Teachings from the Blue Zones

What we can learn from the places with the world's longest lifespans.

How is a person to make sense of the conflicting nutrition messages that they read and hear about each day? Sugar is toxic. Wheat is the devil incarnate. We are designed to eat like our Palaeolithic ancestors. Glycaemic index is the key to health. Carbohydrates cause weight gain. Intermittent fasting is the best way to lose weight. Coffee is bad for you. Coffee is good for you. I could fill up pages with all of the variations of different health messages, some of them coming into and out of vogue as time moves on.

Working in nutrition for many years, I’ve seen all manner of fads come and go. I’ve read thousands upon thousands of research studies looking at foods, nutrients and health. And you know what?

The entire field of nutrition and health can be distilled down to some pretty simple basics that are not that difficult to grasp.

A dietary pattern that is made up of mostly unprocessed plant foods and which is low in highly processed foods and sugar consistently comes out on top in offering the best long-term health. There is no one food or food group that deserves demonising. A dietary pattern is a flexible way of eating, not a set of rules that has to be followed to the letter of the law.

But there is more to life and health than just food. Just like nutrients are part of the food we eat, food is part of the lifestyle we live. And when it comes to lifestyle, you don’t have to go much further than looking at the similarities between communities around the world that enjoy the longest and healthiest lives.

Introducing the Blue Zones

Blue Zones are areas in the world where more people enjoy remarkably long, full healthy lives than anywhere else on the planet. People in the longevity hot spots are three times more likely to live to 100 than Australians are.

Where are these Blue Zones? Okinawa in Japan, the Italian island of Sardinia, the Greek island of Ikaria, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica and the Seventh Day Adventist community in Loma Linda, California.

Health secrets revealed

What do people in the Blue Zones do differently from the rest of us? Looking from the outside in, some very clear and consistent patterns emerge. People in the Blue Zones nurture strong social networks, consume a mostly plant-based diet, and incorporate daily, natural physical activity into their lives. They also do not overeat, learning to stop eating before they feel full.

Long-lived people are not necessarily vegetarian, but they do eat mostly plant foods. And if they do eat meat, they do so sparingly. Beans, wholegrains, and garden vegetables are the cornerstone of all the longevity diets. Nuts are also a common food eaten.

Yet even between the different Blue Zone communities, there is diversity in the foods they eat, showing there is no one single ‘right’ way to eat, only flexible guidelines. Choosing mostly seasonal fruits and vegetables and a variety of beans, nuts, seeds and grains is the foundation of their dietary pattern.

The long-lived people in the Blue Zones don’t avoid dairy foods or gluten. They don’t calculate the glycaemic index of their meals. They don’t ruminate on whether the grains they are eating are stopping the absorption of other nutrients. They don’t take supplements. They eat. They move. They enjoy. They socially engage with their community in person. They live.

You don’t need a PhD in nutrition to be able to make sense of the all the nutrition messages you hear in the media. When it comes to your health, take a step back. Learn from the people in the world who have got this mastered.

Recommended reading - Caring for your mind

Community

Smiling Mind: Mindfulness made easy

Making mindfulness meditation free, Smiling Mind improves the mental wellbeing of young Australians

Read more
In Brief

Women’s health, hospital visits and mental illness

Go figure: women live longer than men, yet are 7.8% more likely to be admitted to hospital

Read more
Experts

10 things you need to know about the mind

Psychologist Emily Toner takes us inside this mysterious mass of nerves and fibres in our heads.

Read more
Experts

Depression and dementia risk

It is not widely recognised that depression increases the risk of late-life dementia.

Read more
Experts

Building a better brain

Brain fitness is a lifelong commitment to health and wellbeing - Dr Brockis shares her top fit tips.

Read more
Community

How Men’s Shed improves men’s wellbeing

Men's Shed has a mission to reduce social isolation by providing camaraderie, skills and support.

Read more
In Brief

Reducing stigma around depression

While stigma around depression has decreased over the past decade, it’s still troublingly prevalent.

Read more
Experts

Dealing with anxiety

Are your worries snowballing and interfering with your daily life? You may be experiencing anxiety

Read more
In Brief

Free online help for children with anxiety

Beyondblue has released a free online program, proven to help prevent and treat youth anxiety.

Read more
Community

5 reasons to run in the morning

Understand how running in the morning can change your life, and why you should start now.

Read more
Experts

6 ways exercise changes your brain

Dr Brockis explains how getting your blood pumping boosts your mood, focus and mental performance.

Read more
Advice

10 best mental health apps

Top apps for managing anxiety, boosting your mood and checking in with your mental wellbeing.

Read more
In Brief

7 steps to better youth mental health

One in five young people may be experiencing mental illness. Strateges to improve youth health.

Read more
Experts

8 ways to improve your mental health

Improve your mental health and your wellbeing will follow. Here’s how to keep things in check.

Read more
Lifestyle

10 fitness and wellbeing podcasts to get you inspired

Supercharge your motivation, learn something new, and be entertained with uplifting health podcasts.

Read more
Lifestyle

5 simple ways to relieve stress (without chocolate biscuits)

Feeling overwhelmed? Calm and recharge yourself with these positive stress-reducing techniques.

Read more
Advice

A journey to better health with Anthony Field

Read about how Anthony Field (a.k.a. the Blue Wiggle) he got his Wiggle back.

Read more
Community

Creating connections for youth mental health

How technology, support and community can help improve the mental wellbeing of young people.

Read more
Experts

Digital technology for mental health

How apps and technology can be harnessed to help improve our mental health and wellbeing

Read more
Community

Exercise for your mental health: Michelle Bridges

Join Michelle Bridges and the Black Dog Institute to get moving in Exercise Your Mood Month.

Read more
Experts

Exercise for mental health treatment

Anxiety and depression can be exhausting, but exercise is one fantastic way of fighting back.

Read more
In Brief

Fruits and vegetables for mental health

Eating five serves of fruits and vegetables each day boosts your mental health and wellbeing.

Read more
In Brief

Giving up smoking improves mental health

Think smoking calms you down? Research shows quitting is much better at boosting your mental health.

Read more
In Brief

Introducing the Medibank Better Health Index

Australia’s biggest quarterly health index provides valuable insights into our nation’s well-being.

Read more
In Brief

SAFEMinds for youth mental health

Helping equip parents and teachers to provide better support for young people who may be struggling.

Read more
In Brief

Mental Health Week

This Mental Health Week, Medibank’s reaffirming its commitment to better mental health nationwide

Read more
Community

Happiness through health

Rachael Finch is peachy keen about all things health and fitness.

Read more
Experts

How to build mental resilience

Life has a habit of testing our limits - mental resilience is your chance to bounce back.

Read more
Advice

How mindfulness makes you calm, clear and focused

Ready to silence your mind, untangle your nerves, and really connect with your world? Here's how.

Read more

For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are instructions on how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.