retirement living

[Blue zones] Who would have thought? Blue zones in Makati?

Bing Caballero

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[Blue zones] Who would have thought? Blue zones in Makati?
Our bridge club members know their stuff. Every day, they count themselves fortunate to be enjoying good health and engaging in various activities.

Finally, I found a bridge club: the Philippine Tournament Bridge Association at the Elks Club in Makati. I was really rusty but was thankfully paired with one of the young national team members (yes, we have a national team).

After getting over my epic fail as a bridge player, I had a chance to look around the room and noticed that a good number of the players were in their ’80s. They were all sharp as tacks and remembered every single card that had been played. No dementia problems here. They were all in good health, not avoiding any particular items on the menu. The ladies were well put together, dressed casually, trendy. No canes. There was an occasional wheelchair – but more for convenience than necessity.

During a break, as I was chatting with one of the ladies, she said, “Ah, you live in Makati Cinema Square! I’m there every Saturday at Dancing Queen!” To my surprise, near shock, she said, “Argentinian tango lang.”


I asked my bridge partner, how old is she?

“Titang? Ask her.”

Baka ma-offend.”

“No one gets offended about age here.”

I asked. Titang is 90, declaring her age with a broad smile and a slight silver-haired hair toss. If there was an emoji for this moment, I certainly could have used one. Say what you will. She prefers tango because her partner has a good hold on her, but at the end of the day, that’s a good three hours on the dance floor in dancing shoes!

And this brings me to the matter of the Netflix documentary, Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones by National Geographic author, explorer and 3-time Guinness record holder for distance cycling, Dan Buettner.

Buettner spent the last 20 years trying to solve the mystery of longevity, why certain parts of the world had the highest number of centenarians. What kept them in good health in their old age? His research brought him to Okinawa, Sardinia, Loma Linda in California, Nicoya in Costa Rica, and, finally, Singapore.

Move naturally

In Okinawa, old people went about their daily chores or hobbies, regularly met with friends and relatives playing games and singing. In Sardinia, it was very much the same. People walked everywhere, made bread, cooked food together to share with their families. In Nicoya, women prepared tortillas the traditional way, grinding corn against stone and kneading the dough as they have done for generations.

As it turns out, daily activities of walking, preparing food, cleaning up, gardening, and moving naturally proved to be better than hours at a gym. A common diet of fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts and grain was evident in all the Blue Zone regions.  The Mediterranean diet has long been known to be healthy. 

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[Blue zones] Pardon the rant, it’s just old age

[Blue zones] Pardon the rant, it’s just old age

So the bridge story gets better.

I sat across two formidable players, Inday at 95 and Alice, 89. Again, no memory problems here. Inday said she keeps herself busy with the family business.  No particular diet. But her key is just a glass of milk and a banana for dinner. She said you have to give your system a chance to digest. 

Did she do this instinctively? No food after 6 diet? Intermittent fasting? In Okinawa, they stressed that what mattered was not only what you ate, but how much you ate.

One of the bridge players, Ms. Abla, stands tall and smart, her posture held up well because of her years of yoga. Her secret? “If you have a craving, give in to it. But just a little.” In other words, don’t eat the whole chocolate bar.

Okay, a handful of bridge players do not a Blue Zone in Makati make. But after reviewing Buettner’s basic principles which he developed from the Blue Zones he visited, it became more and more apparent that these bridge players, I call them 89’ers, knew what they were doing towards enjoying a healthy life through their ’90s – and perhaps more.

Faith, purpose, connection

In Buettner’s work, Loma Linda, California, was featured for its a strong 7th day Adventist community. Their motto, “Evangelism through health.” In Sardinia, they were devout Catholics; in Okinawa, what was common was ancestral veneration.

Buettner cited a study that showed that participating in spiritual services more than once a week, extended one’s life by 7 years. It doesn’t matter what religion. This is available to all of us.

In all cases, respect and care for elders, and their inclusion in social activities, proved beneficial for elders as well as the young who enjoyed the wit and wisdom of previous generations.

In Singapore, the government gave special housing subsidies to families who lived with their elders.

Our bridge club Blue Zone 89ers know their stuff. Every day, they count themselves fortunate to be enjoying good health and engaging in their various activities – whether it’s bridge, walking groups, dance, charities, prayer groups, or Joy Luck Clubs.

They are all playing with a winning hand. They don’t pass. They go for game. –

With special thanks to the inspiring ladies mentioned in this article: Titang Montinola, Inday Canoy, Alice Briones and Abla Assad.

Bing Caballero returns to the literary scene after a long hiatus. She may be remembered for Ishmael Bernal’s Broken Marriage (Urian best screenplay with Jose Carreon) and her Palanca Award for Poetry Songs in Three Continents. The column’s name was inspired by Dan Beuttner’s work on the world’s blue zones.

1 comment

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  1. HS

    Dancing is a proven activity to avert dementia and Alzheimers. It’s a physical and mental activity together unlike repetitive gym stuff. So Dancing Queen is a happy place.

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