Living to the age of 100 may not be as out of reach as we once believed. In fact, there are several communities around the world where centennial living is alive and well. They’re called Blue Zones, and they were discovered by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow, researcher, and journalist.
A Blue Zone is a region where people live the longest and have the healthiest lives. There are five target locations, including Ogliastra Region, Sardinia; Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.
All five locations have several overlapping common denominators. Researchers Buettner and Skemp uncovered nine evidence-based common denominators among the world’s centenarians that are believed to slow this aging process. They include moving naturally, having purpose, downshifting to minimize stressors, 80% rule (stop eating when stomachs are 80% full), growing crops, occasional alcohol consumption, faith-based community, value of family, and healthy circles (1). Additionally, following a primarily plant-based diet is prevalent throughout all five regions. Though these “Power 9” are the foundation of Blue Zone living, each region has its own variance.
Today, we’ll focus on the Ogliastra Region in the mountainous highlands of inner Sardinia, Italy. Home to the world’s longest-living men, Ogliastra was the first Blue Zone ever identified. With nearly ten times more centenarians per capita than the U.S., this Italian area is known for the longevity of its inhabitants. The cluster of villages is culturally isolated, allowing the community to keep a very traditional, healthy lifestyle. Like most Sardinians, residents of Ogliastra still hunt, fish, and harvest the food they eat. They also walk –– a lot. Five miles or more a day, to be exact.
Additionally, Sardinians put family first, celebrate their elders, and laugh with family and friends. After studying the region of Ogliastra, researchers Hitchcott et al. found that “Satisfying social ties with friends and family members together with an active socially oriented life style seems to contribute to the promotion of mental health in adult span” (2). Most study participants attended recreational and cultural activities as well as sport practices, allowing them to establish or strengthen their friendships, reduce loneliness, and improve physical activity, all of which are known to be beneficial to mental health.
When it comes to consumption, Sardinians obtain most of their nourishment from plant-based foods. Like the Mediterranean diet, whole grains account for nearly 50% of intake, followed by dairy, vegetables, legumes, fruit, fish, and poultry. Red meat accents the diet and is often reserved for Sundays and special occasions. A glass or two of red wine is enjoyed daily, often slowly and in a social setting. Like in the rest of Italy, food is sacred, and mealtime is meant to be shared with family, friends, and loved ones. It’s something that enhances life while providing an opportunity to practice the “Power 9.”
Sounds like a beautiful life, right? Though you may not be able to drop everything and move to this secluded island, you can eat and live like some of the world’s healthiest people.
Here are three practical ways you can live like a Sardinian wherever you are:
- Follow a plant-based Mediterranean diet –– or at least eat more plants
- Walk –– everywhere
- Find your people and nourish those relationships
I spent a long weekend in Sardinia a few years back when I was living in Rome. The slow way of living coupled with the strength of tradition and community was palpable. Life appeared to be a step or two removed from the rest of Italy and entirely removed from the rest of the world. There was a sense of security and a level of respect for the land, food, and community I’d never witnessed. In Sardinia, effort meets ease, and life is filled with a sense of peace and joy.
Kelly Powers, MA, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a master’s degree in Food Studies.