Our Changing Habits - Making Healthy Choices

By Dale Mayo

 The lockdown is starting to ease in many parts of the country, but our daily routines have not yet gone back to ‘normal.’[1] And some routines may be changing for a very long time.  This could be viewed as an opening to change things in your life for the better.  The extraordinary impact of Covid-19 provides an opportunity to examine your priorities – what makes you happy and what you can do to be as healthy as possible.  Daily habits can be key to a healthy lifestyle. 

Right now, most people who are not required to go to an office for work are staying home and venturing out primarily for socially distanced exercise or to pick up necessities from grocery stores, pharmacies, home improvement and garden supply stores.  National and State Parks are opening in phases and some are seeing a large number of visitors who are ready to get out into fresh air.  Understandably, everyone seems to be a little stir crazy.  Some of that energy could be focused on examining our daily routines and activities. 

A look at studies of long-lived populations and the characteristics they have in common might point to some habits that can be adopted and adapted by individuals and communities for well-being.  The idea is not to find a specific vitamin, diet, exercise, or spiritual regimen to follow, but to see what seems to work for them and maybe incorporate some things that might work for you.

Dan Buettner began just such an investigation over 15 years ago when he worked with experts in different fields to determine which regions of the world had the longest lived people.[2] The study is not without critics, including questioning the actual ages of the ‘centenarians.’[3]  Nonetheless, the results of the original study have been used in evidence-based research projects to test the what happens when you  change aspects of a community to introduce more healthful habits (e.g., making towns more walkable or bike-friendly, reducing the availability of unhealthy snacks in schools, helping individuals quit using tobacco, etc.) with some success.[4][5]

What is A Blue Zone? 

DISCLAIMER:  Sizzlefish is is in no way connected with Blue Zones. Sizzlefish products and services are not sponsored by nor affiliated with Blue Zones.  Our products and services do not claim to be in compliance with Blue Zones principles. This article is meant only to be educational.

In 2005, Dan Buettner wrote an article for National Geographic about blue zones – so-named because he circled the long-lived regions of the world on a map in blue marker.[6]  You can hear about it in his own words in a 2009 TED Talk and delve further on the Blue Zones website.  Mr. Buettner teamed up with National Geographic and the National Institute on Aging and worked with demographers to identify places that have the most long-lived healthy populations (centenarians per capita) on earth:

  • Sardinia: Barbagia region – the world’s highest concentration of male centenarians
  • Greece:  Ikaria (Aegean Island) – among the world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality and lowest rates of dementia
  • Costa Rica:  Nicoya Peninsula – world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality, second highest concentration of male centenarians
  • US:  Loma Linda, California (Seventh Day Adventists) – average age of death is 10 years older than other North Americans
  • Japan:  Okinawa – females over 70 are the longest-lived population in the world


Blue Zones

Image from the World Economic Forum website[7]

Mr. Buettner recently returned to four of the five blue zones to collect time-tested recipes.[8]

Characteristics of A Blue Zone

Mr. Buettner and his team worked with anthropologists, epidemiologists, medical researchers and demographers to find out what the regions and the people of these regions had in common. They then grouped nine factors into four categories:



·       Natural movement: not sedentary; constant movement with daily activities

Right Outlook

·       Purpose:  having a sense of purpose in life

·       Down-shift:  routines to de-stress

Eat Wisely

·       80% rule:  stop eating when your stomach is 80% full

·       Plant slant:  beans are central to diet

·       Wine @ 5:  except for the Adventists, a daily glass or two of wine with friends, food


·       Belong:  almost all the centenarians belonged to a faith-based community

·       Loved ones first:  commitment to a life partner, looking after parents, grandparents, and children

·       Right tribe:  belonging to a social group with healthful behaviors



How We Can Adapt Blue Zone Principles During the Pandemic

Relationships and Outlook

The pandemic has had a traumatic effect on a large number of people.  So far in the US approximately 1.7 million people have or have had the virus and almost 100,000 have died from it.  The families and friends of those people are likely shocked and/or in mourning.  People who are on the front lines and their loved ones worry every day.  While some of us are with our families 24/7, others are apart from our families for months on end.  Stress levels are running high for parents whose children are home and who are trying to work from home. 

Many of us need to work to provide for ourselves and our families. The pandemic has completely upended the idea of ‘going to work’ in an office - how and where we work may be more of a choice now.  Many of us are working from home, which in some cases means we don’t even need to be in the same region as our company to do our jobs.  Some of us have been doing gig work and realize that maybe we need to find a job that provide benefits. 

But the importance of connection with our friends and family is taking center stage for almost everyone - maintaining these connections may help us maintain a sense of purpose and also lower our stress levels.  We can help others in a variety of ways – just checking in, helping arrange deliveries of necessities, making masks.  The factors that may help with longevity seem to work together. 

Movement and Community

One characteristic of blue zone inhabitants is that they tend not to use mechanized assistants the way we do – they walk or bike instead of driving or riding in cars, they rake instead of blowing leaves, they tend their gardens.  This may be hard for Americans simply because we no longer live in villages.  Our communities have been designed to take advantage of our ability to drive to work, stores, etc.  Many suburban and urban planners are now incorporating paths for walking and biking (including for commuting) and public spaces for communities to use as they like. Even community gardens are making a comeback.

