We have all heard of Sardinia with its magnificent beaches and rugged landscape in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. But have you ever taken a Blue Zone cycling vacation there? Learn the secrets for longevity from the people who live the most. Make that commitment, the small steps needed which will provide the long lasting physical and emotional benefits such as a healthier life, better and longer life enjoyed by many Centenarians living today, mostly in the central mountaintop villages of that magnificent Italian island. What a better way to learn and to emulate this than with an interactive cycling trip?
After years of extensive studies done by an avid cyclist and his group of scientists, they identified five habitats (Blue Zones) in the world which demonstrate extraordinary longevity; Okinawa Japan, Nicoya Peninsula Costa Rica, Ikaria Greece, Loma Linda California and Sardinia Italy. Surprisingly despite the vast geographical and cultural differences of these five places, they all seem to have many similarities due mainly to their isolation, i.e. daily active lifestyle, locally grown food, preservation of traditions, high family values and genetics to name a few.
Sardinia is an autonomous region of Italy with a population of about 1.6 million people. Of which, it has been confirmed to have the highest concentration of centenarians for a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic factors such as diet, lifestyle, geographical location, climate, air and water qualities and genetics. The genetics can be partly attributed to their isolation. Their genes amplified certain traits, which allowed them to live in this rough environment of rocky and sun beaten Barbagia. The clusters of villages high up in the mountains were hard to conquer by invaders and didn’t offer much large scale farming opportunities for the locals. Over the centuries, shepherding proved the best profession providing the locals with milk and meat but also a steady and constant, day-to-day physical activity for a strong cardiovascular health, fine muscle tone and bone remodeling. The long days of shepherding also increased their knowledge of fresh, in season vegetation of wild fruits and plants offered by nature such as Cardi, Corbezzoli, Carciofi, Asparagi, Finocchi and Cicoria, which compose a big part of the Sardinian diet next to in season cultivated fruits and vegetables such as oranges, figs, apricots, grapes, olives, carrots, onions and garlic.
Their sheep and goats also fed off the same open air grasslands and rocky bush foliage making milk rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. One of the principal diets of the Sardinians is known as Pecorino cheese; thought to contain components that may prevent inflammatory diseases of aging such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Other traditional foods making up the Sardinian diet is composed of whole grain breads, legumes, nuts and berries, with chicken, lamb, pork, wild bore, donkey, horse, oily fish and shellfish for meats. Although the large variety of meats were not always available in the high mountainous regions, reserving meat to just once or twice a week for consumption.
Portions were not large but genuine with plenty of variety, locally grown and very tasty due to its high nutritional content, always picked fresh and grown in season. A glass or two of locally made wine is always drank at each meal. Some of the most famous Sardinian wines are Cannonau, Carignano del Sulcis and Malvasia. Sardinian wines have been found to contain at least three times the antioxidants of any other wines. Is it the wine or the traditional toast “May you live to have 100 years”, which further contributes to the increased quantity of centenarians in Sardinia? Thus, making due with what nature abundantly provides very well in this isolated and sometimes harsh climate, makes up the largest part of the Sardinian diet that remained throughout the centuries a tradition and part of the culture.
Sardinian lifestyle and amiable climate also plays a big part of its longevity. Shepherds and farmers accumulate miles and miles of walking and perform consistent physical work every day. Locals commute in towns by foot or bicycle to shop, to meet friends or just to see strangers roll through their towns to accumulate those daily needed cardio workouts, especially if the towns are situated in a hilly area. Sardinians enjoy the outdoors and what nature provides. They enjoy the springs and thermal waters, the clear blue sea and crystal beaches, the clean air and star filled skies. They often hike up into the mountains to savor it all in, and then share the experience with a picnic. Not to mention the village annual bicycle outings also enjoyed with a follow-on picnic. All open air activities enjoyed as a family or an entire community.
Elders are celebrated and make up an important part of the family. Here grandparents can provide wisdom, childcare, company and financially help to push children towards success in life. They expect and motivate that traditions will be passed down to the new generations. Elders are encouraged by their villages to be actively involved as an important social presence. In return, they feel a sense of belonging to family and community. They traditionally live at home in a close knit family with children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, where they are more engaged with themselves, family and community versus living at a nursing home.
This experience brings to highlight nine very important key points, which help guide in the right direction of happiness and longevity. These nine values are also commonly shared in all of the Blue Zone areas; 1) Activity – lead an active lifestyle 2) Discover – what’s your purpose in life 3) Downshift – take a brake for yourself 4) 80% full rule – don’t over eat 5) Plant power – fresh local fruits and vegetables 6) Red Wine – A glass a day 7) Belonging – stay social 8) Beliefs – get ritualistic 9) Family – devote time to family.
If you also want to see for yourself how it all really is. If you want to experience the springs and thermal waters, see the clear blue sea and their crystal beaches, breath in the clean air and gaze up at the star filled skies. If you want to cycle through the rugged landscape and climb to the mountainous villages where the centenarians live, eat and tell their stories in the town squares. If you want to taste the wild vegetation and smell the juniper trees in the air. If you wish to learn from an isolated culture how to better live and enjoy your life. Maybe together we can discover a new purpose in our lives while pedaling to a healthier lifestyle in this once know “land of the giants”. Take the centenarian tour with us. After all I always say, “you can’t learn everything from a book, you have to live it!”
ROBERT BOLSOS, 2015 JANUARY 16TH