Tips On Menopause and Healthy Aging From the Blue Zones
Menopause is an evitable part of aging. For most women, this season of change will impact our bodies, mind, and overall health. However, five unique regions worldwide may hold the key to healthy aging. Dubbed the Blue Zones, these regions can teach us all a lesson on aging gracefully and living healthier lives through menopause and beyond.
What are the Blue Zones?
To uncover the secrets to longevity, National Geographic author Dan Buettner discovered five places in the world where people consistently live to be 100 years old or greater. These five regions were coined the Blue Zones and include Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California.
Following their expedition, the researchers found nine common habits among the centenarians of the Blue Zones. The Power 9 are evidence-based practices that seemingly slow down aging and ward off chronic illness.
1. Move Naturally
It was found that people in these regions don’t necessarily participate in vigorous physical activity but rather live in environments conducive to regular movement. This includes walking, gardening, and yard work.
Simply understanding your purpose in life or why you wake up in the morning has been found to add an additional seven years to one’s life.
Stress in life is inevitable, no matter where you live. Unfortunately, stress leads to health problems like inflammation which, in turn, feeds chronic illness. Members of the Blue Zones participate in activities to alleviate stress, like prayer, meditation, and even going to happy hour.
4. 80% Rule
Eating until you are 80% full is a commonality among the Blue Zones people. They also eat their larger meals at the beginning of the day, consume a small dinner, and don’t eat again until morning.
5. Plant Slant
Beans are a mainstay of the Blue Zones diet. While meat is enjoyed, it is limited to three or four-ounce portions a few times a month.
6. Wine @ 5
Citizens of the Blue Zones drink moderate amounts of alcohol regularly. They often share one to two glasses daily with meals or in the company of friends.
Approximately 98% of the centenarians interviewed were part of a faith-based community. Attending a faith-based service just four times per month was found to add up to 14 years to life expectancy.
8. Loved One’s First
Family is a top priority in the Blue Zones. Members of these communities keep aging family members nearby, commit to a life partner, and spend time with their children.
9. Right Tribe
The world’s oldest living people choose their friends wisely. They are often committed to a small group of people that have favorably influenced their health behaviors.
The 3 Top Tips for Healthy Aging through Menopause
While all components of the Power 9 are beneficial, menopausal women can focus on three key ideas to ease their transition:
The Blue Zones shared many commonalities when it came to nutrition and diet. So much, so that researchers developed food guidelines based on over 150 dietary surveys of Blue Zone residents. It was found that their diets are about 95% plant-based. A plant-based diet has been found to be advantageous for perimenopausal and menopausal women. Increasing intake of fruits and vegetables has been positively correlated with reducing hot flashes and other unfavorable symptoms.
The key plant foods discovered for longevity were leafy greens, including kale, chard, beet and turnip tops, and spinach. In addition to increasing longevity, leafy greens are particularly beneficial to menopausal women. One study found this sub-group of vegetables reduces both physical and psychological symptoms of menopause.
While meat is enjoyed sparingly, beans are the focus of meals in the Blue Zones. The women of Okinawa are some of the longest-lived in the world, and they eat at least two servings of soy daily, most commonly in the form of tofu. Soy contains isoflavones compounds similar in structure to human estrogen and can act as a natural hormone replacement. Soy isoflavones can also reduce hot flashes and improve bone health.
Staying physically active throughout the menopausal transition offers many benefits, including weight maintenance, enhanced mood, and a lower risk of disease. But for many, joining a local gym or signing up for group fitness classes may feel overwhelming. Members of the Blue Zones stay active without dramatically changing their lifestyles.
Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis, or NEAT, is simply the accumulation of activities we do throughout the day. This may include walking, housework, fidgeting, or standing. A high NEAT score can burn up to 2000 calories per day while offsetting disease and promoting longevity.
As expected, members living in the Blue Zones have a high NEAT score. We can take inspiration from our centenarian friends and try to walk when we can, take the stairs instead of the elevator, park farther away from entrances, and stretch when watching TV.
Relationships are a cornerstone of the Blue Zones. Family and friends often gather to share a meal or simply talk. In Okinawa, children are put into social groups called moai. These groups meet daily to drink sake and chat. If one friend doesn’t show, the others cross town to check on their friend.
Emotional and social support from loved ones helps ward off disease and improve mental health. This becomes of even greater importance during menopause. Menopausal women who participated in social groups were found to have higher levels of physical activity and lower levels of depressive symptoms.
Menopause and aging don’t have to slow you down or take the pleasure out of life. Members of the Blue Zones prove that you are just getting started. Think about it this way. If you reach menopause at age 50 and live to be 100 when you’re fifty, you have half your life left. The best half, most people come to believe. Incorporating these fun and simple practices into your life can help to ease symptoms, promote longevity, and bring more love and happiness to your golden years.
Erin Stanton, RDN, MPH, is a registered dietitian and certified lactation counselor residing in Atlanta, Georgia. She puts her master’s in public health degree to good use as a freelance writer focusing on various health and wellness topics, especially those pertaining to women and children.
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