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Blue zone thinking - The politics of health

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Robert Verkerk PhD is the executive and scientific director of the Alliance for Natural Health International, a consumer group that aims to protect our right to natural healthcare and information. For more information and to get involved, please visit: www.anh-europe.org

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Blue zone thinking - The politics of health

August 29th 2017, 19:12
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I recently had the pleasure of meeting Dr Michel Poulain in Guernsey, a small island off the coast of northern France that is a self-governing British crown dependency. Poulain was there to talk about his groundbreaking work with National Geographic writer and bestselling author Dan Buettner. Over the last decade or so, they’ve famously identified five communities around the world that are extraordinarily long-lived—as well as being healthy and happy. Poulain and Buettner refer to these communities as ‘blue zones,’ named as such because blue happened to be the color of Poulain’s pen when he was locating centenarians in the first ‘blue zone’ community in Sardinia back in the 1990s. When I met Poulain, an astrophysicist turned demographer, he was still working his way through the registry data in Guernsey. His preliminary view, based on the data he’d already reviewed, suggested it was unlikely that Guernsey would make the grade as a blue zone—at least for now. But the island state could follow, in time, the lead set by the five existing blue zone communities: Sardinia (Italy), Okinawa (Japan), Ikaras (Greece), Nicoya (Costa Rica) and the Seventh-Day Adventist community of Linda Loma, California. This mission could be catalyzed by Guernsey’s tight-knit, 64,000-strong population and a nationwide desire to achieve this status after the launch earlier this year of the visionary ‘Journey to 100’ project, which brought Poulain to the island in the first place. Poulain and Buettner identified nine criteria that these communities have in common. Plant-based diets with little or no processed food and consistent moderate physical activity are just two of them. Possibly even more important are factors like purpose in life, a sense of community and family values being prioritized over other concerns. These are ideas that are increasingly absent from urban dwellers in the industrial West. The social cohesiveness of the blue zone communities is particularly interesting. They’re not experimenting with gene therapy or anti-aging medicines, let alone cosmetic surgery. And they certainly have no obsession with social media followers. Yet, by sharing vital information about healthy living among each other, they do better than most of us despite our being surrounded by all sorts of information technology, health experts and gurus. Does this mean that those of us outside blue zone communities are locked out of the human potential they offer? Based on the most recently available statistics, just seven countries have average lifespans at birth that exceed 80 years, these being Switzerland, Iceland, Sweden, Japan, Spain, Australia and Norway. England just misses the cut at 79.3, and the USA, which spends more money on healthcare than any other country, languishes down in 23rd place, with an average life expectancy at birth of just 76 years. In defiance of our countries’ average lifespan or health status, many of us know people who are doing far better than average. That includes people in their 80s or 90s who are entirely drug free, lead fully independent lives, are active for most of the day, still prefer to walk or ride a bike than jump in a car or bus and, above all, continue enjoying life and being part of contemporary society. At the extreme end of this variance are the real outliers—individuals who meet all, or almost all, of the attributes of the five recognized blue zone communities. Few of us are interested in a long life if it’s not a happy one. Most of us don’t want to spend the last one-third of our lives riddled with chronic, degenerative diseases or dementia—yet this is an increasingly common prospect in the industrialized West. Over 50 percent of people in the West are on ‘polypharmacy’—using four or more prescribed medicines. And the drugs being used to treat specific conditions don’t actually cure them but simply treat the symptoms. The conditions then worsen, and as more drugs are brought on board, more are needed both to treat related conditions and to try to lessen the side-effects. A downward health spiral is then inevitable. Creating societies where human beings are able to sustain themselves naturally should be a priority given the mayhem that will ensue in the coming years if we don’t get on top of the ballooning costs of healthcare and the burden of chronic diseases. Human beings, like all living things, have exquisite capacities to self-heal. What is needed, as Poulain and Buettner discovered from the blue zone communities, is the right environment to allow this to happen. Look around you to see what you can learn from those who appear to be winning in the efforts to maintain their health. Look at what really makes them tick, at their attitudes, their social connections, their priorities in life—as well as how, what and when they eat, sleep and move. Chances are, the information you could learn from these people in your community—those who form part of your local ‘blue microzone’—will be more useful to your long-term health and well-being than any disease prevention suggestions you’re likely to get from your time-challenged physician

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