The 5 Blue Zones of the World and What Makes Them So Awesome
With illness and disease becoming more and more prevalent in the world, people are searching for ways to be healthier and live longer. For people that live in Blue Zones, however—these are concerns that they just don’t have. Well, for the most part, anyway.
In case you’re unfamiliar with Blue Zones, they are regions of the world where a “higher than usual number of people live much longer than average,” according to Wikipedia. They also have low rates of chronic disease. Scientists and researchers have been fascinated with these parts of the world and have narrowed down the lifestyle factors that seem to contribute to this health and longevity.
Here’s a bit about these Blue Zones and what makes them so awesome. Maybe we could all learn a thing or three.
Where are the Blue Zones?
There are only five Blue Zones on the entire planet and each one is geographically unique.
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
The Nicoya Peninsula region of Costa Rica was the subject of research back in 2007. The Nicoya diet is generally centered around corn tortillas and rice, and the people are known to be extremely active into their old age. They also pride themselves on having a sense of life purpose known as the “plan de vida”.
In 2009, a study conducted on this island revealed the highest percentage of 90-year-olds on the planet. In fact, nearly 1 in 3 people who live there will live to 90 or older. It’s also been found that Icarians have nearly 50% lower rates of heart disease, 20% lower rates of cancer, and dementia is almost non-existent. They eat a Mediterranean diet rich in vegetables, fish, olive oil, and red wine.
The islands of Okinawa have been found to have a very high amount of people who tend to live near the age of 100, as well as some of the world’s oldest women. The Okinawans eat a diet containing lots of soy, sweet potatoes, rice, and other veggies. They also regularly practice the meditative form of exercise Tai Chi.
Loma Linda, California
Loma Linda is home to a large group of Seventh-Day Adventists who are ranked some of North America’s longest-lived people. They are known to be very strict vegetarians and live in tight-knit communities which create a solid sense of belonging.
Demographers found a ‘hot spot’ of health and longevity in Sardinia where a large proportion of men tend to live over 100 years old—particularly in the mountain villages of Ogliastra, Barbagia of Ollolai, and Barbagia of Seulo.
The Lifestyle Factors of Blue Zones
There seem to be some common diet and lifestyle factors that contribute to the health and longevity of people in Blue Zones. Here’s a general breakdown.
Dan Buettner first wrote about Blue Zones in a National Geographic cover story back in 2005 titled “The Secrets of a Long Life.” In his article, he narrowed down 9 lifestyle characteristics of people living in Blue Zones.
1. Moderate and regular physical activity – We already know that regular exercise has plenty of benefits, including disease prevention and mood-boosting effects. For those that live in Blue Zones, being active doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym. In fact, many times it simply consists of constant daily movement, often in the form of work and daily tasks.
2. Having a life’s purpose – As mentioned earlier, the Nicoyans call it the “plan de vida”. The Okinawans call it ikigai. Whatever you want to call it, knowing why you’re waking up every morning makes Blue Zoners happier, healthier, and adds years to their lives.
3. Reduced stress – Of course, stress is a normal part of anyone’s life. However, for those that live in Blue Zones, they take regular effort to reduce stress. For example, Sardinians have happy hour with friends, Adventists in Loma Linda pray, and Ikarians take daily naps.
4. Moderate calorie intake – Not only is what they eat important—but how much people in Blue Zones eat is equally important. In general, people in Blue Zones tend to stop eating when they are 80% full instead of 100% full—resulting in the intake of fewer calories.
5. (Mostly) Plant-based diet – Beans seem to be the main focus in Blue Zone diets, followed by vegetables, fruit, and whole grains. Meat is eaten very rarely, if ever—with a focus on fish and poultry.
6. Moderate alcohol intake (specifically wine) – Consuming one or two glasses of red wine is common practice in the Sardinian and Icarian Blue Zones. Doing so may help prevent heart disease, lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, and improve sleep.
7. Regular engagement in religion or some sort of spirituality – Blue Zones are typically associated with some sort of religion or spirituality which has been shown to be associated with a lower risk of death. This may be because of increased social support and reduced rates of depression.
8. Regular engagement in family life – Having a close and constant connection to family is very common in Blue Zones. In fact, in many of the Blue Zones, grandparents often live with their family in their senior years.
9. Regular engagement in social life – Who you spend your time with on a regular basis can influence your health and longevity as well. For example, when you’re with the ones you enjoy spending time with, your brain releases chemicals and hormones that provide biological benefits (in addition to the mental, emotional, and physical benefits).
Written by Ashley Brewer for Knockaround.