What the “Blue Zones” are Getting Right

Is your environment working for or against your overall health and wellbeing? One thing is for sure—the people you surround yourself with, your cultural values, and your everyday lifestyle have a huge impact on your physical and mental health. This is why one of the first steps in making and keeping positive health changes is to simply look into the people, places, and activities that you’re around daily.

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If you feel like you are “white knuckling” through life trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, you may want to look to certain cultures and regions in the world that are getting it right for inspiration. “Blue Zones” are regions in the world that have long living, healthy, happy, and resilient communities. While these zones are located all over the world, most of them share some common themes that are clearly working for them.

Movement 

Unlike other cultures where movement is either forced or non-existent, Blue Zones incorporate movement as a natural part of their everyday life. They use movement, usually in the form of biking or walking, simply as a means of transportation. The ultimate goal for a health habit is to not have to think twice, and they’ve got that down when it comes to moving their bodies.

Their way of living is more of a natural extension of how humans have lived for a while, before they were obligated to sit at a desk for 8 hours. For example, in the Nicoya Peninsula, a Costa Rican Blue Zone, most jobs are physical, nudging them to move consistently throughout the day.

Connection and communal dining 

People in Blue Zones use food as a form of connection. They make their food from scratch in a meaningful way, and often share it with their family and communities.  It’s not just about food for them, it’s more about culture and tradition. This can help them slow down and really appreciate what they’re eating, and share that appreciation with others.

In Sardinia, an Italian Blue Zone, they observe lunch as a ritual called “pranzo,” setting aside a few hours in the middle of the day for a quality, shared, mindful meal. Want to implement this into your lifestyle? I’d start by planning a monthly potluck with friends, all sharing your own dishes. 

Purpose

The Okinawans, a Blue Zone community in Japan, use the term “ikigai” or “why I wake up in the morning” when referring to purpose. This is actually considered one of the biggest indicators of a long, happy life. The ability to contribute to society in a meaningful, valuable way is important. This helps keep your mind engaged and keep a positive outlook on life. There is currently a huge shift in America, where we are starting to talk more about purpose. This is helping us be more mindful about our gifts and career path, and make pivots if needed. 

They emphasize plant-based eating, color and fiber

In each of these cultures, vibrant produce is a staple in their cuisine. They have traditional plant-based foods that reduce inflammation and provide essential nutrients for proper energy. This also allows for increased fiber, which improves digestion and prevents blood sugar swings. They ensure that these foods are enjoyable, never compromising with herbs and spices for flavor.

Ikaria Greece, a Blue Zone following the typical Mediterranean way of eating, emphasizes olive oil, beans, greens, and mostly real, whole foods. 

The bottom line

It’s not just one aspect that makes Blue Zones long living and happy cultures, it’s everything and how they all work together. These positive health habits are ingrained in their cultural values, making them second nature for them. James Clear, a notable author that focuses on building better habits, explains that “environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior.” Want to adopt more of these habits and values? I’d encourage you to look into ways that you can influence your current environment or seek out environments with similar values. 

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About Chelsea Stegman

Chelsea is the owner and founder of Chelsea Stegman Nutrition, LLC. She is a Chicago based virtual dietitian working with active professionals through energy management, recovery, and adrenal health. She takes a well rounded approach to working with clients, including nutrition to fuel strength, cardio, and recovery based exercise; overall recovery; adrenal testing; habit development; and supplementation. You can catch her hanging with her mini husky, exploring the local restaurants, or running by the lakefront. Find her online at www.chelseastegmanrd.com.