The Big Blue Zones Lie: 4 Ways This Famous Study Fudged the Facts on Living Longer – Healthy Living Association

The Big Blue Zones Lie: 4 Ways This Famous Study Fudged the Facts on Living Longer

Ever heard of the “Blue Zones” before?

They come from a National Geographic cover story that came out in 2005, titled “The Secrets of Long Life.”

Researchers identified 5 parts of the world where inhabitants lived much longer than the average person:

● Sardinia, Italy
● Okinawa, Japan
● Loma Linda, California
● Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
● Icaria, Greece

They named these five areas “Blue Zones.”

And ever since the study came out, it’s continued to generate almost non-stop headlines and news coverage.

Why?

Because of what the authors call the “Power 9” — common denominators they identified among the longest-lived men and women in these Blue Zones.

The Power 9 are:

Move naturally (living an active lifestyle)
Purpose (having a reason to get out of bed in the morning)
Down shift (regular routines to relieve stress)
80% rule (stop eating before you’re full)
Plant slant (following a plant-based diet)
Wine @ 5 (regular but moderate alcohol consumption)
Belong (being part of a religious community)
Loved ones first (living with or close to other family members)
Right tribe (long-lasting friendships)

But are these 9 things really the secret to “reverse engineering longevity?”

Some experts disagree.

In fact, many have begun to call into question some of these findings. And when you examine the evidence, it seems like those behind the Blue Zones haven’t been totally upfront with us.

Here are four ways they fudged the facts on living longer.

1. Not All People Living in Blue Zones Are Vegetarians

Most of the commentary about Blue Zones centers on one thing:

Plant-based diets.

But the fact is, not all people living in Blue Zones are vegetarians.

For example:

Okinawans DO eat fish — just a lot less than those living on mainland Japan.

And even though Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California are encouraged to follow a vegetarian lifestyle, not all of them do.

Then consider this:

Another religious group in California is living much longer than the average American — Mormons. Based this 24-year long study of their lifestyle and mortality, researchers discovered Mormons enjoy almost the exact same increase in life expectancy as Seventh Day Adventists.

And guess what?

Mormons are NOT vegetarians.

So, while eating more vegetables is likely beneficial for extending your lifespan, it doesn’t mean you have to give up meat altogether, either.

2. Drinking Alcohol Doesn’t Reduce Your Mortality Risk

The most popular part of the Blue Zones lifestyle among the general public is regular alcohol consumption.

From the Blue Zones website:

“People in all blue zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers.”

Now, most of us enjoy having a cold beer or a glass of wine at the end of a long day. So this is good news, right?

Well, only IF drinking alcohol really can extend your lifespan.

It is literally poison, after all.

Seems a bit hard to believe that it could help us live longer, doesn’t it?

Turns out the evidence agrees:

A systematic review of 87 different studies, published in 2016, found that “…low-volume alcohol consumption has no net mortality benefit compared with lifetime abstention or occasional drinking.”

Another study published in the BMJ in 2015 concluded that most studies showing moderate alcohol consumption extended lifespan “…failed to adjust for confounding factors.”

So, while we’d all love to think that ice cold can of Bud or glass of Merlot is helping us live longer…

The truth is, it’s probably not. And that’s okay.

3. Religious People Are Naturally More Health-Conscious

Number 7 on the list of the Blue Zones Power 9 is “Belong.”

That’s because the authors found all but 5 of the 263 centenarians they spoke to belonged to some kind of faith-based community.

But does praying or going to church extend your lifespan all on its own? Is there some special spiritual benefit that makes us live longer? Or is something else at play?

Here’s some food for thought:

This study of 18,370 men and women over 50 DID find that religious attendance was associated with a longer lifespan.

However, researchers noted an intriguing connection:

“Those who attend more often are significantly less likely to be current smokers and to drink frequently, and are more likely to exercise and do health promotion activities.”

In other words, most religious people are naturally more health-conscious than non-religious people. This would go a long way towards explaining why religion seems to be correlated with longer life.

4. Eating Less Extends Your Lifespan (no matter WHAT you eat)

We’ve talked a lot about the Power 9 in this article.

But, while advocates of the Blue Zones way of life may want you to believe all of these 9 things are necessary to extend your lifespan, the truth is…

There’s ONE thing proven to extend lifespan more than anything else:

Caloric restriction.

Scientists have known that caloric restriction — eating 10-15% less calories than your body needs — can extend life in rats, mice, fish, flies and other living organisms.

But what about us?

Well, one of the first human trials for caloric restriction was just published in 2018. And it found that cutting calories by 15% for 2 years improved all biomarkers of aging.

So really, it’s possible that the single-most important takeaway from the Blue Zones isn’t following a plant-based diet, living an active lifestyle, staying close to family, or even going to church.

It’s simply eating less food.

Whether it’s meat, fish, fruits, veggies, or junk food – just eat less of it.

And frankly, the 80% rule is a good way to ballpark it.

Feelings of fullness take 15-20 minutes to kick in. Your body needs time to register that food has come in, and then send signals to your brain to reduce hunger.

So, if there’s one thing you can do to extend your lifespan starting right now, it’s to stop eating before you’re full.

Now, we want to know where YOU stand.

Do you still believe in Blue Zones? Or did this article change your mind?

Comment below and let us know what you think!


References

  1. The Secrets of Long Life. https://www.bluezones.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Nat_Geo_LongevityF.pdf
  2. Ten Years of Life: Is It a Matter of Choice? https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/648593?resultclick=1&source=post_page
  3. Lifestyle and reduced mortality among active California Mormons, 1980–2004 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091743507003258
  4. Do “Moderate” Drinkers Have Reduced Mortality Risk? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Alcohol Consumption and All-Cause Mortality. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26997174
  5. All cause mortality and the case for age specific alcohol consumption guidelines: pooled analyses of up to 10 population based cohorts https://www.bmj.com/content/350/bmj.h384
  6. Religion, a social determinant of mortality? A 10-year follow-up of the Health and Retirement Study https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5738040/
  7. Calorie restriction and aging: review of the literature and implications for studies in humans https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/78/3/361/4689958
  8. Calorie restriction trial in humans suggests benefits for age-related disease https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180322141008.htm

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