Wednesday 31 May 2017

Tips for a healthier, longer life from Sardinia, Italy

There are a few places around the world where citizens live well past 100 years old, and in good health too!  Where, you ask?  Blue Zones.  There are five Blue Zones in the world, and the Ogliastra Region of Sardegna (Sardinia), Italy is one of them!  This area of Sardegna includes untamed landscapes and mountainous regions, including the Gennargentu Mountains. The other Blue Zones include: Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. 

So what is it about these "magical places" that makes their citizens live longer and healthier than anywhere else in the world?  Dan Buettner, along with a group of researchers, found out exactly that when they embarked on a voyage back in 2004 to study various communities with a high percentage of centenarians.  Upon his findings, Buettner wrote a book entitled, "The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest," which was published in 2008.  Since then, Buettner has given a TED talk entitled, "How to live to be 100+" and he has written numerous other books on the subject.

In this post I will be focusing on the Blue Zone of Sardegna, Italy. I recently did some research on Sardegna while working on an article for the Italian-Canadian publication, Panoram Italia Magazine.  The Blue Zone factor sparked my interest to learn more, and so I began researching what it was about Sardegna that helped it's citizens live longer. I have gathered my findings below in a list of top 10 tips that you can translate into your everyday lives to help you live better and longer! Enjoy!
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1) DIET:  Sardinians regularly fill their bellies with beans, garden vegetables and fruit, while 
eating meat only occasionally and in small portions.  They also don't fill up on thick panini (buns), but instead eat a flat bread, called Carta da musica (sheet music) with their meals.

2) WINE: Sardegna is known for it's Cannonau wine which is reported to have two to three times more flavonoids than other wines.  Locals consume about 1-2 glasses a day.

3) EXERCISE: The island of Sardegna may be known for it's gorgeous beaches, but it is actually quite rugged with it's mountains and untapped terrain.  It is this type of landscape that has contributed to the healthy exercise of the many centenarians that live there, as they are not only simply walking to their destinations but hiking!  Proof that the  gym isn't the only place to become fit!

4) LIFESTYLE: Centenarians didn't grow up sitting around watching TV or surfing the net on their iPhones, many of them were or still are shepherds, therefore living a life of manual labour. The exercise in Sardegna is done naturally and continuously, all the while conditioning the body to sustain the lifestyle of the environment.  Although we may not have sheep to tend to in our daily lives, we must not become sedentary -  keep busy!

5) MODERATION: It's especially important to eat and drink in moderation.  Sardinians are strong believers in the importance of portion control.  In fact, Buettner explains in his book, "The Blue Zones Solution," that in the Blue Zone communities, two common beliefs are to stop eating when one is about 80 percent full to avoid weight gain, and to eat the smallest meal of the day in the late afternoon or evening.

6) PECORINO CHEESE AND GOAT'S MILK:   Pecorino cheese and goat's milk are staples in the Sardinian diet.  This is probably due to the fact that they are so readily available.  Shepherds use hand-drawn milk from their grass-fed sheep to make fresh Pecorino cheese, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids.  Goat's milk also has many health benefits, such as anti-inflammatory properties and digestion support.  

7) AIR: According to those who have experienced the island-life of Sardegna first hand, like New York Times Best-Selling author and entrepreneur, Sarah Wilson, there is something about the air in Sardegna. She states on her website, "everywhere I went folks mentioned the 'energy' of the rocks. I felt it, too, after a while. There's a calmness to the place, especially up in the mountains." 

7) LAUGHTER: Sardinians are known for their sense of humour.  In his 2008 book,  Buettner noted that Sardinian men gathered together each afternoon to share a laugh.  Seeing as laughter is known to reduce stress levels, which then benefits health, this could very well be one of the contributing factors to their long lifespan.

8) NO-STRESS: Speaking of stress, it seems that word doesn't really exist in the Sardinian vocabulary.  Life there moves at a much slower pace; Wilson explains, "it's a joke on the island that no one ever wears a watch."  While we may not be able to ignore the ticking clock in our everyday lives, this point serves as a great reminder of the importance of unplugging every now and then and taking the time to relax. 

9) NAPS: In his book, "The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest" Buettner recognizes that regular napping (30 minutes, three times a week) can ward off coronary heart disease (napping lowers stress hormones and rests the heart, which are believed to be the contributing factors). Now you can say yes to guilt-free napping! 

10)  FAMILY: As one of the corner-stones of Italian culture, it is no surprise that family is of importance in the communities of Sardegna.  Regular family meals, engagement between young and old generations and commitment to taking care of aging parents and grandparents are some of the key components that contribute to sustaining a long, healthy life.  This is a great reminder to connect with and make time for those who matter most in your life!

I hope you can find a way to add some or all of these tips to your lifestyle! As the Italians say, "a cent' anni!" ("to 100 years!") 

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