Blue Zones are the names given to geographic locations in the world where people typically live past 100. The benchmark for becoming a Blue Zone is having a centenarian rate that is an astonishing three times higher than the national average. Ikaria in Greece, Villagrande in Italy, Okinawa in Japan, and Nicoya in Costa Rica are just a few global areas where long life is almost taken for granted. In the small southern California town of Loma Linda, about 9,000 Seventh-day Adventists — comprising half the population, practice ‘messages’ of health. Most Seventh-day Adventists follow a vegetarian diet, and also consume healthier alternatives like whole grains, nuts and plenty of water in their daily regime. Seventh-day adventists keep company with other members in their church and this socialization helps to alleviate stress and underpins the healthy lifestyle they all practice. This way of living is thought to be one of the main reasons why this population lives four to ten years longer than the average Californian.
On the small Greek Aegean island of Ikaria, the elderly eat well, garden regularly, nap every day, and even stay sexually active. With roughly one in every three Ikarians reaching the age of 90, this population is inclined to live 10 years longer than the rest of Europe and America. The natural diet of this community is highly similar to that of the well known Mediterranean diet, consisting of basic foods such as fish, olive oil, red wine, unpasteurized honey, herbal teas, lentils, garbanzo beans, black-eyed peas, and small amounts of dairy products (except for goat’s milk), sugar and meat. The professed health benefits of the Mediterranean diet run the gamut from lowered risks of heart disease to better mental health — all of which can contribute to extending the lives of these Greek island seniors.
In Okinawa, Japan, the Japanese island women are three times more likely to reach 100 than North American women. Craig Wilcox, a Canadian gerontologist studying the population, says these elders keep active to stay alive. In Okinawa, there is no term that stands for traditional retirement. Older adults, who were once farmers and fisherfolk, still participate in community activities and exercise groups (such as tai chi), while also tending to their gardens daily. Many seniors on this island firmly believe in continuing to socialize with life-long friends and realizing a purpose to their lives. Staple foods in Okinawa are vegetable-centric and include plenty of leafy greens, sweet potatoes, along with fish containing omega-3 fatty acids. The locals also practice a Confucian teaching that promotes eating until you are only 80 percent full.
In Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica, males are seven times more likely than their Costa Rican counterparts to reach 100 years old. The people of Nicoya tend to eat large breakfasts and small dinners. The staples of their diet include plenty of black beans, corn tortillas, eggs, squash, and a good deal of local fruit. They eat rather large portions of chicken and pork which may unfavourably affect their blood pressure and weight.
According to Uplift Film and Television, the average person’s life expectancy could increase by 10 – 12 years by adopting a Blue Zones lifestyle. People in Blue Zones practice intermittent fasting. They eat plenty of vegetables and consume beans, lentils and soy daily which represents the cornerstone of their diets. Meat is only consumed five times a month at most and even then in small portions. The size of these portions does matter and Blue Zoners never eat until completely full. They adopt an 80% rule, leaving 20% of room in the stomach to prevent weight gain and risk of disease. All of the Blue Zone areas, except for Adventists, drink in moderation and a glass of wine with friends and a meal seems to extend life. Physical activity in all the Blue Zone areas tends to involve natural movement with enjoyable pastimes like gardening, walking and tai chi. Seniors awake each day with a strong sense of life purpose which seems to drive them to live longer, healthier lives. Dan Buettner, author of Blue Zones, Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, claims that knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy. Most centenarians living in the Blue Zones belong to some faith-based community. Embracing a spiritual belief system provides elders with social support and can help to alleviate loneliness and depression. People living in the Blue Zones experience stress just like the rest of us, but how they handle it makes all the difference. The world’s longest-lived people have developed behaviours for controlling their levels of stress. Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap, Sardinians enjoy a happy hour, and Okinawans take a few minutes each day to remember their ancestors. Finally, keeping a strong connection to family and friends creates lasting bonds that follow Blue Zoners until their final days, because no one wants to pass from this world alone. A close social circle and a strong community base have served to favourably shape the healthy behaviours of our long-lived Blue Zone neighbours.