Awareness of pockets of longevity, in the United States all started in Roseto, Pennsylvania. A 50 year study starting in 1955 compared Roseto to neighboring towns. It was found that Rosetans had a lower mortality rate from myocardial infarction over the course of the first 30 years, but it rose to a level of neighboring towns following a period of erosions of traditionally cohesive family and community relationships.
In 2006 Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain began a quest to find villages around the world with the highest longevity. They drew concentric blue circles on a map and began referring to the areas inside the circle as Blue Zones. The five regions identified were Sardinia, Italy; the islands of Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; and Icaria, Greece. The people inhabiting these Blue Zones share common lifestyle characteristics that are believed to contribute to their longevity. These characteristics include:
- Close knit Family, where elders are deemed a contribution to society, not a burden
- Less (or lack of) smoking and consumption of alcohol, except for one or two glasses of red wine per day
- Eat less food with sparing amounts of meat. Stop when you are 80% full
- Constant moderate physical activity which is an inseparable part of life
- Social engagement for all ages of people in their community
- A diet filled with fruit, vegetables and nuts
- Reduce stress through laughter, praying, napping, etc.
Close knit families living together in the same community may be rare or even a phenomenon of the past. Today families in the United States are often separated by location. The younger generation, out of necessity look for work anywhere in the US; the older generation, not bound by family ties, search for the perfect place to retire, based on climate, activities and safety. When a medical emergency occurs to the senior member of the family, adult children feel helpless. Elders often want to age in place and not move closer to their children. It is difficult for the adult children to move closer to their parents because of job and family responsibilities. Aging parents are then faced with living alone in isolation or hiring help if they’re able.
Advancement in medicine keeps elders alive longer, but not necessarily with quality of life. Too often when illness occurs, seniors experience isolation from friends and family, and also lack of meaningful activity.
The close knit family is an important missing ingredient of successful aging. Thus, the biggest problem to overcome is the lack of close knit family ties. A substitute may be found with your church family, close friends, neighbors and family relationships when and if possible.
With whom and how do you start these relationships. The first step starts with understanding a whole picture of what will bring successful living in each and every stage of your life, not just your immediate future. The second step is forming and securing close ties with people who embrace the Blue Zone characteristics while you are young and/or in active retirement stages. You and your cohorts may eat together, and enjoy other activities on a regular basis. As these relationships strengthen, you may even decide to influence your community to have walking paths or suggest healthy menus to restaurants, or point out to the grocery stores tasty and healthy food choices. There are endless ways to improve your life once you have your active support group and together practice healthy living choices.
Many senior citizens have several different circles of friends. The friendships are based on friends they have known for a long time to friends with whom they engage in their various activities. Therefore they may have several circles of friends. With the knowledge you have gained from the Blue Zones, you may consider having one core group of friends; the friends with whom you’ll relate with closely and successfully age with ensuring quality of life.