With great interest I dove into the The Blue Zones (2nd Edition) to see if there was any overlapping lifestyle choices amongst the world’s populations of longevity superstars. Dan Buettner and his team traveled the world to try to figure that exact same question out. While they presented lots of information in their book, I found my conclusions to be a bit different than theirs.
The book starts by laying out the hows and why’s of the study and then going through the Blue Zones they have found throughout the world. Many people have heard of Okinawa as one such region. Others know of Greece, when in fact it’s actually a specific area in Greece. The others will come as some surprise. Sardinia sounds like a nice one, being Mediterranean and all, even though their diet isn’t. How about Costa Rica? Actually there is one there too. What about the small town of Loma Linda California, with its high population of Seventh Day Adventists? Yep there too! It’s probably the diversity of the locations and cultures that makes the study the most interesting.
The book brings up particular people as use cases to illustrate a way of life these centenarians have lived as well as how they are living now. This isn’t what their entire foundation is built on however. It’s not like looking at a handful of people somewhere is enough, instead they chronicled large segments of these people in their 80+ years of age and backed out lifestyle, genetics, diet et cetera as it existed back when they were young as well as now. There are significant similarities across all of them and not even lessons that would necessarily be hard to follow. It’s simple things like relaxing, sleeping enough, getting good diverse nutrition. You can even go to the Blue Zone website and check out online resources and take tests.
The book has a whole chapter on setting up your own personal lifestyle to create a Blue Zone, but this is where I had a bit of divergence with them. I’m not sure if it was author bias or what but one of the things they mention is to eat a “plant based diet.” Now that can be a lot of things, but nowadays what that means is to eat a vegan diet. There are some that can interpret that to eat a diet mostly consisting of non-animal products, but the addition of animal products is something considered to be infrequent. There are still others than can extend it to mean vegetarianism. However the conclusions he drew from the diets of the people was that they largely avoided animal products. Unfortunately his case studies showed the opposite.
Certainly the people ate far less meat than we do, and far more fresh local fruits and vegetables. This is a large part because of availability of these since they grew them. However these people did often include animal products in their diets. A lot of them use eggs and dairy, although the type of dairy can vary. Others cooked with animal fat products often. It is certainly far more plant based than a traditional western diet, but it’s hardly devoid of animal products. If you have a weekly walk to the store with gallon jugs for lard, you aren’t plant based. If your staple breakfast includes goat milk and cheese is central to your other meal, you aren’t plant based. Unfortunately when they recap the diets they’ve cleansed the animal products from the review.
That was probably the worst flaw of the entire book. As long as you know that going in however, I think it’s very easy to back that out. While I could summarize the conclusions, I don’t want to give the whole game away. I will say that it’s a lot of common sense stuff, so don’t think you have to live in a Buddhist monastery eating nothing but kelp soup between ti-chi workouts to get there.