This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Lessons From Blue Zones on How to Increase Healthy Life Expectancy

The concept of a "blue zone" was put out there more than a decade ago by demographer Michel Poulin at the University of Tallinn in Estonia. These are places of validated extraordinary longevity of people, measured in terms of the likelihood of people born in a place making it to age 100 (e.g., what percentage of people alive at age 60 are still alive at age 100). They are called Blue Zones simply because researchers circled the places in blue on a map! Poulin and his colleagues have focused especially on a mountainous area on the Italian island of Sardinia. Another demographer, Luis Rosero-Bixby, and his colleagues have investigated the Nikoyan region of Costa Rica. Other investigated and validated Blue Zones include the Greek island of Ikaria, the Japanese island of Okinawa, and perhaps most surprisingly, the community of Loma Linda, California. Academic papers describing the first four of these places can be found in the 2013 Vienna Yearbook of Population Research, published by the Vienna Institute of Demography. There is an especially good introductory paper to this special issue on longevity by Graziella Caselli and Marc Luy.

These places offer an interesting opportunity to figure out the explanations for people being able to survive in greater proportions, and presumably in better health, than most of us can currently expect to do. Genetics probably explains about one-third of this, as Caselli and Luy note, but are there lessons beyond "choosing your parents well" that can benefit the rest of us? Dan Buettner has become a successful writer of NYTimes bestseller books by trying to answer that question and his latest book, The Blue Zones Solution, offers the recipes (both figuratively and literally):
No one thing explains longevity in the Blue Zones. It's really an interconnected web of factors--including what we eat, our social network, daily rituals, physical environment, and sense of purpose--that propels us forward and give life meaning. But food is at the center of that ecosystem, and food may be the best starting point for anyone seeking to emulate the health, longevity, and well-being found in the world's Blue Zones.
Buettner then summarizes those major components of health and well-being and provides what amounts to a cookbook of 77 recipes (and, no, I don't think that there is any magic in that number!) that emphasize a diet that is largely, but not necessarily exclusively, vegetarian, emphasizing things like beans, lentils, and nuts--along with a glass or two of wine with dinner. This is essentially what we typically call a "Mediterranean diet."

Diet is an important thing to change in our lives, but there are other elements to this potentially healthier lifestyle, as described by Buettner. His list of the "Power Nine" includes (1) moving naturally (natural exercise, rather than a forced workout at a gym), (2) having a sense of purpose in life, (3) trying to limit stress in your life [and see this piece in today's Washington Post for more on this topic], (4) stop eating when you are 80 percent full, (5) have a diet with a "plant slant", (6) have one or two (but no more than that) glasses of wine in the evening with friends and/or food, (7) choose your friends carefully (you can do that, even if you couldn't choose your parents) because friends reinforce both good and bad behavior, and (8) commit to a life partner and have them come first in your life. In a very real sense, these are words to live by.

1 comment:

  1. Prof Weeks - there's a lot to be said for herding goats in the Caucasus. I will mail you a good Merlot! Hahahahha!

    Pete, Redondo Beach