Is my hometown a potential Blue Zone? And what are they?

Something that has recently caught my interest are the five blue zones that exist around the world. Blue zones are geographic areas where people have lower rates of chronic diseases and a longer life expectancy. This new found interest started when I began watching a Netflix series called “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue…

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Something that has recently caught my interest are the five blue zones that exist around the world. Blue zones are geographic areas where people have lower rates of chronic diseases and a longer life expectancy. This new found interest started when I began watching a Netflix series called “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones” a few weeks ago and it really got me thinking. What is it that makes people in these regions live longer and could my hometown, Vittsjö, located in the southern part of Sweden be a potential blue zone?

Dan Buettner has declared five official blue zones of the world where the people live longer than average and maintain good health. These are:

Icaria in Greece is an island located eight miles off the coast of Turkey in the Aegean Sea. Here the people eat a traditional mediterranean diet rich in healthy fats and homegrown vegetables and containing only small amounts of meat and dairy. Icaria also has some of the world’s lowest rates of middle-age mortality and dementia. 

The Ogliastra region of Sardinia in Italy is where some of the oldest men live. They live in mountainous regions where it is common to work on farms and drink lots of red wine. Its residents consume a diet low in protein and have lower rates of cancer, diabetes and deaths in people under the age of 65.

Okinawa is the largest island in a subtropical archipelago controlled by Japan. It is where some of the oldest women in the world live. They eat a lot of soybeans, sweet potatoes, mugwort, turmeric and goya. The people also practice tai chi, a meditative form of exercise. 

Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Ricais the region in the world with the lowest rate of middle-age mortality. Here the diet is based around beans and corn tortillas. The residents regularly perform physical jobs in old age and have strong faith communities. They also have a sense of life purpose known as “plan de vida”, which means “life plan” but it carries a much greater meaning – “Why I wake up in the morning”.

Loma Linda in California, USA is the home to manySeventh-day Adventistswhich is a very religious group of people. They have a strict vegetarian diet consisting of grains, fruits, nuts and vegetables and live in tight-knit communities. Some residents live up to 10 years longer than the average American. 

But what do these places have in common?

Eat whole grain diets

Those who live in blue zones primarily eat a 95% plant-based diet. All groups are not strictly vegetarians but they tend to not eat meat more than five times a month. Instead the diets typically contain a lot of vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes. In Icaria and Sardinia it is also common to eat a lot of fish. 

They follow the 80% rule

Many in these areas restrict their calorie intake by not eating until they are 100% full or by fasting. This prevents them from eating too many calories and therefore neither risking weight gain nor chronic diseases. Another important reason for their longetiviy is that they eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then fast for the rest of the day.

They consume alcohol in moderation

Another factor that they have in common is that they consume alcohol in moderation. In Icaria and Sardinia it is common to consume one or two glasses of red wine per day. The Sardinian Cannonau wine has actually been shown to have high levels of antioxidants. However, some studies show that it is unclear whether their wine consumption has any effect since these people already have healthy lifestyles.

Exercise is built into daily life

The residents of the blue zones do not exercise purposefully by going to the gym. The exercise is instead built into their daily lives. For instance they get their exercise through gardening, cooking and walking.

They get enough sleep

Another important factor is a good night’s sleep and getting adequate rest. In the blue zones, the people get enough sleep and often take daytime naps. However, these naps are no longer than 30 minutes.

Have a close community

The people of the blue zones also have a close community of friends and family. What this community looks like varies. Many of the zones have religious communities, some have older and younger people living together and taking care of each other and some have a healthy social network.

Is my hometown, Vittsjö, a potential Blue Zone?

After I finished watching the Netflix series “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones”, I told my mother about it, as I thought these blue zones were very fascinating. She then told me that many people discuss whether Vittsjö could be a blue zone, and of course I thought this was quite exciting. Throughout my upbringing, I have been told that an unusual number of 100-year-olds live in Vittsjö, and grown-ups always talked about the “Vittsjö air” being so healthy. I have also always reflected on the fact that my grandmother, who lives in Vittsjö and who turns 93 this year, is very energetic for her age. She still drives a car, cooks, bakes, hikes, cycles and skis.

Vittsjö is a town of only 2 500 residents but has approximately 25 residents who are over 100 years old. Thus, approximately 1% of the town’s population is at least 100 years old. Although this may not sound very impressive, it is a lot in comparison with the Swedish average, which is 0.02%. Then you’re looking at a number 44 times larger than the national average.

Many studies show that those with a higher education and a high standard of living live longer, but most of the 100-year-olds in Vittsjö lack a higher education and have lived in relatively poor conditions. Vittsjö has for a long time been a poor farming society, but its residents have always had access to healthy food. They have not been able to eat a lot but they have been able to eat healthy. Farming also gave them physical exercise and a community.

In conclusion, my hometown, Vittsjö, shares many similar factors with the five official blue zones. The 100-year-olds in Vittsjö have had a healthy diet and eaten in moderation. The exercise was also built into their daily lifestyle through farming and in addition, the farming created a close community. Nevertheless, this farming lifestyle does not exist today and will most likely not exist in the future either. It is therefore not likely that Vittsjö will have as many 100-year-old residents in the future as there are today and because of this I, unfortunately, do not think it is possible for Vittsjö to be named a potential blue zone. But who knows, only the future can tell.

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