As mentioned last month, we can learn a great deal from the Blue Zones. Blue Zones, circled in blue ink, by researchers looking at longevity on a world map, are areas on our glorious blue-green earth where people live the longest. Most of these areas of longevity are in other places in the world, save for one which is in the United States.
The area of our nation with the lowest rates of heart disease, and diabetes, and even obesity, is Loma Linda, California. Let’s start studying Blue Zones with this area as it most likely is the most “user-friendly” area worldwide for those of us who live in the United States. The people of Loma Linda, California statistically live about ten years longer than most of the rest of our nation. Hmm…let’s find out why.
As a cardiologist and epidemiologist, Gary Fraser, of Loma Linda University, has directed huge health studies for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). These studies looked at causes of death among this Blue Zone segment of the population. The AHS-1 study included 34,000 people for 14 years. The AHS-2 study included 96,000 men and women and all ethnic groups. Most of the participants of both studies followed the Adventist lifestyle which we will look at in greater depth in this column in a bit. Participants were asked 500 questions regarding diet and lifestyle, these being determined to be indicators of longevity.
The well-known principles to follow for longevity were not smoking, primarily a plant-based diet, maintenance of body weight, and physical activity. We’ve all heard about the usefulness of oatmeal, six to eight glasses of water per day, physical activity, and even a handful of nuts per day, but many have ignored the benefits of avocadoes, seafood, and pulses (“pulses being the old-which-is-new-again name for legumes like beans, lentils, and peas).
The AHS 1 and 2 studies included vegans, lacto-ovo vegetarians (those who include a little eggs and dairy), and pesco-vegetarians (those who include some fish in the diet), and non-vegetarians. While vegans weighed the least, they didn’t live the longest. The people who lived the longest ate primarily plants with up to as much as one serving of fish per day. Non-vegetarians tended to not live as long and also consumed more sugar and refined foods and hence tended to carry more weight, especially around their middle, which is a sign of high risk of diabetes.
Even those in the study on a plant-based diet ate up to one serving of fish per day or even had the occasional egg or dairy. Researchers found that a 3 ounce serving of fish one-to-three times a week provided enough essential fatty acids (efas) to reduce the chances of dying from a heart attack by one third. Alaska wild-caught salmon was by far better than farmed Atlantic salmon (which should be avoided if possible). Other tasty and good-for-you choices included cod, clams, crab, scallops, shrimp, and sardines. The smaller the fish, the less mercury. An ounce of nuts (about a handful) was capable of decreasing heart disease by 20%.
A primarily plant based diet helps to clear out arteries, helps you to lose weight, and leads to a longer lifespan. The Adventists in the study ate a very Biblical diet consisting of whole grains, fruits, nuts and seeds, vegetables, and of course, water. They ate little or no refined grains, salt, or sugar. New studies show that consumption of good fats such as avocadoes, flax, nuts, seeds, and seafood will give you the needed omega 3s needed for heart and brain health.
In addition, let’s remember to get up and move around even if you don’t exercise per se. Get up from the book, computer, TV, or video game every half hour or hour. Walk around, jump up and down, move your arms and legs. My grandsons and the neighbor kids do this even though they laugh about it. In fact, in order to decrease stress reactions it is better to spend some “sanctuary time.” Time without computers, TV, or video games. Our grandparents burned at least five times more calories a day than we do in modern times. Of course they also didn’t have blenders, microwaves, Mix-masters, or TVs to start with!
Reducing stress includes 15-20 minutes walking in nature every day. Eat sitting down, never standing up, or in the car. Eat with family. If you live alone your “family” may be cats, dog, or even a goldfish. February 17th is Random Acts of Kindness Day. So, do something nice for someone. Carry their groceries; buy a stranger coffee, do something for someone else. It’ll de-stress you as much as them. For sanctuary time, go to church or meditate, have a potluck, turn off the electronic devices, and remember to say “I love you.” I love you.