photo "Old Sardinian Man" by Jean Bajean

Have you heard the news?  100 is the new 80 and there are 5 places on earth that know how to reach that ripe old age without the chronic illnesses that often plague the elderly. They are the Blue Zones and we can apparently follow their lifestyle to live longer, healthier lives!

What is a Blue Zone?  Blue Zones are where people live the longest.  In 2004, Dan Buettner (who happens to be an American explorer, educator, author, public speaker, and holds three world time records for endurance bicycling … whew!) teamed up with National Geographic and the world’s top longevity researchers, to identify pockets in the world where people live measurably longer.  They identified the top 5 and conducted further research to find out why people lived to 100 at rates 10 times greater than in America.

These five pockets are Ikaria, Greece – Loma Linda, California – Okinawa, Japan – Nicoya, Costa Rica and Sardinia, Italy.

Well, Dan Buettner is a very smart man and with his team has identified what he calls the Power 9 … nine factors that all the Blue Zones share and that we too can adopt no matter where we live.  Dan has written the best selling book, Blue Zones Solution, which lays out a proven plan to maximize your chances of living to a ripe old age, based on the practices of the world’s healthiest people. Blue Zones has now evolved into an incredible organization that includes courses, employer programs, speaking engagements and Blue Zone Projects which help entire communities get healthy and live longer!

I haven’t yet read the book but I am definitely planning to.  You see, I have a personal interest … I lived for over 10 years in one of the Blue Zones, Sardinia, Italy.  Buettner and his researchers discovered Sardinians carry the M26 genetic marker, linked to exceptional longevity, at much higher rates than other populations. Because of their geographic isolation, those genes have mostly remained ‘undiluted’, which helps explain why the island boasts nearly 10 times more centenarians per capita than the U.S.  Sardinians are also culturally isolated which has helped them maintain a traditional way of life.  I witnessed for myself not only the longevity factor, but a way of life that includes amazing  food (everyone has a garden), wine, plenty of exercise (they walk everywhere), fresh air and a strong sense of community.  Of course, this way of life is much easier to conduct when you live in a small town, as most Sardo’s do.   They are warm, friendly and hospitable but what I found most fascinating was their strong sense of pride and deep devotion to their way of life.  The Sardinian people come from a long, mysterious history dating back to the Bronze Era, where it’s isolation and instinct for survival from its numerous invaders, formed a culture of strong, wise and sometimes violent people.

Belonging is factor 7 in the Power of 9 and there is no doubt that in Sardinia, families and communities take centre stage.  The elders live amongst the young and can be found sitting in the public squares, drinking in the local café’s and bars, and participating in local festivals, as integral parts of community life.  During my time in Sardegna, I worked part-time as a wedding photographers assistant and videographer and travelled far and wide through the mountain villages in Barbagia (like the ones identified in the Blue Zone).  I was fortunate to witness close-up, the traditions, ancient rituals and customs. In one village, a group of singers, known as tenores, accompany the groom through the village streets until he reaches the house of the bride, where he will ask her father for her hand in marriage.  In another wedding ritual, the groom arrives to the door of the bride with his entourage and guns a blazing (real shots … but in the air of course), he then engages in a verbal battle with the brides father, where he must convince him to hand over his daughter.  Like actors in a theatrical production, they continue to play out traditions that have been passed down for centuries.

Digging through my boxes of photo’s, I found one that depicts the mountain community of Orgosolo, where the entire town is covered in murals that are fundamentally a message of collectivity – of a collective spirit expressed through art. The murals all have messages of social unrest and protest – the one in this photo illustrates the struggles of women in society and the call for justice.  Perhaps this is what is missing in our own society and what promotes a long, healthy life … inclusion.

ps that’s my Mom and me in Orgosolo

Check out this cool blog by an interesting couple living in Sardinia.  It has beautiful photography and will give you a glimpse of Sardegna that is rarely seen by tourists who mostly come to Sardinia for the amazing beaches.  Preziada 

A shout out to Jennifer from Canada and her blog My Sardinian Life