Finding Your Blue Zone
My wellness journey started about a decade ago. One of the most fascinating books I read during that time was Blue Zones by Dan Buettner. I was intrigued by his research, enamored with the findings (the nine life lessons of longevity) and encouraged by the direction they offered to my own life.
Buettner identified five random pockets in the world where the people lived significantly longer and healthier lives than the rest of the world. The places he identified were: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Icaria Greece; and Loma Linda, California.
Now, before you pack your bags and buy a one-way ticket, it is worth understanding that the other part of what Buettner studied was lifestyle. What were these people doing that resulted in long life? It turns out, lifestyle choices have a lot to do with longevity. This is good news for any of us who don’t live in these places. And, while we cannot change our genetics — or where we live — lifestyle is something every one of us can change.
And, at this point in my wellness journey, I was looking to make some changes.
The nine life lessons that Buettner identified as having a positive correlation with longevity are:
Moderate caloric intake
Moderate alcohol intake, especially wine
Engagement in spirituality or religion
Engagement in family life
Engagement in social life.
I don’t know about you, but I find this list invigorating. While we cannot help who we come from (genetics) and we cannot always change where we’re from (environmental factors), we can always change how we live.
For me, I identified three areas that I wanted to focus on: movement; diet; and connection.
For each pocket of people, physical activity is a way of life; it is woven into how they interact with the world. Not in a gotta-get-to-the-gym-today kinda way, but in a walking all day to herd sheep or going up and down the mountain to sell vegetables at the market kind of way.
Their physical activity isn’t what we would consider ‘a great workout’. Their exercise is constant walking, gardening, and daily chores. It’s being outside, playing with your kids, and staying in a regular rhythm of movement — everyday.
In a blue zone, the diet is 95% plant based. They aren’t all strict vegetarians, but eat meat in moderation — like, less than five times per month. Meat is viewed as a speciality served rarely and on special occasions. Meat isn’t the main thing on their plate — and serving size is usually only about four ounces. Another interesting tidbit, all blue zone populations shared common dietary staples — large amounts of legumes (beans, chickpeas, etc.), nuts, whole grains, and a daily glass of red wine.
Let’s reimagine our dinner plate and meal planning. Instead of planning around the meat, let’s consider what can — and should — take up the majority of the real estate on our plate: plant-based food.
The final area of focus, for me, is connection. In each blue zone, the people displayed strong ties to religion, family, and found purpose. This is supported by a community of like-minded people surrounding them and sharing in their beliefs. The cumulative effect, Buettner identified, is a stress-free environment where the body can thrive. Now that is definitely something I can get behind.
Figure out what is most important to you and surround yourself with like-minded and supportive people. Prioritize your family above everything and cultivate an environment in which you can thrive.
In an effort to increase the awareness of lifestyle longevity practices in the United States, The Blue Zone Project was initiated. Through this project, cities can pledge to create a healthier environment and improve well-being for the benefit of the population. Fort Worth, Texas is one of those cities — and we just so happen to have a Clean Juice location there. Many of our items received ‘Blue Zone Approved’ status and proudly wear the identifying sticker on the menu boards there.
So, if you are just starting your wellness journey or have been walking well for a long time, I hope you’ll consider digging into these nine life lessons; identify areas where you can make real, lifestyle change and go for it. Your blue zone is closer than you think.
Kat Eckles is the owner and chief visionary officer of Clean Juice as well as the driving force behind well happy + kind. Eckles co-owns Clean Juice with her husband, Landon. They have five children together. In 2018, she was an honoree in the Charlotte Business Journal's Women in Business awards program.
Follow her on Instagram here: @theecklestribe