Sardinia

Lessons from Blue Zones

Lifestyle is the Wonder Drug for Longevity

I recently spoke at an event hosted by the Capitol Hill Village entitled Designed for Longevity. One of my co-presenters was Harriett Jameson, a Landscape Designer at Michael Vergason Landscape Architects. She shared stories of her time studying the impact of environments and longevity in Sardinia, Italy, a place with a reputation for both extended lifespan and vigor of its centenarians. She chronicled stories of these elders riding bikes and chopping wood and even Teresa Melledu, age 85, who walks up seven flights of stairs daily.

Sometimes, we think our longevity is closely linked to that of our parents and ancestors. This is not so. Researchers tell us only about 10% of how long we live is dictated by genes. The other 90% is dictated by our lifestyle. In this sense, lifestyle is the wonder drug for longevity. Harriett witnessed this in Sardinia as she saw how landscape design, including walking paths, access to garden space and linkages to others in the community, influenced daily behaviors and routines and positively impacted health and well-being.

What are Blue Zones?

Dan Buettner, founder of Blue Zones (see TED talk “How to Live to be 100+” and book Blue Zones), identifies Blue Zones as areas where people are living to age 100 at rates up to 10 times greater than in the United States, areas where life expectancy is an extra dozen years or so.  Dan teamed up with National Geographic and the National Institute on Aging to find geographic areas that stood out from others. In the end, they studied three areas: Sardinia, Italy, Okinawa, Japan and Loma Linda, California. Sardinia is remarkable in the way the society reveres its elders and models intergenerational activity. Okinawa stands out for its plant-based diet and portion control, sense of daily purpose and ability to maintain very close relationships with a cluster of friends for the duration of their lives. Loma Linda is noted for the importance of their faith (it’s a largely Seventh Day Adventist community), strong social network and connection to nature.

What can be Learned from Blue Zones?

The study of these Blue Zones has led to a number of observations that is informative to those living outside of these marked Blue Zones. Dan and his colleagues have narrowed the lifestyle commonalities across Blue Zones into nine areas, called the Power 9:

  1. Moderate, regular physical activity.
  2. Life purpose.
  3. Stress reduction.
  4. Moderate caloric intake.
  5. Plant-based diet.
  6. Moderate alcohol intake, especially wine.
  7. Engagement in spirituality or religion.
  8. Engagement in family life
  9. Engagement in social life.

Blue Zones Pyramid

Credit: Blue Zones

How Can These Lessons be Incorporated into the Design of Living Environments? 

Both Harriett and Dan speak to the importance of how one’s living environment can nudge someone towards better lifestyle decisions. For Harriett, subtle approaches in landscape design can make it easier for people to be active outside and connect with those around them. For Dan, he points out how certain features in a home can help promote better lifestyle habits.

At Smart Living 360, we feel the same way: designing spaces and environments for enhanced well-being can make a difference. For example, we design fitness rooms that have a wide range of equipment to support uses for people of all ages. Our residents have reported an increase in physical activity. Indeed, research has also shown the impact of convenience on frequency of activity. We design community spaces conducive to social interaction.  These spaces, coupled with a friendly culture facilitated by our Lifestyle Ambassador, have led to increased social engagement, including intergenerational connection. In addition, we provide access to lifestyle and health services intended to make life easier and less stressful, and promote a lifestyle of simplicity which allows people to focus on what’s most important.

The Choice is Yours

Increasing longevity is most beneficial to us if we have a high quality of life in those extra years. The good news is that the choice is largely ours. Each of us can take steps now, like instituting elements of the Power 9, towards a longer and healthier life.