Blue Zones: 9 Secrets of the World’s Healthiest People

Posted by Sandra Scott on

Want to live longer?

And stay in perfect health while you’re doing it?

Well if you look at the parts of the world where people are truly living long, healthy lives – the Blue Zones – you see similarities in their lifestyles that you can adopt too.

Their approach to wellbeing is a bit different – but it could just be the secret to a longer, healthier life.

Take a look…

 

Ogliastra in Sardinia is home to some of the oldest men in the world

 

It’s easy to think that your genes play a big part in how long you live.

But in fact genetics only account for about 20-30% of longevity.

Whereas environmental influences, like diet and lifestyle, play a huge role in determining your life expectancy.

So there’s everything to play for.

  

What are the Blue Zones? 

The Blue Zones are five regions of the world that have a high concentration of people who live to be over 100 years old.

And not only that.

These people also benefit from better cardiovascular, metabolic, and overall health outcomes.

They’re truly living longer, healthier lives.

First recognised by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow, who discovered that these parts of the world have some striking similarities in their way of life.

And these are diet and lifestyle habits that we can easily adopt too.

 

Where are the world’s Blue Zones? 

In his book The Blue Zones, Buettner describes the five known regions where people are living exceptionally long, healthy lives:

 

  • Ogliastra, Sardinia (Italy)
    This mountainous island in the Mediterranean is home to some of the oldest men in the world. They typically work on farms, walking several miles a day and eat a largely plant based diet.
    They also drink a lot of red wine.
    Sardinia produces a type of wine that’s rich in polyphenols—antioxidant-rich micronutrients that scientists have linked with health benefits.

 

  • Icaria (Greece) 
    The residents of this tiny Greek island live, on average, 8 years longer than Americans do.
    As well as enjoying a Mediterranean diet - full of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and olive oil - Icarians take a mid-afternoon siesta every day.

 

  • Okinawa (Japan) 
    Okinawa, off the coast of Japan, is home to the world’s oldest women.
    Okinawans eat a lot of soy-based foods and also practice tai chi, a meditative form of martial art.
    Okinawan culture also places a heavy emphasis on social interaction – helping to relieve stress.

 

  • Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica) 
    The people of this peninsula along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, eat a diet based around beans, corn tortillas and tropical fruit.
    They regularly perform physical jobs well into old age. Most notably they also have a sense of life purpose - “plan de vida”.
 
  • The Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, California (USA) 
    This religious group of people are strict vegetarians and live in tight-knit engaged communities.
    Many of the residents of Loma Linda enjoy an active lifestyle well into their 90s, making a point to move their bodies every day.
    But at the same time they strictly observe a day of rest each weekend.

 

 

What can we learn about living a long, healthy life from Blue Zones? 

While these communities span five different countries, there are several diet and lifestyle factors that are common to all of them.

And Buettner believes these nine factors are the secret to a long, healthy life.

 

01 | People Who Live in Blue Zones Eat a 95% Plant-Based Diet

All five of these regions primarily eat a plant-based diet - filled with unprocessed foods and fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains.

With both Icaria and Sardinia adding fish to their diet – an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.

And even the communities which are not vegetarian only eat meat around once a week. A smart move considering studies show that avoiding meat can help you to live a longer and healthier life.

So what are the benefits of a plant-based diet?

A plant-based whole food diet offers protection to prevent and reverse disease - helping to reduce the risk of male health concerns, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.

It also helps in developing stronger bones, healthier muscles, increased endurance, flexibility and brain functionality.

And eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy plant oils will keep your skin looking healthy and glowing too.

 

To copy the Blue Zone diet stick to:

  • Fruit and Vegetables: These are a great source of vitamins, minerals and fiber. And eating five portions of fruit and veg a day helps to support excellent cardiovascular health, boosting your immune system and fighting infection.
  • Legumes: Legumes - beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas - are an excellent source of protein, and are shown to reduce inflammation, lowering the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
  • Whole grains: Whole grains, rich in fiber, help to reduce blood pressure, and lower your risk of colorectal cancer and heart disease.
  • Nuts: Packed full of protein, fiber and polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Eating nuts has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, as well as increased longevity.

For more on the benefits of a plant-based diet, and what it can do for your skin, seeGet Healthy, Glowing Skin With These 9 Plant Based Foods”. 