While we have not been able to go to gyms, play team sports, participate in yoga or spin classes, we have tried to get exercise where and when we can do so safely.  In some areas, neighborhood streets are reminiscent of fifty years ago -- families are walking together, children kick soccer balls at nets and siblings fill the sidewalks with chalk drawings, adults who are ‘in it together’ are more cordial and neighborly even when masked and not shaking hands.  We can what is usually commuting time to get extra rest or tend the garden. We can get up from our home desks and do chores throughout the day without disrupting our work (e.g., laundry, washing dishes, mowing the lawn, taking a walk at lunch). This may be as good for us as commuting to and from an office and getting all of our exercise at one go in a gym.  


People in blue zones eat primarily plants (sometimes from their gardens) and food from local markets, bakeries and butchers.[9]  This is hard to do in most of the US – especially now, but the ability to have fresh food delivered to your door helps bridge this gap.  This may also be a good time to cut back on what you know is bad for you, even though they might normally be comfort foods or stress-eating favorites (e.g.,  potato chips, ice cream, sweetened soft drinks, alcohol).  It’s easier to avoid temptation when it’s not in the house and you can’t just run down to the store to get it.

Whether a conscious decision or a result of the coronavirus, our eating habits have likely changed in the past few months. Picking up a quick meal for breakfast and/or lunch at work and dining out once or twice a week may have been typical. Now many of us order online from grocery stores or specialty shops for pickup or delivery. When following CDC guidelines -- wearing masks, sanitizing hands and disinfecting groceries – it seems to take several hours to do what we used to do in an hour.  Sometimes what we normally eat is not available either because there has been a rush to hoard (e.g., yeast and flour) or because there was a virus outbreak that disrupted some part of the food chain (production, processing or delivery).

While carry-out from local restaurants has replaced dining out, we also like to be sure we have a well-stocked pantry.  Herbs and spices can completely change the flavors of foods.  And a small garden – even on a windowsill or balcony - can provide tasty herbs (basil, rosemary, chives, parsley and thyme are all pretty easy to grow).  A fair quantity of tomatoes and corn can come from one or two plants. The burgeoning grow it yourself (GIY) community has a posted a lot of information online.


"1240103" by Hella Delicious is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

According to the blue zone food guidelines, 95-100% of the daily diet should be plant based (primarily whole grains and beans, not highly processed, along with a handful or two of nuts).  Fish consumption should be limited to three times weekly (3 oz portions).  Drink mostly water, but include coffee, tea, and wine in moderation. Another tip for blue zone eating:  stop eating when you are 80% full, as it takes 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain you’re full.

Takeaways From the Blue Zones

Whether you’re struggling to make ends meet, at home alone or with others, or on the frontlines dealing directly with the virus, your life is likely different now.  Taking care of yourself is important and can take many forms.  Advice from the blue zones that might be helpful[10]:

Ø  Try to incorporate physical activity into your daily life - gardening or walking

Ø  Find a sense of purpose - like caring for grandchildren or volunteering

Ø  Try to lower stress levels and maintain a slower pace of life

Ø  Develop and maintain strong family and community connections

Ø  Eat and drink in moderation, mostly plants with healthier fats and proteins (e.g., olive oil and fish) 

Sizzlefish Recipes

While there are many diets touted by many nutrition and health experts, we all know basically what’s bad for us.  Eliminating the bad and embracing the good is important for our health and longevity. Here at Sizzlefish, we focus on finding fresh, wholesome seafood to provide you with healthy choices.  We also like for it to taste good and offer recipes that use ingredients you’re likely to have on hand and some that you can grow on your balcony.  

[1] Yong, Ed. America’s patchwork pandemic is fraying even further. The Atlantic. May 20, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/05/patchwork-pandemic-states-reopening-inequalities/611866/

[2] Buettner, Dan (2008) The Blue Zones:  Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. National Geographic Books.

[3]  Newman, SJ. Supercentenarian and remarkable age records exhibit patterns indicative of clerical errors and pension fraud. bioRxiv preprint doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/704080. This version posted May 3, 2020. The copyright holder for this preprint (which was not certified by peer review) is the author/funder. It is made available under a CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International license.

[4] Buettner, Dan. 9 lessons from the world’s Blue Zones on living a long, healthy life. World Economic Forum website. June 26, 2017. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/06/changing-the-way-america-eats-moves-and-connects-one-town-at-a-time/

[5]  Quednau, Rachel. Blue Zones. Strong Towns website. April 12, 2017. https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2017/4/11/blue-zones?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIjoKLtNW46QIVGKSzCh2QVgDsEAAYASAAEgLHD_D_BwE

[6]  "Longevity, The Secrets of Long Life". National Geographic Magazine. November 2005. Archived from the original on 2017-05-30. Retrieved 2017-04-03.

[7] Buettner, Dan. 9 lessons from the world’s Blue Zones on living a long, healthy life. World Economic Forum website. June 26, 2017. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/06/changing-the-way-america-eats-moves-and-connects-one-town-at-a-time/

[8] Buettner, Dan. These traditional diets can lead to long lives. January 2020. National Geographic magazine.  https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2020/01/these-traditional-diets-from-the-blue-zones-can-lead-to-long-lives-feature/

[9] https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/food-matters/blue-zones-what-the-longest-lived-people-eat-hint-it-8217-s-not-steak-dinners/

[10] Mustain, Patrick. Blue Zones:  What the longest-lived people eat (hint: it’s not steak dinners). Scientific American blog, April 6, 2015.  https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/food-matters/blue-zones-what-the-longest-lived-people-eat-hint-it-8217-s-not-steak-dinners/

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