The Blue Zones represent five areas in the world that are home to the longest-living and healthiest people.
The locations are:
- Okinawa, Japan
- Sardinia, Italy
- Nicoya, Costa Rica
- Ikaria, Greece
- Loma Linda, California
According to National Geographic Fellow and New York Times bestselling author, Dan Buettner, people who live in Blue Zones lead lifestyles that promote longevity and lessen the likelihood of developing chronic illness. He outlines 9 key components of these lifestyles, grouped into 4 categories: Move, Right Outlook, Eat Wisely, and Connect.
Residents of the Blue Zones don’t really set aside time to exercise. Instead, they incorporate natural movement into their daily lives. For example, they opt to take the stairs; they garden; they avoid sitting all day; they cook from scratch and do so while standing up and moving around. When they do go to the gym or purposefully get exercise, they choose an activity they enjoy.
Takeaways: Find creative ways to move naturally throughout your day. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator; walk to a nearby store instead of drive; set a timer to stand up and stretch every hour. Additionally, when you practice fitness, don’t force yourself to complete an activity — instead, find exercises you enjoy that also get your heart rate up.
Blue Zoners make time for themselves to unwind. Instead of adhering to the constant go-go-go mentality that has pervaded western culture, people who live the longest slow down and do so consistently.
Takeaways: Develop a nighttime routine that’s compatible with your preferences and schedule — a ritual that signals it’s time for your body and mind to prepare for rest. Infuse it with calming elements, such as lavender essential oil, candles, chamomile tea, or a comfortable set of pajamas. Avoid stimulating electronics or thought-provoking reading before bed. Instead, set the stage to unwind.
Residents of Blue Zones prioritize living according to a sense of purpose. Based on the research, knowing and activating your purpose can add 7 good years onto your life span.
Takeaways: Ask yourself what you’re most excited about doing or seeing when you wake up. This question can clue you into your sense of purpose. For some, it might be taking care of their grandchildren; for others it may be working in a creative position that they love; and for some people it may be seeing the sunrise every morning. Consider what excites you and try to incorporate more of it into your everyday.
Wine at 5
Here’s some good news — people who live the longest drink wine on the regular. Certain types of wine (mostly red) are high in polyphenols, naturally-occurring compounds that can help prevent chronic diseases and promote a healthy lifestyle. Studies have found that drinking a serving each day of red wine can reduce inflammation, promote heart health, lower blood pressure, lessen your risk of dementia, and strengthen your mitochondria.
Takeaways: If you enjoy wine, consume a glass of a polyphenol-rich red a few times a week.
Blue Zone diets aren’t 100% plant-based, but they are majority plant-based. Typically, people living in these areas consume animal products infrequently and only during special occasions. Otherwise, their diet is comprised of mostly plant-based foods.
Takeaways: Try swapping one animal-based food item with one plant-based option 3–5 times per week. If that type of eating works well for you, consider increasing your plant-based consumption and lowering your animal-product consumption even further.
People who live the longest avoid overeating. The “80% rule” refers to the practice of stopping eating when you are 80% full. It takes a while for the “full” signal to reach your brain, and it’s during that period that many people overeat.
Takeaways: Instead of eating until you feel totally full, put on the breaks a little sooner. If you still feel hungry an hour later, eat a bit more. However, most likely, you’ll realize you’re no longer hungry and you’ll have avoided over-indulging.
Those who live long, high-quality lives maintain a group of close friends or family with whom they support and feel supported. The “right tribe” is one that inspires you, lifts you up, and supports you when you’re down. In turn, you do the same for them.
Takeaways: Surround yourself with people who motivate you, and who you can inspire as well.
Loved Ones First
Blue Zoners prioritize their loved ones. They feel a strong sense of loyalty toward those they hold close.
Takeaways: Recognize the key people in your life and make them a consistent priority through your actions and words.
Many of these folks belong to some kind of community that provides a sense of belonging. Many of these communities happen to be faith-based or spiritual. Research found that having this sense of spiritual belonging can add 4 to 14 years onto your life if you keep up with it at least 4x per month.
Takeaways: Consider where you feel the biggest sense of spiritual belonging. Pursue a community that has similar values and interests.
Ultimately, there is no short-term solution for longevity. It’s encouraged through healthy habits, commitments to long-term wellness, and an open mind.
To learn more about Blue Zone lifestyles, check out this Ted-Ed Talk with founder Dan Buettner:
About the writer: Janet M. Early is a health journalist and health coach based in Los Angeles, California. To read more of her writing, visit www.janetmearly.com.