How to live to 100 according to Blue Zones

What are blue zones and why do they matter for healthy aging?

What better way to know what works in sustaining a long healthy life than learning from those who have already reached over 100? Rather than having a hypothesis and testing it with regard to longevity these are people who have already successfully achieved the result we all want, a long healthy disease free old age. It seems that we have a good chance of doing so too should we wish, a Danish twin study established that only 20% of aging is genetic the other 80 in how we live[1]

But how should we live? That brings us to what are now known as The Blue Zones, in the early 2000s journalist Dan Buetter[2] set out with the help of the National Geographic to discover the areas of the world where people lived the longest and what secrets their lifestyle would reveal. He planned to find not only areas where there was a large number of centenarians, but the population had less of the diseases that have become common in the Western world; diabetes, heart disease, obesity etc.

In his research he identified the following 5 areas-

Ikaria, Greece

On this Mediterranean Island they boast some of the lowest global rates of middle age death and dementia believed in large to be due their traditional Mediterranean diet free from processed foods and rich in vegetables, fats with some meat and dairy.

Okinawa, Japan

Here some of the world’s most long-lived women enjoy an excellent later life, they have a natural diet containing plenty of Okinawan sweet potatoes, soya beans, mugwort and turmeric.

Ogliastra region, Sardinia

A mountainous Italian region where the highest proportion of oldest men in the world live, they eat a predominantly plant based diet that is low in protein and is according to some research linked to lower levels of mortality in under 65s along with lower rates of cancer and diabetes. Professor Valter Longo[3] an eminent researcher in the field of longevity recommends a low protein diet as a result. He is involved in a number of research projects examining the benefits of a low protein diet and fasting.

Loma Linda, California

The largest number of Seventh-day Adventists can be found here, they live around 10 years longer than the average American. Their vegetarian diet consists of grains, fruits, nuts and vegetables. They also eschew spices, alcohol, and caffeine.

Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

The second largest number of centenarian men can be found with the locals subsisting on a diet of vegetables, beans, rice, some meats and coffee[4].

It is easy to spot the commonalities with regard to diet, the diet in each area is unprocessed and based around whole foods. The foods themselves vary from vegetarian to meat eating some with dairy some without, the Seventh-day Adventists are teetotal, the Mediterranean areas enjoy a little wine. However, they all have a focus on home cooking, quality ingredients with high levels of vegetables and fruits.

Perhaps then it does not matter what our dietary preference is be it Vegetarian, Vegan, Paleo or Omnivore. The key may be as simple and common sense as eating a largely unprocessed diet of whole foods and ensuring plentiful vegetables and fruit throughout the day. The finer points being up to each of us to decide.

A great deal of this may not be news to you, I think we are all aware of the need to eat a whole food unprocessed diet and particularly of the benefits of fruit and veg. In fact I would say the dietary aspect of the blue zones has been the most highlighted in the media and has been the subject of the greatest wealth of further research. In particular the Mediterranean diet.

However we can’t simply pick one aspect of these areas in isolation from the rest of the life style, what about the rest of the day to day life of those who enjoy health and extreme longevity.

All of the blue zones had other characteristics that are of equal important to dietary habits.[5]

1. Movement, in each area people are active right the way through their lives, in the mountainous areas of Sardinia walking miles in hilly terrain is normal, the Seventh-day Adventists engage in deliberate daily activity. Compared to the Western world’s standards very high levels of activity are normal. Walking to commute for example remains part of life into peoples 90s as does engaging in physical jobs and hobbies[6]

“the average time spent sitting per day for Ikarian residents≥90  years of age is 90  min per day. Similar results with a different form of measurement were reported for the Sardinian participants≥90 years of age regarding productive rest. The total daily resting time was measured by the participant’s duration of night’s sleep and time spent in supine in the waking day, which resulted in only 8.5 hours for men and 7.4 hours of total daily rest on average out of a 24-hour period”[7]

This is a stark contrast to how aging is both seen and treated in the UK and America, activities tend to be wound down with age and older people are often encouraged to take it easy rather than get out and about.

2. A sense of purpose, having a reason to get up in the morning, a why is linked to longevity and common within these communities.

3. A sense of belonging and community, again all of these regions have strong senses of community and involve elders actively within the community. Social connections are connected to not only greater quality of life but longevity.

