By Marguerite Jill Dye
“Papa” and I were thrilled to spend several days caring for our three-year-old grandson, Silas. But it made me aware of how recent minor health challenges affected my energy keeping up with him. It made me consider how important it is to attain the best health and longevity we can.
So, in my initial meeting with my new doctor at an Iora health clinic an hour away, when she asked me which health concerns I’d most like to address, I presented quite a long list of digestive, endocrine, and exercise/fitness issues. She suggested solutions to everything that she and my health coach will help me address. She also asked if I’d ever heard of the “Blue Zone.”
“No,” I said.
Do you know what Loma Linda, (California) the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica, Italy’s Sardinia (the Ogliastra Region), Ikaria (Greece) and Japan’s Okinawa have in common? They are longevity hotspots, defined as the “Blue Zones” whose inhabitants have the longest, healthiest lifespans on earth. Dan Buettner’s travels and explorations led to his writing “The Blue Zones” and “The Blue Zones Solutions,” which started the movement.
I haven’t been to Ikaria, but I remember waiting for a ferry nearby from one Greek island to the next. My classmate and I sought something to drink in a tiny cafe on that sweltering day. I made a face sipping their favorite drink. It was sour milk! They thought it was funny. It was soured on purpose and slightly thick – perhaps a form of kefir. A centenarian flexed his muscles to show me that it made him strong. I was curious to learn his longevity secrets. We communicated through sign language and a little German (since Greek has always been Greek to me). He motioned to olive oil he drank every morning and sour milk throughout the day. He also ate yogurt, fresh local fish, and vegetables he grew in his garden. He joined his friends in their dockside cafe for camaraderie, fun, and Greek wine.
Some of his secrets are among those shared by fellow centenarians described in “The Blue Zones.” These basic life lessons have been analyzed and categorized in the “Power of Nine.” They are: to move naturally, downshift, eat a “plant slant” diet, only eat until 80 percent full, enjoy a glass of wine at 5 p.m., live with purpose, put family first, find your right tribe, and a community where you belong (often faith based).
The Blue Zones Project is a movement that offers people interested in living a fuller, longer, and healthier life the keys to create their own Blue Zone. Community leaders, teachers, neighbors, and interested citizens are joining together to help transform their communities into places where people can live longer lives with a higher quality of life, and healthy choices are easier to access. Communities are reshaping themselves to offer easy accessibility on foot, available nutritious food options, community connections, and ways to help people find and/or deepen their sense of purpose.
To date in nine U.S. states, 42 communities and 1,685 organizations (including hospitals, schools, worksites, restaurants, grocery stores, and faith groups) have taken 165,028 pledge actions that have impacted 2,250,000 lives. Their actions have decreased obesity and smoking, increased community involvement, activity (through trails and walkability), and life expectancy. Their projects have also resulted in millions of dollars in additional livability projects.
With Vermont’s abundant natural beauty, accessibility to outdoor activities, organic and local farm produce, and possibility for a mindful way of life, perhaps, with a few tweaks that lead to increased longevity, Vermont could become a Blue Zone—or with Vermonters’ strong independent streak, Vermont might be the first Green Zone!
Individuals are signing up for the challenge, too, and taking the free three-minute Vitality Compass Life Expectancy Calculator at apps.bluezones.com. With my current activity, diet, engagement, etc., my test results reported that I have the power to increase my healthy lifespan by 4.4 years through a few simple changes and by “optimizing my lifestyle and environment.”
Since 80 percent of our lifespan is within our control, I am committed to make all the changes and good choices I can and avoid the “slippery slope” that can be difficult to stop. I’ve signed up for the Blue Zones Newsletter and can’t wait to make an Ikarian Greek meal and explore the other free “plant slant recipes” at bluezones.com. Along with my new doctor and health coach, I feel empowered to take steps forward. I’d very much like to stick around to be part of our grandson Silas’ life, engage with our family and friends, and actively live my purpose. I challenge you to join the Blue Zones movement too!
Our dear friends from Avignon, France, have just arrived! We’d like to invite you to welcome them at a Vermont Green Zone healthy potluck supper Saturday, Sept. 1 at 5 p.m. Colette and Jean-Paul Pascal will tell us about Provençal dishes, the Mediterranean diet, and any other subjects you’d like to explore. To RSVP please call 422-3616 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist and writer who divides her time between the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Gulf Coast of Florida.