January 09, 2024
Ah, Blue Zones! There are these remarkable regions around the world where people tend to live much longer than average. And I am talking at 85 or even 90, but more like 100 and 105! Have you ever heard of them?
These areas have garnered attention because of the high number of centenarians and the relatively low incidence of age-related diseases. The term was coined by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow, researcher, and journalist, who identified these zones and wrote about them extensively. Only five renowned Blue Zones exist around the world: Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; Loma Linda, California; and most importantly, Italy's very own Sardinia.
So what makes these Blue Zones different from the rest of the world, and if we are talking about Italy, what makes Sardinia different from settling down in coastal Puglia or ritzy Argentario, Tuscany? These places share particular lifestyle and environmental factors contributing to longevity, such as a plant-based diet, regular physical activity, strong social connections, and a sense of purpose.
Yes, the Ogliastra region in Sardinia, located in the Central East of the island, is often highlighted as one of the Blue Zones. It's known for its high concentration of centenarians and its residents' longevity. People in this region have captured the attention of researchers due to their remarkable health and extended lifespans. The lifestyle factors contributing to the longevity of individuals in Ogliastra are quite fascinating, so let's explore!
Residents here often follow a traditional Mediterranean diet, like most Italians, and source from the land and backyard gardens. The diet includes lots of fresh vegetables, legumes, olive oil, whole grains, and occasional fish, coffee. Let's not forget to mention red wine, which is shown to provide cardiovascular benefits and not to mention a way to unwind and relax which helps with stress and decompressing. Ultimately food is selected based on seasonality. Don’t expect to ever find Sardinians eating artichokes in summer and watermelon in winter! Meals are prepared with care and enjoyed together around the table on a daily basis, not only on weekends, during holidays, or for special occasions.
Physical activity and natural movement are a fundamental part of daily life. Many engage in regular, low-intensity exercise through gardening, walking, hiking, and manual labor. The terrain in Ogliastra is rugged and mountainous, encouraging walking as a primary means of transportation. Residents often walk to get around their villages, visit neighbors, or run errands. It's safe to say that these Sardinians don't need to hit the gym or spend hours on a treadmill to break a sweat and keep their cholesterol at ease. Absolutely, there is an emphasis on strong social connections and community engagement in Sardinia's Blue Zone. The close-knit relationships with family and friends contribute significantly to mental health. These solid social bonds provide emotional support, reduce feelings of loneliness, and create a sense of belonging and purpose. Participation in recreational and cultural activities fosters an active and socially oriented lifestyle. Engaging in sports, cultural events, and social gatherings promotes physical activity and helps establish and strengthen friendships, further enhancing mental well-being. It is reported that Sardinians are less likely to feel lonely.
Visiting Ogliastra, Sardinia
For some, life in Ogliastra seems mystical and magical. Suppose you aren't ready to drop everything and move to this deserted region. In that case, a visit is definitely recommended to get a taste of authentic Sardo living, immerse yourself in unique culture, and explore the Blue Zone lifestyle. A trip to Ogliastra should always be spent along its picturesque coastlines, pristine beaches, and turquoise clear water. Discover beaches like Cala Goloritzé, Spiaggia di Cea, and Cala Mariolu to start. If you prefer to travel without an itinerary in mind, beaches dot the coastline, and it won't be hard to find one that is equally as pristine and beautiful.
Take part in activities like trekking, cycling, or horseback riding to experience the region's natural beauty up close. Places like Gola di Gorropu, a national park, nature preserve, and dynamic canyon, or hiking around the Gulf of Arbatax. Part of Mediterranean living is food, and Ogliastra's specialties include spaghetti with sea urchins and famous fish soup. If fish isn't your thing, residents also enjoy roasted pork paired with fresh herbs. Lastly, engage with the locals to learn about their way of life. Visiting local villages, chatting with residents, and perhaps even participating in community activities can provide deeper insights into the Blue Zone lifestyle.
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Words by Gabriela R. Proietti