Blue zones are areas of the world where people have longer life expectancies and fewer health problems than world populations. The term was first coined by National Geographic explorer Dan Buettner, who identified five blue zones: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Icaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California. These regions share several commonalities, including a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, moderate levels of physical activity, and close-knit social networks. Additionally, blue zone residents typically have a strong sense of purpose and remain engaged in their communities throughout their lives. By understanding the factors that contribute to blue zone longevity, we can learn how to improve our own health and wellbeing.
Let’s explore each of these blue zones.
The Okinawan diet is based on plants, with only a small amount of fish and meat. This diet is low in calories and saturated fat, which helps to prevent obesity and chronic diseases such as heart disease. Another important factor is social support. In Okinawa, it is common for several generations to live together, providing both emotional and practical support for one another. The strong sense of community also leads to increased levels of physical activity, as people are more likely to walk or bike when they know their neighbors will be out and about as well. Combined, these factors create an environment that supports healthy aging, making Okinawa a blue zone.
Sardinia is also a blue zone, and there are several possible reasons for this. First, the island’s isolation has led to relatively little genetic mixing, which may have helped to preserve certain health-promoting genes. Second, Sardinia has a long history of economic hardship, which may have resulted in a selection for genes that promote longevity. Third, the traditional diet of Sardinia – which is high in whole grains, beans, and fruits and vegetables – is rich in antioxidants and other nutrients that have been linked with longevity. Whatever the reason, Sardinia remains one of the world’s blue zones – a testament to the island’s unique history and culture.
Nicoya, Costa Rica
The people of Nicoya have a strong sense of community and social cohesion. They are also very active, both physically and mentally. In addition, they have a healthy diet that is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. Lastly, they have a strong spiritual practice that helps to support their health and well-being. All of these factors contribute to the high life expectancy and overall good health of the people of Nicoya.
Icaria, with arguably the longest life expectancy in the world, has a diet based on fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, and olive oil. Icarians enjoy moderate amounts of wine, avoid processed foods and have an active lifestyle in all age groups, with older adults staying physically active by gardening or walking regularly. Finally, the close-knit community on Icaria provides social support that helps residents live happier, healthier lives.
Loma Linda, California
Residents of Loma Linda live an average of seven years longer than the rest of the US population. Researchers believe that the blue zone designation is again due to the combination of a healthy diet, regular physical activity, and a strong sense of community. Loma Linda residents typically eat a plant-based diet, which has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic disease. They also walk or bike for transportation, and they are involved in faith-based communities, which provide support and social interaction. These factors all contribute to the overall health and well-being of blue zone residents.
Commonalities with these five areas that might inspire us to ponder our own habits include plant-based, or near to plant-based diets, fresh and slow foods, slow living, connection to nature and community and physical fitness. While packing up and moving to these remote destinations might not be feasible, there are valuable lessons to be learned from these blue zone residents about how to live a healthy and fulfilled life. Which is your favourite location?