“by the time half of a hypothetical sample of 100 people has died, there will be five more people alive with stronger social relationships than people with weaker social relationships.”[8]

Friendships and being included within daily life quite literally can save your life. Again contrast this with the way elders are treated within the UK and the US, often isolated, lonely and far away from family members. Loneliness and isolation are associated with heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s and other serious health issues. In fact, the risk may rival smoking.[9]

It is also worth being aware that intergenerational friendships (a part of life in blue zones) benefit not only the older individual but also the younger person. Both gain different perspectives and are able to share valuable insights, in cases where older individuals mentor young adults it was found

“55% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school

78% more likely to volunteer regularly

130% more likely to hold leadership positions”[10]

Community is good for all of us it seems.

4. Healthy friends, it doesn’t come as a big surprise that the people we spend time with influence our behaviours, in other words if you want to live a long healthy life spend time with people who encourage healthy behaviours.

In short, eat well, eat plenty of plants, move a heck of a lot more than you probably do and spend quality time with good people of all ages who encourage you to do all of the above! I realised a few months ago that although I exercised regualrly I also sat a lot during the rest of the day, due to this I set myself a 15,000 steps a day challenge which I will post about later. I have also joined a few new social networks as my social circle shrank dramatically when my daughter was unwell for a few years. We maybe can’t follow all of the recommendations but perhaps by getting as close as we can to the lifesyle ot the blue zones we will live just that little bit longer and perhaps more importantly those years will be in good health. Let me know what you plan to do help add a few years to your life and life to your year!


[1] [1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8786073/

[2] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/books/article/5-blue-zones-where-the-worlds-healthiest-people-live

[3] https://www.valterlongo.com/

[4] https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathyhackl/2020/08/12/what-costa-ricas-blue-zone-can-teach-us-about-the-future-of-wellbeing–longevity/?sh=564ec7ce52d8

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6125071/

[6] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12062-022-09396-0

[7] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12062-022-09396-0

[8] https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316

[9] https://www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/features/lonely-older-adults.html

[10] https://secondwindmovement.com/intergenerational-relationships/

Breathe and let go

I struggle with the meditative side of mind body practices. I always have done, my mind is like a pinball machine bouncing around. Never still, never quiet. But when I do take the time for that side of it, oh it’s glorious. There’s something incredibly powerful in the quiet moments of just breathing. You don’t need to make it complicated just sit close your eyes and breathe, focus on your breath aim to stay focused on the breath. Your mind will wander, thoughts will intrude. That’s ok, when it does gently lovingly bring it back. Give it try let me know how it goes 💚

Rebellious aging

A few thoughts on rebellious aging

– Wear whatever you want. Clothes are fun they don’t have to stop being fun because your birthday cake now has enough candles to start a small house fire.
– Go grey, don’t go grey, shave your head, dye your hair purple, ignore whatever the “hair for over 40s/50s” pages say and wear it however you want.
– Keep being fearless, go where you want to, dance when you feel like it, travel, find new adventures we are NEVER too old for new adventures.
– Re-invent yourself, if it was good enough for Bowie it’s good enough for us. Take a degree, learn a new skill, take up an instrument. We live at an amazing time where we can change and learn at any time.
– Ignore anyone who tells you you’re too old for this that or the other, unless it’s soft play, we probably aren’t allowed in soft play areas for good reasons.
– Move and enjoy it, bodies love to move remember how amazing it was as a kid just to taste different shapes with your body? Find a type of movement you enjoy and indulge in the sheer sensory experience of it!
– Most of all have fun, yes there are things in life we have to do but don’t let your days become so crowded you lose all time for fun. You matter too.
– Finally be proud of your age, you have achieved so much and come so far. The last time someone called me old (as an insult) I replied “yes I’m old as f**k and that’s neither the revelation nor the insult you think it is!”

Here’s to rebellious aging! My dress reads “I didn’t wear this for you” especially for all the people who think nearly 50s/ over 50s shouldn’t wear short dresses

Getting moving

Firstly don’t over complicate it, find something you either enjoy or at least feel comfortable with and do that activity. Doesn’t matter what it is, if you enjoy it and it gets you moving it’s perfect.

This simple act of choosing something you enjoy is really important you can’t commit to something if you feel dread every time you have a session planned.

You might manage to force yourself to run or lift for a few months but if you hate it you’ll quit, guaranteed. Then you’ll be telling everyone you “just don’t like exercise” which isn’t true, you didn’t like that exercise.

In short stop doing xyz because you think it’s good for you, do something you actually like which can be as simple as walking a bit more.

