Blue zones are rare areas scattered around the globe where people seem to live considerably longer healthier lives.
A famous example of a Blue Zones is the Japanese island of Okinawa. On this island, there live five times more centenarians (people 100 years or older) than in Western countries.
This considerable difference in lifespan is not due to genetics, given when people migrate from Okinawa to, for example, the US or Europe, their descendants have lifespans that are 17 years shorter on average.
Other examples of Blue Zones are the Mediterranean island of Sardinia off the coast of Italy, the Greek island of Icaria, or a religious community called the 7th Day Adventists in California.
Dan Buettner coined the term Blue Zones. He and many other scientists have studied these Blue Zones, and other similar Longevity Zones.
So what do these Blue Zones or Longevity Zones have in common?
1. People often eat a mainly plant-based diet, mainly consisting of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, mushrooms. There is no Blue Zone or Longevity Zone in the world where people eat a lot of animal protein. This should be a wake-up call (one of the many) for people still believing that a paleo or high-animal protein is the best diet in the long term (it’s not).
2. People in Blue Zones often eat little meat. If they do eat animal protein, it’s mostly white meat (poultry like chicken or turkey) or fish. Many studies show that white meat and fish is healthier than red meat.
3. They consume lots of healthy fats, like from olives, olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados. The western diet contains too little healthy fats, and too much unhealthy fats, like the ones found in fast food, pizza, fried food, oils and dressings, and so on.
4. They consume few fast digesting carbohydrates. This means no or very, very little fast food, soda, cookies, chips. But also less bread, pasta and potatoes.
5. They consume lots of spices, such as turmeric, oregano, parsley, thyme. Spices have many health-promoting effects, like reducing inflammation, protecting the DNA, improving mitochondrial functioning, and so on.
6. In some Blue Zones, like in Japan, they adhere to the “80% rule”: they stop eating when 80% percent full, so before they are fully satiated. In most western countries, people eat until they are completely full. Simple put: they eat less.
7. They take time for rest and tranquility. People in Blue zones often take an afternoon siesta, meditate or practice tai chi or qigong.
8. Social contacts. People are engaged in their community, have friends or people they look after or that look after them.
9. They refrain from unhealthy habits: they do not smoke and drink alcohol in moderation.
10. They engage in deliberate or natural exercise. Natural exercise means that they get exercise by their daily living activities, like walking a lot around their farm, tending to their crops or animals, living on hilly terrain, or do a lot of walking because they don’t have a car or public transport.
11. No retirement: often these people do not retire but keep working until a very old age, so that they stay engaged and keep feeling useful and have goals and purpose in life.
12. These people have a positive attitude towards aging and life in general. They are often upbeat people with a positive disposition (R).
Blue or Longevity Zones have provided valuable insights into how to live a long, healthy life.
These old, healthy and active people show us the tremendous power of a healthy lifestyle, in which nutrition, exercise, social contacts, stress reduction and having purpose and goals in life play important roles in staving off disease and frailty and even death.
Ideally, we should strive to create Blue Zones everywhere in the world. Perhaps you can set up a Blue Zone in your village, town or neighborhood!