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Sardinia, Italy – where locals live longer

Even though it is the second largest island in the Mediterranean, Sardinia has remained culturally isolated. It boasts a coastline of turquoise waters dotted with archeological sites and is an Italian family’s favourite holiday destination.

The locals maintain a traditional lifestyle here, and it is because of this isolation that researchers have found Sardinia to be one of the 5 “Blue Zone’s” in the world.

 

What is a Blue Zone?

Anthropologists coined the term ‘blue zone’ in 2005 when Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain began outlining regions across the world that had statistically significantly higher concentrations of males living over the age of 100 (also known as centenarians).

The term ‘blue zone’ is now used as a concept that describes the characteristic lifestyles and the environments of the world’s longest living people.

Why is Sardinia classified as a Blue Zone?

Sardinia was in fact the first identified blue zone. Demographers found a particular hot spot in a mountain village (called Seulo) where there was a statistically significant proportion of men reaching the age of 100 years. This area now holds the record for the most centenarians (a total of 20) between 1996 and 2016 – that’s nearly 10 times more centenarians per capita than the US. Sardinia is now known as “the place where people live the longest in the world”.

The term now also identifies 4 other regions including: Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; and Ikaria, an isolated Greek Island.

What can we learn from Sardinia?

Sardinian’s maintain a traditional lifestyle that has been untouched for thousands of years. Research into the characteristics of diet and social interactions have helped to identify the key factors that make Sardinia a blue zone. Some of the key attributes are described below.

 Blue Zone venn diagram attributes
Traditional diet

The region is known to eat a lean, plant-based diet, accented with meat. The classic Sardinian diet consists of whole-grain bread (the traditional flatbread is called carta da musica, or sheet music), beans, garden vegetables, fruits, and, in some parts of the island, mastic oil. Meat is mostly reserved for Sunday meals and special occasions, while Sardinians also traditionally eat pecorino cheese, whose cheese is high in omega-3 fatty acids. The Sardian’s also claim a quirky habit of drinking tea made with milk thistle, proposed to have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect.

Wine

Sardinians favour a rich dark local wine called Cannonau, which has 2-3 times more antioxidants than other wines, which may help to explain the lower levels of stress and heart attacks.  Drinking moderately, 102 year old Zelinda Paglieno offers the secret to her long and healthy lifestyle…  “Two fingers width of red wine, and no more, at lunchtime every day.”

Goat’s milk

Goat and sheep’s milk are well-known to lower cholesterol levels and contain components that help protect against inflammatory diseases, such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

Family connections

Research has shown that people who live in strong, healthy families suffer lower rates of depression, suicide, and stress. In Sardinia, strong family values have ensured ongoing care and dependence of family members (especially the elderly), giving them a sense of belonging in their families and communities, the ability to receive better care (than in a nursing home or assisted living facility), and the ability to ‘give back’ to the family unit through providing love, child care, financial help, and wisdom.

Laughter

Research has shown that laughter reduces stress, which can lower one’s risk of cardiovascular disease. Men in Sardinia are famous for their sardonic sense of humour, gathering in the street each afternoon to laugh with and at one another.

Regular exercise

Walking the hills of the island, Sardinian shepherds reep all the cardiovascular benefits, as well as muscle growth, and bone metabolism, without the strain of heavy exercise. After a big hike, Sardinians like to sit down for a big meal.

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