Sardinia Blue Zone: What Makes The Island So Longevous?

Sardinia Blue Zone: you may have heard about it a documentary, or read about it in a paper once, and this will surely have raised a bunch of questions. Yes – Sardinia is the first ever declared Blue Zone, a part of the world (together with a few more) where a larger part of the population (compared to other places) lives up to 100 years old.

Are you curious to learn more about the Sardinia Blue Zone, how it came about and why Sardinians live so long? Continue reading, and I will reveal some of our secrets.

Cala Zafferano

What Is A Blue Zone?

A “Blue Zone” is a geographical area of variable extension, inside of which the population lives a considerably longer, healthier, and happier life. Sardinia is one of the five Blue Zones recognized around the globe and is the one with the largest male population exceeding 100 years of life.

What makes the case of Sardinia even more interesting compared to other blue zones is that here the ratio of male against female centenarians is just about even – whereas in other places in the world, there proportion is around 5 women over 100 years of age to one man. This is actually a rarity, and makes the case of the Sardinia Blue Zone even more special.

Although all of Sardinia is considered a Blue Zone, the actual area where the ultra-centenaries live is very limited: the highest concentration of these incredible communities are in Ogliastra (Villagrande Strisaili, Arzana, Talana, Baunei, Urzulei, and Triei), Barbagia (especially the villages of Tiana, Ovodda, Ollolai, Gavoi, Fonni, Mamoiada, Orgosolo, and Oliena) and Seulo in the South of the Island.

If you are curious about the other four Blue Zones, they are scattered around the world: Okinawa Island (Japan); Loma Linda (California); Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica); Ikaria (Greece).

The first person who introduced the concept of “Blue Zone”, in the early 2000s, was the French scholar Michel Poulain. He shortly after paired up with Gianni Pes, who had been studying the astonishing longevity of Sardinian people for 20 years, and together they mapped the five blue zones until their official acknowledgment in 2016.

The two researchers (and with them Dan Buettner, who soon joined in the research) were fascinated by the longevity of the inhabitants of these places so distant and diverse and longed to know what had made them so special. Although there are several micro-factors exclusive to each zone, they managed to find out some common points that made this “long life miracle” possible.

Let me give you a brief explanation of each of these factors, of course with a focus on Sardinia.

Sardinia Blue Zone: Why Do People In Sardinia Live So Long?

The food

Let’s be serious here: food is the main reason for everything that happens to our bodies. If we follow a nice, balanced diet, we’ll feel better and probably not suffer from severe health problems: and this is exactly what people in the Blue Zones do.

Sardinians love eating their traditional dishes and usually cook in a very healthy way. They prefer seasonings like olive oil to ones like butter which are higher in saturated fats; they eat a lot of home-made and home-grown products like cheese (the famous pecorino cheese!), fruit, and vegetables, especially in smaller villages where daily life is still ruled by farming and sheep-herding.

They consume a lot of cereals, especially barley, and very little fish and meat (traditionally consumed on Sundays and special occasions/festivities – Sardinian people are still very religious and in fact spirituality, religion and overall belief in God and attending mass are also factors that help increase the life expectancy of Sardinians, as they somehow help to structure daily life).

Long story short, Sardinian’s frugal diet is the main reason for such a long life expectancy.

But wait… there’s one more secret! There’s a traditional wine, called Cannonau, whose chemical composition favors the body’s wellness and, if drank in moderate quantities (which is exactly what happens here), gives Sardinia another great ally for a longer life!

Hike to Cala Sisine

A lifetime of exercising

Since the Blue Zone inhabitants still lead a rural life, they don’t need a gym to stay healthy and fit. Exercising comes very naturally when you have to grow and farm your own food, whether is a flock of sheep or a tomato field; moreover, they don’t use much public or private transportation and prefer getting around by walking.

Sardinian elderlies can often be seen taking a stroll, having a chat together, and looking healthier than ever. It is also quite common to meet some grandpas (and grandmas!) curved on their fields, working on each and every plant to make sure they’ll deliver the best fruits and vegetables.

Sardinian old folks only look old at first sight, believe me! They have more energy than the average thirty-year-old in many other countries and they will show you, with no mercy for your self-esteem.

Family is everything

Another essential factor for a long and happy life is family. Modern society often thinks of the elderly as a burden, someone to be kept on the side; there is a general lack of respect for them, and they are considered fragile and useless.

The Blue Zones communities, however, have great respect for their elders, who, moreover, aren’t a burden at all: they are an integrated and valued part of the family; their opinion is taken into great account and they participate in every social activity.

The feeling of being loved and always integrated with their surroundings, plus the families being still quite big and interlinked, makes for another huge contribution to their life span.

The older generations are considered wise teachers: they have lived the longest, know all the secrets for a better crop, healthier livestock, and how to make the best food out of them; they are the ones who teach the younger generations how to live and follow their steps and are involved in the education of the kids.

I myself have experienced this old-fashioned kid-raising tradition and, let me tell you, there’s nothing scarier (and more effective) than an unknown grandma scolding you for something!

Long story short, no one in Sardinia would ever think of throwing away the older members of their family. This way of living indeed benefits everyone and is not only strictly limited to families but, more widely, to the whole social community, which brings us to the next point.

S'Ardia

You are always part of something

The concept of family and community itself is very broad in these small Sardinian villages where everyone knows each other, and cooperating is considered a must. There is no space for individualism here, and the elderly are no exception: they are involved in everything related to the village, from simple, personal gardening tasks to organizing festivals and other events.

Keep in mind that these villages are still, as I previously said, very religious, so even going to church is essential for the community’s well-being, as much as celebrating the festivities in observance to the Bible’s teachings: all together and with respect for each and any person. No one should be forgotten or left out, everyone has the same right to be involved, loved, and respected, and this greatly impacts the way these persons live.

As we just saw, a natural, balanced diet based on seasonal products is essential to the Blue Zones inhabitants, and mental health plays a key role as well: these factors lead to a life that’s almost completely stress-free, with a slow rhythm based on nature and seasons.

No one feels pressured to do anything because everything falls into the right place at the right moment: this leads me to the last, great factor that makes Sardinia one of the five Blue Zones in the world.

No smoking

That’s it. The fact that smoking tobacco considerably shortens our lifespan shouldn’t be surprising news, right? People from the Blue Zones don’t need to smoke. Like I just said, they live free of major stressing events, there is no rush to do anything, no social pressure; close to no one feels the urge to smoke.

People from the villages aren’t health-obsessed, they don’t pay particular attention to the Ministry of Health no-smoking campaigns or anything; they just see cigarettes as they are: an addiction, a bad habit which brings no benefit to their beloved community.

And there is no place for useless habits in a village that has always based its existence on frugality and hard work: a cigarette will not give you better crops or meat, doesn’t help you make better cheese and bread, and Cannonau tastes awful after smoking tobacco.

Final Considerations On The Sardinia Blue Zone

This has only been a brief explanation of what Blue Zones are and what makes Sardinia one of them. It goes without saying that problems that affect other parts of the world affect Sardinia too, but we all take life with a grain of salt here: we love life, we love our island and take enormous pride in it, and we love being part of a community.

There’s still plenty of information on Blue Zones out there, so, if I made you curious, go and find out everything about these almost magical places!

Further Readings

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