Living a long, healthy life is something desired by people around the planet. But in five distinct regions known as "Blue Zones," a number of people have achieved it. Residents of these “longevity hotspots” not only live longer – well into their 90s and 100s – but they also experience fewer degenerative diseases and more healthy years overall. Their advanced age does not discount their quality of life – and they seem to know something that the rest of the world does not. What is it?
The idea of Blue Zones is based on demographic work by Michel Poulain and Gianni Pes. After noticing that the Nuoro Province of Sardinia had a very high concentration of men who lived to be 100, they started looking for other epicenters of longer life – and they found them. All in all, the researchers identified five distinct regions on the planet where people live measurably longer lives.
- Okinawa, Japan – Longest living women on the planet
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica – Latin Americans with positive outlook
- Icaria, Greece – Mediterranean islanders with almost no disease
- Sardinia, Italy – Mountain villagers with great genes & traditional lifestyle
- Loma Linda, California – Seventh Day Adventists in the Inland Empire
The different populations have some distinct traits. Sardinians overwhelmingly carry the M26 marker (aka the “longevity gene”). Costa Ricans on the Nicoya Peninsula drink water that is rich in calcium and magnesium. The Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda abstain from meat and alcohol.
But overall, there are nine distinct characteristics that are shared across the Blue Zones:
- Physical activity. Moderate and regular – no marathons needed.
- Life purpose. A feeling that your life has meaning – knowing why you wake up in the morning.
- Stress reduction. An ability to downshift, and a commitment to doing so routinely.
- Moderate intake of calories. Neither low nor high.
- Diet that is plant-based. Vegetarian, pescatarian, or limited meat in general.
- Low alcohol intake, especially wine. Neither teetotaling nor overindulging.
- Engagement in religion or spirituality.
- Engagement in family life.
- Engagement in social life.
While none of these guidelines are earth-shaking revelations, they do offer additional encouragement for people trying to prioritize a healthy lifestyle. And they show that social engagement and emotional health may be just as important as diet and exercise.
Other great ideas to take away from the Blue Zones project include:
- Eat like the Okinawans, who live by the 2,500-year old Confucian mantra “Hara Hachi Bu” – which means “eat until you are 80% full.”
From the Organic Authority Files
- Longevity appears to be 25% genes and 75% behavior – so what you do can have a very large effect on the length of your life.
- Legumes should be an important part of your diet, including lentils, soy, black beans and fava beans.
- Drinking wine is healthy, as long as daily intake is limited to one glass for women and two glasses for men.
- Surround yourself with happy people in order to be happier.
For further reading, please check out "The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest" by National Geographic Explorer Dan Buettner.
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Photo by Francisco Antunes