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Have you heard of the Blue Zones? Doing research for a post about living longer…and healthier…I came across the books and studies by Dan Buettner. Working for National Geographic, with a grant from National Institute on Aging, Dan identified and studied the longest lived people on Earth.
These people lived in regions in the world that Dan dubbed the “blue zones”…so named because he circled those areas on the map with a blue marker. And what he discovered were commonalities among those who frequently lived at least a decade longer than other people.
Dan’s recent book offers a four week guide to a longer, better life, inspired by the world’s longest lived people. And while I’ll still write a post on best foods for longevity…at some point…what I discovered reading Dan’s books and gathering info propelled me into shifts that are making a difference in my life. I gladly accepted the four week challenge and I’m documenting my journey to share with you.
This is the Blue Zones Challenge week one.
Four Weeks to a Better, Happier, Less Stressed Life
The challenge presents a way to look at health that changes life for the better. It’s not just a diet or a fitness plan. Rather, if focuses on behavior, habits and environment.
The long term benefits of living a Blue Zones lifestyle include:
- living a longer, healthier life
- more energy, improved strength and increased health
- better sleep
- weight loss and then weight maintenance
- nurturing supportive relationships
- discovering purpose
- creating a better local community
The Blue Zones lifestyle is based on the information gathered while studying regions with the highest proportion of people who live to 100 years old. They are:
- Sardinia, Italy – an island in the Mediterranean Sea
- Ikaria, Greece – an Aegean island with the lowest rates of dementia
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
- Okinawa, Japan
- Loma Linda, California – a community of Seventh Day Adventists who on average live ten years longer than other Americans
Blue Zones Power 9
The lifestyle habits of the world’s longest lived people:
- move naturally
- live with purpose
- downshift – destress
- 80 percent rule – stop eating when 80% full
- plant based diet
- wine – one glass a day or herbal tea
- families first
- social circles
The Blue Zones Challenge Goals
The goals for the four week challenge:
- learn the secrets of the world’s longest living people
- set up environment so that healthy choices are easy
- upgrade social network
- consume a whole foods plant based diet that is low sugar
Following are the activities for week one, setting up for success. This week is crucial for the success of the rest of the challenge. The Blue Zones lifestyle is created for sustainability. Setting up the home, social circle and schedule makes living this way a joy, rather than a chore.
Step 1: Test Yourself
The challenge begins with three online tests, Vitality, Happiness and Purpose, to get a beginning baseline. I took all three tests and recorded my results. If you know me and my journey, you’ll know I scored high in all three. There’s a whole section on finding your purpose and living it, that I loved.
Step 2: Find a Blue Zones Buddy
Greg agreed to be my Blue Zones Buddy, which is good since we share space! He has accompanied me on my plant based lifestyle and healing journeys. So I’m grateful he’s willing to do the four week Blue Zones challenge with me as well. It makes meal preparation easier.
Step 3: Set Up Home for Better Health
In the kitchen:
- post the lists of FOUR ALWAYS, FOUR TO AVOID foods
- post the FOOD GUIDELINES
- stock up on the ALWAYS foods and other plant based foods
- remove any AVOID foods
- keep a bowl of fruit out where it’s accessible
The always list includes 100% whole grains, nuts, beans and fruits/veggies.
Since we are already plant based, this was an easy process. However, we are eating differently too so I stocked up on grains such as quinoa, brown rice and oats and legumes such as chickpeas, black eyes peas and red beans, nuts and fruits and veggies.
The avoid list includes sweet beverages, salty snacks, packaged sweets and processed meats and foods.
Rest of the house:
- keep walking/running shoes out and ready to use
- set up a place in the home with pillows on the floor for reading, writing or relaxing
- place a scale in a convenient location for daily weighing
- record starting weight, blood pressure and heart rate
Walking is an important daily component of the challenge.
Sitting on the floor improves posture and core strength. Getting down on the floor and back up also strengthens legs and builds stamina.
I am not a fan of daily weigh ins, however, Dan points out that those who weigh daily maintain their weight much better than those who never weigh.
Step 4: Wear a Blue Bracelet Daily
The purpose of the bracelet, or any other blue jewelry, is to remind the wearer to eat until 80% full. If that sounds hard to gauge, think of it as feeling satisfied, but not full. Or when you “save room for dessert” after a meal. Don’t overeat, in other words.
- purchase a pressure cooker, also called an Instant Pot (I have one)
- buy glass or reusable plastic containers for food prep and leftovers (have them)
- do a mapping exercise of your neighborhood to identify places within walking or biking distance. Include cafés, grocery stores, coffee shops, parks etc.
I love the neighborhood mapping idea. I’m still working on mapping mine out. I’ve already discovered a wonderful neighborhood coffee shop that serves hot tea and healthy snacks. See my review of Zinc Coffee Shop HERE.
How I Did for Week One
I created a blue notebook for tracking my progress. The Blue Zones book, which I purchased via Amazon HERE, has space to record your progress however I decided not to write in the book. That way I can loan it out to others.
When I choose to participate in a challenge or make a change, I go all in. So my notebook has notes and results and places to record weight, blood pressure, heart rate and activities.
I didn’t find it difficult to eat the Blue Zones way.
Breakfast is the largest meal. Greg and I drink celery juice and a fruit smoothie and then enjoy a bowl of oatmeal with berries, walnuts and chia seeds OR a bowl of rice and beans. Eating more in the morning keeps us full longer and provides lots of energy.
Lunch is smaller. We typically have a chopped veggie salad topped with chickpeas and sugar free dressing. Or we might have a baked potato or sweet potato and veggies.
Supper is the smallest meal. It consists of a bowl of rice or quinoa and beans. Snacks include an apple or other fruit, nuts (two handfuls a day) or one slice of authentic sourdough bread. I tried a bakery in my neighborhood for the first time, that produces old world style sourdough bread without sugar. Watch for a review of this amazing place soon. Dan recommends sourdough bread as the best for health.
The Other Activities
I walked every day, always in my own neighborhood. As I walk, I’m mapping out crucial places to visit such as a park, a place to pick up fresh produce and cafés.
The blue bracelet stays on my wrist all day, as a reminder to stop eating before I am full. I’ve weighed daily, sat on the floor daily, although twice I’ve done that activity right before bed.
I’m drinking water or herbal teas. I’m not a wine drinker. However, Dan suggests herbal teas if wine isn’t your thing.
And I’m tracking my progress in my blue notebook. This evening I’ll complete the final section for day seven: three big wins from the week, lessons I’ve learned, gratitudes and my thoughts.
Results After a Week
Greg and I chatted about the week today. We both love the simplicity of eating this way and find the larger breakfasts helpful. In fact, Greg said this has been his favorite way of eating plant based. Neither of us has experienced hunger or cravings.
We both slept better this week, lost weight and felt more energetic. And we feel lighter, leaner and stronger.
I’ve also noticed that doing the challenge seems to empower me to tackle other things with more purpose. Not only did I super-clean the refrigerator while stocking it with lots of healthy foods, I powered through writing blog and social media posts and working on some big ideas and projects. For me there’s a connection between doing one thing well and then performing well in other areas. I love it.
I’m looking forward to the Blues Zones Challenge Week Two! Watch for an update next week as I continue to make shifts in my lifestyle. And check out the Blue Zones website HERE for more info and wonderful ideas.
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I am not a medical practitioner. I study health and wellness related topics and share experiences from my own personal healing journey.