The heart pushes blood to every part of our body, supplying oxygen and nutrients to our tissue and carrying out waste. With the heart playing such a vital role in keeping our bodies functioning, it is a no-brainer that we should do everything we can to keep it healthy.
Unfortunately, heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death worldwide. But a healthy lifestyle, especially started at a young age, can go a long way in preventing poor heart health. In fact, there are areas in the world where people have strong heart health and are living healthy, long lives, thanks to their simple, everyday habits.
The Blue Zones
The Blue Zones are geographic regions where people live longer and healthier lives than any other areas of the world. These regions were identified by journalist Dan Buettner in partnership with National Geographic. They are named the “Blue Zones” because when Buettner and his colleagues were researching these areas, they drew blue circles around the regions on a map. These regions include:
Ogliastra, Sardinia, Italy
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
The Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California
So what type of lifestyle do people in these regions practice and how is it helping them live longer?
There are nine traits that all the Blue Zone regions have in common:
Daily natural movement – including chores, gardening, and walking
Purpose – having a strong sense of worth
Time to rest and unwind – participating in activities that help destress
Eating until 80% full – to help support digestion and maintain a healthy weight
Choosing a plant-based diet – mostly vegetables and legumes
Drinking in moderation – 1–2 alcoholic drinks (typically wine) per day
Spirituality – having a sense of belonging in a faith-based community
Putting family first – keeping family (including aging parents and grandparents) close by
Community – having a close social circle of supportive, like-minded individuals
These practices that help promote strong health and longevity are quite simple, and it is refreshing to know that we can adopt this lifestyle (or parts of it) to improve our own health, especially our heart health.
How daily moderate exercise can help improve heart health
People living in the Blue Zones typically incorporate physical activity into their daily routines. Most of the time, these activities are built into their house chores and work. People living in the Blue Zones are not sitting for 8+ hours a day and then hoping they can make up for it by going to the gym for an hour. Rather, they are moving often throughout the entirety of the day.
Regular physical activity helps strengthen the heart muscle and improve overall cardiovascular health, including low blood pressure, healthy cholesterol levels, and blood sugar regulation. To incorporate more movement throughout the day and help prevent heart disease, try getting up and walking every hour, riding your bicycle to work, ditching the elevator, or gardening.
How the Blue Zone diet can help fight heart disease
Our diet is an important factor in keeping our heart healthy. Although the Blue Zone regions are in different parts of the world, people in these regions primarily eat a similar, plant-based diet that focuses on lots of fruits and vegetables. Studies on the impact of nutrition on heart health support this way of eating, showing that diets higher in plant-based foods were associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
At Integrative Nutrition, we like to use the concept of “crowding out” when it comes to our diet – adding healthy, nutritious foods to the diet first to eventually not have room for unhealthy foods. This ultimately leads to a balanced, sustainable way of eating. Based on the diets of those in the Blue Zones, there are four top foods to add to the diet for strong heart health and longevity:
Whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, farro, and oatmeal
Nuts, including walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans
Beans, such as chickpeas, black beans, and lentils
Fruits and vegetables, including blueberries, fennel, bitter melons, and dark, leafy greens
How managing stress can help prevent heart issues
Stress is the body’s emotional or physical response to the demands in our life. Everyone experiences stress in different ways, and factors like lack of sleep, the pressure of paying bills, or being overwhelmed at work can all contribute to it. Unmanaged stress has been linked to various heart conditions, including high blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, high cholesterol, and damage to the arteries.
People living in the Blue Zone regions participate in various practices that help reduce stress. Referred to as “downshifting,” those living in these regions meditate, pray, nap, practice yoga, dance, or wind down with wine on a daily basis. In addition to participating in these types of destressing practices, people in the Blue Zones prioritize sleep, which is typically connected to stress and heart health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, both sleep apnea and insomnia are major contributors to poor heart health.
You may not be able to put these types of destressing practices into action every day, but the more you begin to incorporate them, the calmer you will begin to feel.
How our social network affects our heart health
Between keeping family members close and socializing with like-minded individuals, people who live in the Blue Zones prioritize community. Many family households in these areas have three or four generations living under one roof and commonly celebrate with the larger community for religious holidays, festivals, and other events. Being with others often provides a sense of support and belonging, which is known to increase happiness, heart health, and overall well-being.
Studies have also confirmed that connectedness is important for helping prevent heart disease. Specifically, one study showed that married couples are at less risk of cardiovascular complications. Another study showed the detrimental effect that toxic relationships can have on heart health. To support optimal heart health, the vital takeaway from the Blue Zone regions is to focus on building supportive relationships in your life.
How Health Coaches can use inspiration from the Blue Zones to support clients
Health Coaches can use inspiration from the Blue Zones to help clients improve their heart health and overall well-being by supporting their sleep habits, encouraging meditation, or suggesting community-related activities. Health Coaches can partner with their clients on these lifestyle habits that will help result in optimal heart health.
Kimberly holds a bachelor’s in media studies with a concentration in creative writing and journalism from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. Her experience ranges from creating patient-focused content for a lupus nonprofit to managing marketing efforts for a health-supportive cooking school.
nutritionschoolMeal prep theme for Halloween week: warm and spooky. 🎃
Check out @melissas_healthykitchen's full lineup below for all the nourishing menu inspirat... moreMeal prep theme for Halloween week: warm and spooky. 🎃
Check out@melissas_healthykitchen's full lineup below for all the nourishing menu inspiration you need:
1. Roasted veggies to be used in a variety of dishes for the week
2. Massaged kale harvest salad
3. Stuffed acorn squash
4. pider cookies for dessert
5. Instant pot tomatillo chicken and white bean chili
6. Unsweetened pumpkin mylk for smoothies and lattes
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