Blue Zones & Vilcabamba: The Secrets of Longevity

VilcabambaEcuador.JPG

Living to 100 years old does not sound appealing to most people, because health fades.  However, what if you were active, your mind was clear, and you were free from disease? Would you hope for longevity?  Learn the healthy habits of the blue zones where many natives live over 100 years!

I remember hearing about “blue zones” over a decade ago.  Although I was only in my mid-thirties, I was intrigued by the lifespan there.  So, I set off on many plane trips to Vilcabamba, Ecuador to find the secret. Vilcabamba derived from Quichua, native Incan language, meaning valley of longevity.  At the time, I was married to a man 10 years my senior. However, his family lineage was from Vilcabamba; therefore, I felt like a lottery winner. He exercised daily and ate a healthy diet, like myself with occasional indulgences.  Despite confidence in his habits, I read the research noting men die younger than women. Harvard Medical School (Feb. 19, 2016) expert Robert H. Shmerling, M. D. states, “The average lifespan is about 5 years longer for women than men in the U. S., and about 7 years longer worldwide.”

Upon our arrival to the “Sacred Valley”, the scientist inside me awakened with excitement as the beauty stole my breath.  A dark, weathered man grabbed our bags and whipped them into his trunk, with only one hand. Intrigued by his strength, I inquired about his age and shockingly, he was at least 87 years old.  Such observations confirmed research from Harvard Medical School scholars such as Alexander Leaf crediting hardwork in such high altitudes, low caloric intake, diets low in animal fat, daily wine and coffee consumption, and social bonds with the community with Vilcabamba and other blue zone long life expectancies.  Filled with questions, conversations with the locals produced greater insight into their youthful health. They recognized the importance of the primitive nature of the area, noting that medicinal plants and vegetables are still organic. Proud of their clean drinking water, free of parasites and mineral rich, exceptional plant growth with a variety of potatoes and fruits and vegetables, they shared a common Ecuador saying, “Breakfast like a king, lunch as a prince, and dinner like a pauper.”  In other words, eat less as the day fades to night. In fact, they shared a sweet and tart fruit, much like a popsicle or candy blended in the morning for breakfast, said to lower cholesterol.

On my quest for answers, I sought the local healer.  After traversing a muddy cliff to his ceremonial site, I found him in a hut with a panther skin, benches, and other things you might expect in the presence of a Shaman healer.  Spending time there revealed another secret to longevity as described by researchers. The people in the community keep peace with each other and act as guardians over each other because they all know each other.  The people sympathized with community member woes and advised of potential dangers among the members such as abuse. However, they do not necessarily welcome outsiders with open arms.

During my visits, I mused at the question, “How can I take some of this back to my patients in Central Florida and help them be healthier too?”  I started by purchasing a water system that changes water to alkaline between meals and back to Ph of 7 at meals. Likewise, it pulls the heavy metals such as arsenic and lead that build in our bodies, linking us with diseases such a cancer.  I started eating like “blue zone” regions. For example, in Okinawa, Japan, the land of the immortals, they eat seaweed, rich in iodine and sweet potatoes of different varieties. Sardinians eat almonds and chickpeas. Costa Ricans enjoy black beans and meals with each other.  Loma Linda, California dwellers generally follow the Seventh Day Adventist Doctrines, appreciating a vegetarian diet or eating good fats such as salmon and avocados.

Surprisingly, many “blue zone” cultures enjoy 1-2 glasses of red wine daily and commonly drink up to 3 cups of strong coffee daily.  According to Dan Buettner (Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People), people in all “blue zones”, even some Adventists drink alcohol moderately and regularly.  He notes, drinking one to two glasses daily with friends and or with food is the trick.

On a plane over Tibet, sitting with my 5 year old daughter, I realized blue zone principles of having something to live and keep moving for keep me striving for healthy habits; hence, longevity.  As my daughter took pictures next to me, I said, “Hey babe. When you are 40 years old, I will be 75 years old...Let’s make a pact that I will take great care of myself so we can do this same journey when you turn 40...You know that means I will have to be really healthy to come this far…”