch upon how Indian genes, diet and lifestyle stack up to Blue Zones standards and practices and what we can do to live longer and healthier. Stay tuned for Part 2.
Author: Prakash Pant