My deep roots are in the south, however; the rigors of being a military brat resulted in my adopting Missouri as my home. It is a wonderful, diversified but honest state, populated by mostly European ancestors, folks who call it like it is. The winters, however, are cold and the summers hot and it is not a healthy state. I’ll let you be the judge as to why we rank 40 out of 50 in terms of overall health, and barring some miracle will never be a “Blue Zone”, a special designation for places in the world where folks routinely live to a hundred and seem to get along just fine. I lived in one of the Blue Zones for 4 years and can offer direct insight into the practices that enhance longevity.
There are between 5 and 7 Blue Zones in the world, depending on who is reporting. The generally recognized areas are Icaria, Greece, Costa Rica, a 7th Day Adventist enclave in Loma Linda, Ca. and Okinawa, where I lived from 1960 to 1964. Social scientists and medical authorities have long studied these locations and have reached a number of conclusions as to their secret to longevity. Before we start down that path, the common denominator in each of the considerations lies in the word “moderation”. Look at your lifestyle and list the things you are driven to and those that you could could less about. Despite the stereotypes to the contrary, Missourians are not the laid back, hay baling, straw chewing, coon skinning, barefoot hillbillies that folks on the coasts think we are. Let’s jump in.
Folks in Okinawa and other blue zones are at peace. Once you achieve a reasonable standard of living, a roof over your head and a place in the family hierarchy, you have arrived. They do not strive for castles, fine cars and big ranches and farms. They eat reasonably, mostly fruits, vegetables, and fermented dairy products with the healthy addition of whole grains in their fare. They drink alcohol in careful moderation and love their coffee. There is a remarkable lack of stress in their lives. Remember, rather than a weapon oriented culture ,Okinawans rely on a form of karate, and are schooled in this empty hands method of defense from an early age. Even the kids will open a can of whoop ass on you if you challenge their sanctity…very effectively. They have a refined pecking order and attach great deference to their elder population. Moderate physical labor and motion constitute their physical training beyond the application of a karate chop or two to fend off aggressors. Yet they are a very active people. Blue zone folks tend to have a strong spiritual base, secure in the knowledge of the existence of a higher power. Okinawans practice “tege” which means literally, “about enough” or “so so”.
Does that sound like a day in the life of a Missourian? We are far from laid back, go to gyms and bust our tails to maintain conditioning, eat red meat every time it is offered or available, eat refined breads and pastries, drink sugar laden drinks, rely on high heat cooking and love our pizza. We are materially oriented, want bigger, faster cars, settle our differences with a knife or gun, regard old folks as obstacles to a fast lifestyle, and are under constant stress. We live in homes that are at least twice as big as we need, drink what and as much as we can handle and measure success with “things”. Faith based living is on the decline. Okinawans eat to live and we live to eat. Genetics play a role, but it takes a long time for this to manifest itself in terms of longevity. Blue zoners also tend to reside in moderate climates.
A last but significant consideration is what I call the “happiness” index. Folks who live in the blue zones tend to be content with the status quo. They enjoy far more days of relaxation and happiness than days of anger and consternation. We just lost a retired Highway patrol centenarian, one of the most affable fellows you could hope to meet. Although he enjoyed the fast pace of a WWII fighter pilot, he left that behind and seized life on his terms. It can be done, but most of us just aren’t good at it. It is why Missouri will never be a blue zone. The blue zone concept may appear abstract, but it won’t if you are ever fortunate enough to spend time in one.
As an after thought, you might ask where the name “Blue Zone” comes from. It came into being when an author, Dan Buettner, began studying these areas and circled them on a map with a blue pen!
Have a great weekend!