This past June I was asked by the Italian Consul General to deliver a talk about longevity for Italian National Day. The purpose was to inform the attendees of what we know today about age-related diseases and how to combat them.
About fifteen years ago a gerontology study identified an area in Sardegna, Italy as having the largest population of people to live past 100 years old. The researchers circled the area on a map with a blue pen. They then studied what were the common threads in other cultures that led to long healthy lives and they circled those areas with the same blue pen. These areas became colloquially known as “Blue Zones”. The population of a Blue Zone is three times more likely to live to one hundred than the average American.
We also have studies that suggest only 25% of how long we live is dictated by genetics, the other 75% is lifestyle.
The first common lifestyle thread of Blue Zones was exercise but not in the traditional sense of going to the gym. The occupations of the people living in the area of Sardegna I mentioned earlier are sheepherders. Assuming those reading this blog are not herding sheep around their towns the message here is to move. Don’t drive when you can walk. Park your car on the other side of the lot and ambulate. Take the stairs, not the elevator. In two words, keep moving.
The second common lifestyle thread of the Blue Zones was diet. If you are Italian and reading this you are consuming the Mediterranean diet and that’s a good diet. But it’s not just what you eat, it’s how much you eat. My mother is 98 years old and she always said, “everything in moderation”. Italians in Italy eat pasta but it’s generally a small serving. Here in America, it’s supersized.
The third common lifestyle thread of Blue Zones was in line with a theory from an endocrinologist by the name of Dr. Claudio Franceschi. This widely accepted theory is that chronic inflammation causes age-related diseases like Alzheimers, diabetes, atherosclerosis and heart disease. His advice is to slow down!
The Romans believed that a day consisted of twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness. Half of twelve is six or in Latin hora sexta. This is the origin of the word siesta which is commonly associated with Spain but it was the Romans that invented the siesta. The lesson here is to take a break during the day. It’s a difficult mentality for Americans that live to work. That is different than the mindset of working so you can live.
The last common lifestyle thread of the Blue Zones was socialization. People that live a long healthy life have family and friends. Don’t go through life alone. Surround yourself with good people and love them and you will live a long time.
Personally I believe the secret to happiness is being grateful for what you have and that begins with your health and that of your loved ones.