“Blue Zones” are geographic and demographic areas of the world where people are most likely to live to be 100 or more. Dan Buettner, National Geographic author and explorer, was the first to identify 5 of these areas. They are the Barbagia region of Sardinia; Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa; Loma Linda, California and Okinawa, Japan.
It’s important to realize there is no one particular food or activity that characterizes these populations, but rather an overall lifestyle. We would do well to learn from these groups since studies show that genes account for only about 25% of longevity. The rest is lifestyle.
Here are some of the traits that “Blue Zone” populations all have in common.
– Family first: Family is put ahead of other concerns. Blue Zone populations tend to keep aging parents and grandparents nearby or in their home, which appears to lower disease and mortality rates of children in the home, also. They commit to a life partner, which can add up to 3 years to a person’s life. They also spend lots of time with their children.
– Plant-based diet: The majority of food consumed is derived from plants. Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Fish is also included, but other meats are consumed only about 5 times per month and in small quantities. These groups eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then they don’t eat any more the rest of the day. They seldom overeat.
– Constant physical activity: The world’s longest living people don’t lift weights, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they grow gardens and do without many modern conveniences for house and yard work. Living in a place where you’re encouraged to move all day long is far better than sitting all day long and then exercising for half an hour.
– Social engagement: “Blue Zone” people of all ages are socially active and integrated into their communities. They spend on average 6 hours per day having face to face interaction with others. Most “Blue Zone” centenarians belong to a religious community. Other research suggests attending religious services four times per month may reduce mortality up to 20%.
– Sense of purpose: The Okinawans call it “Ikigai” and the Nicoyans call it “plan de vida;” for both it translates to “why I wake up in the morning.” If you can articulate your sense of purpose, it can add about eight extra years to your life.
– Red Wine in moderation: People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly (1-2 glasses per day with friends and/or with food).
– No Smoking: It should not be surprising that these populations rarely smoke.