Life in the Blue Zone

Aiming to reach 100? Learn about life in Blue Zones, the places on earth where people live beyond a century.

June 14, 2024 | | Over the Next Hill

Could I have lucked in and found myself living in an almost Blue Zone? Oh, you ask, “What is a Blue Zone?” In the popular four-part Netflix documentary series called Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones, National Geographic reporter Dan Buettner explores the Blue Zones of the world through local interviews, joining conversations, and looking carefully at food, both its production and preparation.

Briefly, the original five identified Blue Zones are Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; Ikaria, Greece; and Nicoya, Costa Rica. In each of these locations, a noteworthy number of citizens live to the age of 100 and beyond, still mostly in control of their lives and happily interacting with family and community.

Following years of studying these unique communities, Buettner boiled down their commonalities into four major categories: natural movement, connections, wise eating, and general outlook.

As I watched each episode, I was struck time and again by how many actions and attitudes are similar to the planned community in northeast Caledon where I live. Granted, we can’t yet claim a centenarian, but there are a few happy and generally healthy residents well in their 90s, and many others closing in behind.

The community’s first multi-unit structure was completed in 1994, with additional buildings following in fits and starts. Designated a seniors community, people in their 50s and 60s were excited about the minimal maintenance required compared to the country properties many of them had moved from, the turnkey virtue of the units, which made winter getaways simpler, and the clean, newness of their space. The final construction phase, for a total of 188 units, was completed in 2023. 

Our community is surrounded by 306 hectares of Toronto and Region Conservation Authority lands, which are criss-crossed by well-maintained hiking and biking trails. Dog walkers are numerous in our community, and the nearby village of Palgrave boasts a charming brew pub located in a former church, a new pharmacy run by a knowledgeable and accommodating pharmacist, plus our go-to variety store, complete with liquor and wine section. Walking into the village to meet a friend at the pub, or pick up everyday necessities, is easily doable. So, natural movement: check.

active seniors
Staying active and engaged in your senior years is key. Stock image.

But we shine in the connections department. I believe a good deal of that can be attributed to the fact that in the fall of 2021, the community was offered the opportunity to purchase the nine-hole golf course adjoining our community. With protecting the surrounding green space from development top of mind, more than 50 per cent of the residents stepped up with the necessary down payment to collectively purchase the land, anticipating that golf course revenues would pay off the remaining amount in a timely fashion. 

That’s what happened, financially, but the primary benefit from the purchase, as I see it, was that the community pulled together, pooling talents and learning on the fly how to run a public golf course. That created unexpected and invaluable personal connections, as people with disparate knowledge and experience worked together with a common purpose. Connections: check.

The wise-eating characteristic (natural, plant-based, heavy on beans, according to Buettner) is a bit tougher to qualify, but there are a number of individually owned and maintained raised-bed vegetable gardens in our community, and there’s talk of establishing a community garden. 

One question that popped up on a Blue Zone link: Do Blue Zone centenarians drink coffee? The answer: “Yes, Blue Zones centenarians typically drink coffee at breakfast, tea in the afternoon, wine at 5 o’clock, and water all day. To live to be 100, keep your beverages simple and avoid sugary drinks like soda and packaged fruit juices.”  

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  • Neighbours here frequently share healthy meals, and at clubhouse events the salad table is always popular. Wise eating: as far as I can tell, check.

    The final common thread weaving through the Blue Zones is “general outlook.” Spiritual faith seems to play a prominent role through the studied areas, as does fun. One of Buettner’s quotes that sticks with me: “Laughter brings longevity.” 

    The feeling that everyone counts, and belongs, kept coming up. 

    Activities in and around our clubhouse are numerous and varied, from euchre afternoons, to book exchanges, yoga and art classes, pickle ball, tennis and bocce,  along with golf and general social events. There’s something for everyone; all you have to do is show up. Positive stuff, creating a positive general outlook: check.

    So, have I landed in a Blue Zone?  I think maybe I have. Now, about this living to 100 … 

    About the Author More by Gail Grant

    Gail Grant is a freelance writer who lives in Palgrave.

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