Secondly give yourself a bit of external motivation. This can be anything from a target weight to lift, an extra few seconds off a 5k or a virtual steps challenge.

At the moment one of my external motivations is a step challenge. I’m virtually walking the Pacific Crest Trail with The Conqueror Challenges For me this has huge significance. When my daughter had cancer I read a book called Wild by Cheryl Strayed it was hugely inspirational and an idea from it became my mantra.

While walking the PCT each and every day Cheryl would get up put on her huge back pack she nicknamed “monster” and simply put one step in front of the other. This became a metaphor to me each day I’d get up and put one foot in front of the other while carrying the weight of what was happening in our lives.

Some days just keeping and getting the basics done was a struggle but I committed to every day to keep moving forward. I finished my postgraduate law conversion during the year after her cancer for me that was part of moving forwards.

Because of this to finish the PCT myself albeit virtually will be a huge achievement, quite an emotional one actually. This of course makes getting there important and motivates me to get a few extra steps in. Each of us will find a different why, but I find it really helps to have that extra why.

I personally try to avoid aesthetic or weight loss motivations as they feed into more negative feelings I have but they do work for many.

That’s it, find something you enjoy, give yourself external motivation in some form and have fun with it.

As much as I’d love to have you take up Pilates or yoga I’d be just as happy for you to take up hiking or go to any of the other wonderful classes/ gyms around and find the movement you enjoy. Just get moving 💚

The joy of spring!

I love teaching any time of the year but Spring is my favourite, especially at Alnwick Gardens where we are surrounded by glass walls that allow you to feel like you are in the middle of the first burst of spring while in a class. The ducks are back, it won’t be long till they have duckings who do seem to enjoy walking through the class! It’s unbelievably cute!

Exercise and aging

I’m no spring chicken. I’m turning 49 in a few short months which means next year is 50! Holy crap how did that happen!!

This means the body I have is a different body to the one I had when I began practicing yoga and Pilates in my 20s. This body has carried and birthed children, this body has endured injuries and extreme stress when my daughter had cancer. It has carried me through good days and bad and into early menopause due to a hysterectomy.

But when I wake up nothing hurts, I don’t have joint pain or back ache. I don’t start the day with painkillers and I still enjoy all the activities I did when I was younger. In fact I actually exercise more than I did in my 20s.

At this point you may be thinking “oh well bloody awesome for you all of me hurts” and the thing is I’ve been there.

I had years on and off serious ill health due to a hypermobility spectrum disorder. Wow did everything hurt. It was exercise that turned it round, I needed to add more of strength training focus to my movement to stabilise my joints. After that life at least physically became a lot easier.

Thanks to exercise menopause as yet has not been a problem, I’m now 4 years into menopause and haven’t gained weight and recently actually saw the peaking through of abs. I sleep well and my energy is pretty good. I started my PhD in September 2020, go out regularly with friends and honestly am loving life right now with no intentions of showing down.

How does this ramble apply to you? Well you don’t have to accept aches and pains as a for gone conclusion of the aging process, if we stay flexible and look after our muscles we can enjoy the later years of our life as much as the early ones if not more! You can also turn things round if you are waking up aching, oh boy can you turn things round. I’ve had students who were seen monthly at the pain clinic within 6 months stop talking painkillers altogether. Others went from being in serious pain and hardly sleeping to still being a little sore but sleeping through the night.

But it does take a little work, an aging body like a classic car needs a little tlc, we need to use good fuel we need to keep moving, and we need to do both with some intelligence.

I’m rubbish at blowing my own trumpet, honestly I hate the self promotion stuff BUT I have lots of personal experience, two decades of teaching experience and 6 teacher training qualifications and would be happy to help you get moving in a way that works for you!

Menopause movement and me

I entered full menopause at 46, a little earlier than average due to a full hysterectomy. As my menopause was a surgical menopause it was a little different to natural menopause, if you think of natural menopause as being a run down a steep stony hill, at times tricky and not at all easy then surgical menopause is being thrown straight off a cliff without a cord parachute or anything soft to land on.

My main worry with menopause was that it would stop me exercising. Movement is such a huge part of who I am and honestly it’s how I stayed sane through some very difficult times such as my daughter’s cancer and rare disease diagnosis.

I had heard so many stories of people changing almost entirely post menopause that honestly I was a little terrified.

