What is your Zone? Lessons on Longevity

The elders of Sardinia

What is your Zone? Lessons on Longevity

Longevity

Raise your hand if you want to live a long healthy life!! Most people can agree on longevity. However, I have heard the opposition say, “I don’t want to get sickly and old and withering. I’d rather do what I want now and die younger, than have to eat more vegetables and exercise!” Of course that person is not currently aware of any suffering or consequences of their choices, and they have no perspective on how they might feel at 60 when they are aging much faster than their vegetable eating peers, taking high blood pressure meds, cholesterol lowering meds and insulin for their type 2 diabetes.

Compression of Morbidity

There’s a lovely term I recently learned that helps clarify how one might view longevity: Compression of Morbidity. This basically means that in living a healthful life, full of healthy relationships, loads of nutritious foods, clean water and air, and a body that is active and strong – one would compress all the bad end of life stuff into a tiny window of time, maximizing many decades of happy heathy living.

compression of mobidityIn contrast to someone who lives an unhealthy life of toxic relationships, crappy food, smoking cigarettes on the couch all day, resulting in several chronic diseases, multiple medications, recurrent infections, in and out of hospitals and an earlier onset of a long slow decline with a corresponding low quality of life.

The Blue Zones

The book by Dan Buettner, The Blue Zone, really got me thinking about longevity. He traveled to and studied the Blue Zones of the earth: geographic areas of the earth with the greatest number of centenarians- people that live over 100 years old.

blue zone map       These areas of longevity are Okinowa, Japan; Ikaria, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya Penninsula in Costa Rica; and Loma Linda, Ca. Is there something that these areas have in common that lead to a long healthy life? YES!! May I suggest you read the book?! It’s fascinating and inspiring. So much that I decided to travel to Sardinia to see for myself!! Here I want to share the lessons of longevity that Dan concluded after much research, lessons that make sense and were apparent in my travels.

IMG_7131The Blue Zone area of Sardinia is located in the eastern central mountain area of the island, about 150 miles off the west coast of Italy in the Mediterranean Sea. The villages are nestled on the side of mountains with curvy roads winding up to the town center. Within the village are a network of narrow cobblestoned paths connecting the various parts as residents usually walk or ride a bike to where they need to go. There is always a central church with a cobbled piazza for community gatherings and a park with benches. On the edge of town are vegetable gardens and vineyards and olive and fruit tree groves. Stone walls with musical goats and sheep are part of every town, their commute from field to field often blocking the traffic. This sets the stage for some of the Sardinian Lessons on Longevity.

The Blue Zone Lessons

1. Eat lots of plants from the garden!!

Healthy long living folks from Sardinia have been enjoying the fresh fruits, beans, and vegetables from their own gardens for decades. Like the community garden shown here, dinner is a short walk away!

IMG_7065fruit trees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They cook using local extra virgin cold pressed olive oil and always add a variety of fresh herbs. Meat is eaten more sparingly, like once a week, and is usually a pasture raised animal. Homemade cheeses and fresh milk from goat and sheep milk are very popular. Meals are enjoyed more leisurely with family and friends and almost always accompanied by red wine.

2. Speaking of wine….The Blue Zone has it’s own special Vino!!

Cannonau di Sardegna wine is produced from a Grenache grape grown in and native to Sardinia (pronounced ka-na-NOW) and has 2-3 times the antioxidants of a similar wine grown in France due to the unique topography and bedrock of this Mediterranean island.

 

aging oak wine barrels

Resveratrol is a polyphenol found concentrated in the skins of red grapes (also found in blueberries and chocolate) and may contribute to heart health. This wine is enjoyed by the long lived locals so while in Sardinia I visited the Jerzu Antichi Poderi Winery in the Blue Zone and tasted several varieties. I thought they were all delicious: medium bodied, red and blue fruit forward, rustic with spicy notes! Too expensive to ship and hard to find in the US, tasting this many varieties of Cannonau was really a treat.

3. Lead an active life!!

Regular daily exercise which includes walking, gardening, and carrying food and water is their version of a gym work out. Many of the villages here are built on hills so an incline work out is built into their daily lives. A shepard might walk 5 miles per day with their sheep or goats.

Screen Shot 2016-07-16 at 9.01.45 AMSardinians walk to the garden and markets for food, children walk to school, families walk to church together, and they walk to visit family and friends all within their village. Sardinians are very active in planting, weeding and harvesting their gardens which requires a lot of sweat equity as well. Having an active lifestyle was a common thread throughout all of the Blue Zones.

4. Be part of a positive social network with family & friends!

I visited the town of Villagrande Strisaili who claims to have the world’s longest living men! One of their secrets is strong social connectivity. (Very little gun violence despite the bullet holes in the sign. Oddly, many of their signs had bullet holes in them,?!, so this one was not targeted specifically!! lol!)

Blue zone of SardiniaMany men hang out together in the evening sharing stories, laughing, relaxing, and bonding. The elderly are not isolated, but celebrated and respected. One evening I returned to my B and B at 11 pm and outside sitting on a bench were 4 woman who had to be in their 60s-80s just talking and laughing and being in the moment. I wish I had taken a photo to capture the serenity and comfort of the scene.

 

I am sure there are many more lessons to be learned from the long lived peaceful people of Sardinia, but these four are the highlights. To read more about the Blue Zones of the world, check out this book on the Blue Zones http://amzn.to/29tIgaY

Recipes from Sardinia:

Cold Marinated Eggplant

marinated eggplant

 

After walking to your garden with your friends and picking a fresh eggplant or two…. (The Blue Zone Trio: walking places, connection with friends and healthy vegetables)…

 

 

Peel and cut eggplant into pieces as shown. Brush with EVOO then grill or bake until tender but not soggy so it keeps its shape. To make marinade combine 2 T EVOO, 1 T lemon juice, 2 garlic cloves minced, sea salt, fresh basil and thyme. Toss cooked eggplant in marinade, chill and serve!

Zucchini Salad

IMG_7145

Cook 1 carrot sliced and 1 zucchini cubed, cooked until tender but firm. (Carrot will need more time)

Toss with 1/2 cup pitted black olives or your favorite kind – there are so many!!

Dress with EVOO, fresh chopped oregano, salt and a squeeze of lemon. Serve warm or cold. Easy and fresh!!

Figs with Ricotta and Honey

fig treeSimply cut a ripe juicy fig in half through the stem, place a spoonful of homemade ricotta on each half and drizzle with honey. They can be served as is or briefly heated in oven until warmed.

Mediterranean Cous Cous Salad

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Cook whole wheat Israeli cous cous to al dente.

Separately sauté zucchini, carrots, red and yellow sweet peppers, green beans, carrots in EVOO until slightly tender. Cut up and toss with cous cous.

Dress with 1 T EVOO, 2 minced garlic cloves, 2 tsp red wine vinegar, 1 tsp hot sauce, 1 T minced basil, 1 tsp minced tarragon, sea salt and black pepper to taste. Yum!

Bon Appetito!

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