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It is said that there are five blue zones in the world. The blue areas are the areas where people live the longest and healthiest. It is an unscientific term given to regions that are home to the oldest people in the world. Okinawa in Japan is known as the healthiest place in the world. Others include Sardinia in Italy, Nicoya in Costa Rica, Ikaria in Greece, and Loma Linda in California, USA.

In all five places, the common denominator when it comes to their diet is that it is mostly plant-based with whole grains, beans, green vegetables, nuts, and sweet potatoes or potatoes (provisions ), the most important being beans. They don’t eat a lot of meat, dairy, processed foods, sugary foods, or sugary drinks. They eat fish, drink plenty of water and tea first, with wine and alcohol in moderation.

It’s not just about what they eat, but how they eat. It usually takes 20 minutes after starting a meal for your hormones to let your brain know you’re full. Often we eat fast, overeat, and then feel too full afterwards when the brain realizes the stomach is now too full. The blue zone mentality is to eat slowly so that there is less chance of overeating before the brain signals to stop eating when the stomach is full. Another aspect is the 80% rule.

You have to stop eating not when you feel full but when you feel 80% full. It generally prevents overeating and reduces caloric intake. People who live in Okinawa call it “hara hachi bu” when you follow the 80% rule and stop when you are 80%.

Diet, however, is only part of the picture. There is also plenty of walking and exercise, especially when exercise is incorporated into daily life. People in the blue zone live in areas where they must walk daily as part of their daily routine. They also take short naps during the day and try to get enough sleep on a daily basis.

There is also a strong sense of community, social activity and purpose. They invest in family, keep their minds engaged, and are driven by the meaning and purpose of life. More importantly, they are not alone. They live in areas where they form close social bonds with each other. Grandparents live with families and young and old are together.

Trinidad and Tobago, of course, is not part of the blue zone. Probably in my mother’s generation, when she was a teenager over 60 years ago, there was maybe more of that mentality in less urban areas where there were more tight-knit communities with daily marches and a more plant-based staple diet. .

Over the years, our diet has become more meat-based; we are served larger portions of meals; we also eat said larger portions and ‘itis’ is part of our daily lives as we eat too much and feel too full and sleepy afterwards. We drive or take public transport if we have to travel near or far.

We barely walk as part of our daily activities. Young and old are often not together and our elderly people sometimes live alone or in homes for the aged. The families live apart from the grandparents and visit them about once a week, to pass. People are lonely, especially our elderly population.

Now add the Covid-19 pandemic which has added an extra dimension. Although there are obvious direct effects of the pandemic, for example, the healthcare system, children and school online, the entertainment industry, the carnival industry and the hospitality industry, there has silent phantom pandemics that are in the background.

The mental health pandemic is a huge one, but another big one, which has not been seen, is the pandemic of the elderly, who were isolated before, but with the pandemic their fears have increased, their feeling of uncertainty was overwhelming, their social network reduced to less than 25%, their sense of purpose stripped and their loneliness increased exponentially.

It is the same group that was most vulnerable with Covid-19 and had to isolate themselves as much as possible.

The Trinidad and Tobago Pensioners Association (TTARP) and other seniors groups were on hiatus. There was no travel, and the usual reunions of small groups of old friends were discouraged.

Hours and days were blurred. Loneliness and lack of family and social interaction reversed cognition and suddenly names and numbers were hard to extract from memory, suddenly stories repeated themselves and there was a general feeling of being confused and unsure, but worse still, unsure of how to stop the slide.

As mentioned above, a plant-based diet, exercise as a daily routine, life purpose, good quality sleep, family intimacy with young and old together, social connections and not being alone are some of the tips for living a longer and healthier life. Coming out of this Covid-19 pandemic, maybe a new thing to start with is having a Blue Zone in your own home.

While you do that, let’s look in the shadows and see the elderly population that has also been badly affected. They were once the main generation. After the pandemic, let’s not make them the missing generation.

Joanne F Paul is a speaker with

The UWI and also a member of the TEL institute (Think Educate Learn)