The hysterectomy was itself very straight forward and I actually went for a very short walk/shuffle the day after. I did this every day for the first month after, by 4 weeks I started to walk/run.

At two weeks I was able to start HRT, for me it felt like the best option. I was under 50 and wanted to protect my bones and heart. I also wanted a quality of life.

So what issues did I face post menopause?

Weight does seem to settle more around my middle and my face than it use to which I manage by moving in ways that I enjoy and eating well focusing on fruit veg and proteins. Of course with some fun things too.

Sleep at times was a problem, sometimes getting to sleep has been tricky other times I’ll wake at a silly time and not be able to get back to sleep. Exercise helps so much with sleep, I honestly cannot express how much it helps. As does bright light early in the morning.

Pelvic floor, now I don’t know if it was due to the surgery or if it was due to surgical menopause but after about 3 months I found myself waking 3 to 4 times a night to pee. I did a lot of work both strengthening and creating flexibility in my pelvic floor. Now I wake at most once a night. We do a lot of pelvic floor work in Pilates, if you are having issues there are also some really good pelvic floor PTs that can help. I didn’t see one but if I hadn’t managed to get things in check myself I would have.

HRT, it took me a long time to find the right type and levels for me. Now I’m using estrogen patches and a little testosterone. If HRT is something you want to try and it doesn’t work after a few months or as well as you think it should don’t be afraid to try another type.

Anxiety, I have never had anxiety in my entire life until menopause and then BOOM out of nowhere, even with HRT. Both movement generally and the mindful movement that we find in yoga and Pilates helped with this. Just sitting breathing slowly and consciously can reduce heart rate and drop both cortisol and adrenaline levels.

Blood pressure, I have always had super low blood pressure. Passing out kind of low, after surgical menopause it went up. Not dangerously high but higher than I wanted. It’s not uncommon for this to happen in surgical menopause, no one really knows why. I brought it back into control through diet and exercise. It’s still something I need to be aware of and another reason to keep moving.

Caffeine, I can’t take more than a couple of cups of coffee a day and any after midday and I can’t sleep.

Other than that menopause for me so far has been a thoroughly positive experience, no more periods and no more mood swings thank God!!! But without exercise I’m not sure how it would have been at all.

If you would like a bit of help with getting moving while transitioning into the best years of your life get in touch 💚

Benefits of yoga and Pilates

– You will strengthen both core and back which can help with back issues due to either weak or tight back muscles.

– Both help to prevent injury from either day to day life or exercise/sport by helping to keep your body flexible and improving general mobility.

– Both compliment other forms of training as active recovery and research has found core stability particularly translates into an improvement in sports performance.

– Expect an improvement in posture which helps prevent/improve upper back rounding and discomfort.

– You will see an improvement in your co-ordination and body awareness.

– You will experience a decrease in stress, lower cortisol and adrenaline levels which in turn can reduce blood pressure.

– Your balance becomes far better which is a hidden and rarely thought about aspect of fitness.

– The pelvic floor muscles will get stronger, an important muscle group for everyone!

– Oh and both make you more flexible!

What can I expect at a Pilates or yoga class?

1. There will be a mix of abilities from super stretchy to “the only way I can touch my toes is by sitting on a chair and bending my leg” and everything in-between. Which is perfect and how it should be. Everyone is there for the same reason, to look after themselves improve how they move and enhance their quality of life as a result.

2. Everyone wears what they want from joggers or soft trousers to leggings. No high fashion needed.

3. Mats are available for the session, you don’t need to buy equipment. With the Alnwick gardens classes let me know the day before if you would like to borrow a mat.

4. People are super welcoming, honestly I haven’t had a student come to class who wasn’t just lovely.

5. You will touch places you haven’t for a while, which is a good thing. But at no point will you ever be asked to do anything you feel uncomfortable with.

6. There will be a thousand different varieties for every position from students who take the class from a chair to ex athletes. Don’t think that either your needs won’t be adapted to but equally that you won’t be challenged. I love to teach classes to a variety of bodies and make it (hopefully) fun for everyone.

7. You can ask questions I am a very experienced teacher and have been teaching for nearly two decades now. I have taken 6 teacher training courses in 4 different countries and two continents so am happy to have my brain picked.

8. You will hear bad jokes. Sorry it’s just how I am.

9. You will feel super chilled by the end. There is just something magical about moving with breath that can’t be explained only experienced.

10. On top of all of that you will of course get stronger and more flexible!

See you on the mat 💚