 

  • Fish: Omega-3 fats in fatty fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel help reduce the risk of heart attacks and protect against cancer, as well as improving cognitive function.
    And in clinical trials in Japan salmon was found to improve both sports performance and reproductive performance in men.

And there’s more excellent food choices to add to your diet here -An A-Z of the best anti aging foods for men”. 

 

 

02 | They Follow the 80% Rule and Fast Regularly

Both calorie restriction and periodic fasting are common in Blue Zones. And both of these can significantly reduce risk factors for certain diseases and prolong healthy life.

Calorie Restriction: Okinawans follow an 80% rule – meaning they stop eating when they feel 80% full.

This stops them consuming too many calories, and so avoiding weight gain and chronic diseases associated with excess weight.

Fasting: As well as reducing your overall calorie intake, periodic fasting appears to be very beneficial for your health as well.

All types of fasting help to bring down your blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and lower the risk factors for chronic disease. 

 

 

03 | They Consume Alcohol … in Moderation

Apart from Adventists in Loma Linda, Blue Zone residents enjoy alcohol on a fairly regular basis.

Drinking one or two glasses of red wine per day is common in Icaria and Sardinia. With sake being the favorite in Okinawa.

Indeed lots of studies show that drinking one to two alcoholic drinks per day can be really good for your health - reducing heart disease, significantly lowering blood pressure, lowering blood sugar, increasing “good” cholesterol and improving sleep quality.

And the high levels of antioxidants found in red wine, particularly Sardinian wine, help prevent the damage to DNA that can contribute to aging and are important for longevity.

 

 Blue Zones: 9 Secrets of the World’s Healthiest People

Drinking one or two glasses of red wine per day can be really good for your health

 

04 | Exercise Is Built Into Their Daily Life

In the Blue Zones, people don’t see exercise as a separate activity carried out in the gym.

They prefer to move naturally – with exercise built into their daily lives through walking, gardening and other daily chores.

And for Sardinian men it’s the living on steep slopes and walking great distances that have contributed to their longer lives. 

 

Other Blue Zone Habits That Lead to longevity

Aside from diet and exercise, other lifestyle habits - common to the Blue Zones - influence how long we live.

 

05 | People in Blue Zones Know How to De-stress

It’s been known for a while that stress can have a negative impact on how long you live – as well as your quality of life.

And people living in the Blue Zone all have first-rate ways of destressing – from getting adequate rest to socialising with friends and practising faith. All things that are very important for living a long and healthy life.

In the Blue Zones, people make sure they get enough rest and a good night’s sleep. In fact they don’t have set hours, they just sleep as much as their body tells them to – and often take afternoon “siestas’ too.

 

 

06 | They Build Strong Communities

People in Blue Zone regions place an emphasis on a sense of community. They put support systems in place and build healthy social networks of like-minded friends.

The psychological and emotional benefits of this are immense.  

And surrounding yourself with healthy friends reinforces your own healthy habits.

 

 

07 | They have a Sense of Purpose

People living in Blue Zones have a life purpose - known as “ikigai” in Okinawa or “plan de vida” in Nicoya – which translates as “why I wake up in the morning”.

So be confident and stand for causes bigger than yourself.

Nothing makes you look and feel younger than having a purpose.

 

 

08 | They’re religious or spiritual

Blue Zones inhabitants typically belong to some type of faith-based community.

Whether it’s the sense of social support this gives, or the reduced rates of depression, research shows that being spiritual is associated with a longer life.

 

 

09 | They Put Loved Ones First

Family comes first in Blue Zone communities.

This means taking care of aging parents and grandparents, and investing time and love in their children. With many generations living together in the same house or nearby.

 

  

The Takeaway 

The Blue Zone regions are home to some of the oldest and healthiest people in the world.

And although they span five different countries - and their lifestyles differ slightly -  they have many things in common we can learn from.

  1. They Eat a 95% Plant-Based Diet
  2. They Follow the 80% Rule and Fast Regularly
  3. They Consume Alcohol in Moderation
  4. Exercise Is Built into Their Daily Life
  5. People in Blue Zones Know How to De-stress
  6. They Build Strong Communities
  7. They have a Sense of Purpose
  8. They’re religious or spiritual
  9. They Put Loved Ones First

By incorporating these into your lifestyle, it’s possible for you to add a few extra years to your life too.

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