What is a Blue Zone?
The island of Sardinia is the first blue zone to have been declared. Dan Buettner stumbled upon Sardinia when looking for the keys to longevity. He has since identified 7 other blue zones around the world such as Okinawa in Japan and Icarus in Greece. A blue zone is an area where there is a high level of longevity, typically a large number of a population over 100 years of age. The zones across the planet suffer a fraction of the diseases that commonly kill people in other parts of the developed world. Interestingly in Sardinia, there are as many males centenarians as there are women centenarians, which is what made Sardinia stand out to Dan Buettner. Because in the United States, there are 5 women over 100 years of age to every man that reaches 100.
I was curious to find out why Sardinia is a blue zone. Why is it, so many Sardinians are surpassing the ripe age of one hundred. After conducting some research, it is clear to see that there is a combination of lifestyle factors, location isolation, and genetics that make Sardinia one of the seven blue zones of the world.
Reverence and Inclusion of the Elderly
Grandparents play a central role in the lives of their children and grandchildren. They possess wisdom gained from their long lives. Which they aim to share. They want to see their friends and family thrive and find contentment in life. They use their vast knowledge about nature, traditions, and farming to help those around them. The old people of Sardinia are quick to take your hand and guide you to a hidden fig tree that has just become ripe. Tell you how to deal with the pests in your vineyard. Or the optimal technique hit the almonds out of the trees.
Their lives have been build to been filled with purpose and contentment. They would be devastated to be put in a care home. Instead, they’re set to work by their own family, looking after the children and the garden. This gives them a role, so they can continue to engage with their environment and the people within it. Their wisdom, which carries a line of concession from their own ancestors, does not go to waste. Even in the age of smartphones and hollow distractions. It is the respect, gratitude, and promotion of elders across Sardinia, which plays a crucial role in their longevity. The chances of loneliness are few and far between, which is an upward trend around the world and an unregarded brewing crisis in many developed nations.
From the garden to the plate
Sardinians have a very healthy lifestyle in connection with the seasons of the earth. Each new season brings new fruits and vegetables to the island. They have been taught where to find wild fruits and herbs from the land, which surrounds them. They eat mainly wholegrain bread, homegrown vegetables and only a small amount of sugar. They still hunt their meat, catch their fish, and harvest the food what they eat. Tight-knit towns like to share the produce from their gardens with their friends and family. There is a story about a Sardinian farmer who was walking back from his garden, through the town with a basket of vegetables that he had just harvested. He was stopped by a neighbor and invited for a glass of wine. Before leaving, he gave the man some of the vegetables, as a gesture for the wine and continued his walk home. When he had made it a few paces. A friend of the farmer called out to him, and again he was invited for a glass of red wine. The farmer handed over some more vegetables from the basket before continuing his journey home. This happened several more times on the walk back. When the farmer arrived home from his hard days work in his vegetable garden, he was drunk and carrying an empty basket.
It is common for Sardinians to grow their own vegetables, they exchange what they build with others. The plants and fruits are organic, high in nutrients, and fresh.
Sardinian sheep cheese
Sardinians typically eat little meat unless for a festival or celebration. Due to the tradition of sheep rearing, they have always made their own sheep cheese, which is high in protein, Omega-3 fatty acid, while containing low amounts of cholesterol. The sheep roam free, eating grass, which I believe would play a role in producing higher quality milk.
One of the most popular grape varieties in Sardinia is Cannonau which is full of antioxidants, it has three times the number of flavonoids (which keep the arteries clean and prevent disease) compared to other wines. The Sardinians drink wine made from the local winemaker or a friend’s personal production. The house wine in bars comes in an unbranded bottle before the wine would have been fermented, from just down the road. Also, traditionally, Sardinians consume wine in moderation.
Sardinia has one of the wealthiest bread cultures in the world with over 300 varieties. Sardinians make their own bread fresh sometimes daily that contains yeast full of healthy bacteria that is great for the gut. When making your own bread, you can see the simplicity of ingredients compared to what is sold in supermarkets.
Spending time together
Lunch is the biggest meal of the day, members of the family return from work to join the feast. This clearly shows the priorities and easy-going nature of Sardinians. They’re not obsessed with advancing their careers but rather content with spending time with their loved ones and making time to enjoy meals together. Before a meal, you might find Sardinian men outside the local bar having a good laugh together before heading home. In traditional style families, it is common for Sardinian women to spend mornings at home looking after the children and preparing food, often you will find two or three generations of women cooking together to make a family meal. Sardinians live very social lives, whether working on the fields, playing cards in the bars or gathering together in the late afternoon to watch the happenings about in the town.
An active lifestyle
Their traditional lives involve agricultural work and the tending to their land. This continues to the present day. Men go out to work on the fields, attending to vineyards, pruning fruit trees, watering the vegetable garden or herding sheep. These jobs keep the body strong and healthy. Meaning they don’t have to stress about finding time to head to the gym. They also enjoy walking to observe the countryside, especially to aid digestion following a hearty meal.
Isolation from other communities and cultures
Throughout the last several centuries Sardinia has remained isolated despite numerous occupations by foreign powers. The gene pools that exist have remained small and undiluted. It may be the case that’s their gene has given them a platform to experience remarkable longevity. Some areas of Sardinia have a substantially higher number of centenarians than the rest of the world besides other blue zones which arguably have similar traits and ways of life as do the Sardinians.
Cultural isolation which has allowed Sardinia to retain ancient festivities and traditions to this very day. Festivals offer a significant moment of celebration and a chance to socialize. Families are large and commonly choose to remain in their hometowns. This leads to powerful communities with many connections between people.
Religion and spirituality
Another factor that shouldn’t be overlooked would be the religious and spiritual values of Sardinians. They are traditionally strict Catholics, like the rest of Italy and a right proportion still attend mass. The religious element gives Sardinians a sense of purpose and meaning to their lives. While religious festivals and events offer a structure. They also have a deep connection to mother nature.
The Sardinian diet is moving towards more processed foods and sweets because of the pull of globalization. Supermarkets do exist in Sardinia full of foods that Sardinian centenarians today would not have had access to when growing up. I think it is essential to understand the role that diet plays in longevity, but the social lifestyles of Sardinians reduce stress and create contentment. Sardinian families will continue to spend much of their days together, laughing, singing, and eating together.