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  • Writer's pictureSean O'Leary

An Abundant Life

A few exceptional places in the world are called ‘Blue Zones’. These are geographic areas in which people have lower rates of chronic disease and live longer when compared with the rest of the world.

Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and best-selling author coined the term ‘Blue Zones’ to describe areas in the world in which people live exceptionally long lives. The five known ‘Blue Zones’ are located in Greece, Italy, Japan, Costa Rica and California (USA).

Scientists have been researching the genetics, lifestyles and diets of the people who live in these blue zones.

It is worth noting that genetics appears to account for less than a third of the overall impact on longevity. Diet and lifestyle also play critical roles.

People who live in ‘Blue Zones’ characteristically eat a diet high in grains, vegetables, legumes (beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas) and nuts. They also tend not to overeat, engage in periodic fasting and limit alcohol intake.

People who live in ‘Blue Zones’ also engage in natural exercise by building movement into their daily lives through gardening, walking, cooking and other daily chores.

People in ‘Blue Zones’ also get sufficient sleep each night with some taking a short nap during the day.

The ‘Blue Zone’ communities also support mixed-aged populations living together and promote healthy social networks. People who live there also report a strong sense of ‘purpose’, a reason for living or a plan for life.

‘Blue Zones’ are typically religious communities. Several research studies have demonstrated that being religious is associated with a lower risk of death. Benefits include lower blood pressure, increased life satisfaction, higher levels of resilience and a healthier immune system.

In the encyclical ‘Evangelium Vitae’, which means the ‘Gospel of Life’, Pope John Paul II warned of the limitations of interpreting quality of life in terms of economic efficiency, inordinate consumerism, physical beauty and pleasure. He argued for a more holistic definition of the quality of life to include the interpersonal, spiritual and religious dimensions of existence.

The entire encyclical is: ‘a pressing appeal addressed to each and every person in the name of God: Respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life! Only in this direction will you find justice, development, true freedom, peace and happiness’.

Not surprisingly, the Bible also contains recommendations for living a good life, such as reducing worry, eating or drinking in moderation, making peace with our enemies, honouring our parents and connecting our physical wellbeing with our spiritual wellbeing.

The ‘Blue Zone’ research reminds us that we cannot really value long life without valuing all the dimensions of life. For me, this is what it means to adopt a holistic perspective. It is within a holistic perspective that we come to a fuller understanding of life.

In today’s world, there is too much emphasis on a reductionist view of life where every pressing issue is viewed in isolation along with technocratic solutions that may unintentionally damage humanity. For every problem, there seems to be a ‘new’ solution. Yet, many of these ‘new’ solutions ignore a more holistic approach to living an abundant life.

Humanity is relational and strives for tenderness, compassion, sympathy and love in the fullest sense possible. This is God’s way. It leads us to abundant life. In the words of Jesus: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’.


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