Those parts of the world with more centenarians than anywhere else.
I first heard of Blue Zones about 4 years ago. I was amazed to learn there were places in the world where reaching 100 years old was considered common, let alone being a healthy, active 100-year-old. I wanted to learn what made these people different, and why these zones were considered some of the happiest and healthiest places on Earth.
What are Blue Zones?
Blue Zones are communities of people around the world who live longer than the average human. But what’s more, these people don’t just live longer, they’re also quite active and relatively healthy up until the end of their lives, and have lower cases of disease compared to places like America.
The five Blue Zones are:
- Sardinia, Italy
- Okinawa, Japan
- Loma Linda, California
- Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica
- Ikaria, a Greek Island
What’s interesting is these places aren’t actually close to one another, but spread far and wide across the globe, and the people there don’t necessarily share common backgrounds or ethnicities.
Researchers have continued to study what Blue Zone communities have in common and have pinpointed a few common traits among them that we can incorporate into our own lives for more happiness, better health and longevity.
What Do All the Blue Zones Have in Common?
Blue Zone people seem to have a very balanced approach to life, and live in moderation which I think is a key attribute to their health and happiness. Some of the basic traits they have in common despite their cultural differences are:
- They Eat Mostly Plants but a little Animal Meat too – People living in Blue Zones eat a diet made up of mostly plant foods; beans, soy, lentils, etc. However, they also enjoy meat on the odd occasion. They eat meat on average around five times a month and their portions are around 3-4 oz.
- Have Strong Purpose – People living in Blue Zones wake up each day with purpose. According to Dan Buettner “Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to 7 years of extra life expectancy.“
- Incorporate Natural Movement – Movement is so important for health, but what’s interesting is these people don’t go to the gym. Instead, they incorporate natural movement into their everyday lives. The environment in which they live promotes movement without them needing to think about it. For example, they may garden or do housework without tools and machinery.
- Follow the 80% Rule – In Okinawan culture, a mantra is said before meals which reminds them to finish eating when they feel 80% full. Those in Blue Zones also don’t eat large meals before bedtime, but rather eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon and then don’t eat anything else afterwards.
- Enjoy a Glass of Wine – People in Blue Zones (except for the Adventists) drink 1-2 glasses of red wine each day.
- Develop Routines that Help Relieve Stress – Everyone experiences stress, even those living in Blue Zones. Chronic stress has a huge effect on the immune system and if experienced over long periods of time, can cause illness. However, those living in Blue Zones have learnt to develop routines and practices that help them relax and release stress. They have daily rituals such as prayer, taking a nap, making some time to reflect and remember their ancestors, and doing happy hour.
- Have a Tribe of Like-Minded People – Those in Blue Zones chose to be in (or were born into) communities of people who supported healthy lifestyles. Researchers have found that lifestyle choices are contagious – whether good or unhealthy. The group of people we’re surrounded by can really shape our health behaviours.
- Have a Community Where They Feel They Belong – Almost all of the people in living in Blue Zones who reached 100 years of age reported being apart of some faith-based community. Researchers found that attending just four faith-based services a month could lengthen life expectancy by 4-14 years.
- Good Relationships – People in Blue Zones prioritised family first. They devote quality time with their children, keep aging relatives nearby or in the house, and also commit to a life partner, which can add up to 3 years of longevity.
What Can We Learn from Blue Zones?
By studying Blue Zones, we can apply some of the common qualities and traits carried out in these areas to improve our own lives. Some of the areas I’m working on adopting from Blue Zone research include:
- Journaling, going out on more nature walks, exercising regularly, doing a technology detox, listening to music, and doing yoga daily to help reduce stress
- Eating a wide variety of different foods (grown locally), eating pastured-raised eggs (but not a lot), and eating less to improve my health and nutrition
- Building a community around me – since moving I haven’t had a big social group or many social events occur to see friends or family – by scheduling a regular weekly catch-up with friends and joining new social groups in my area with people who share similar interests (such as hiking groups, art and wine nights, church events, etc.)
I think one of the biggest changes we can make, particularly in this day and age, is to turn off our phones and be present with people we love.
For some practical ideas on how to incorporate some of the Blue Zone qualities into your own community, see the Blue Zones Project.
As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products. I am not a doctor. All opinions expressed are my own personal thoughts and feelings of the products mentioned. Check with your doctor or health practitioner if you are uncertain about trying out any of the products, recipes or tips mentioned in this post.
Have you heard of Blue Zones before? Have you incorporated any of their principles into your own life? Share in the comments below
Lots of love,