Last updated September 13, 2023
Blue Zones are geographic areas of the world that are home to some of the oldest people on Earth. Studies of residents of these areas reveal the secrets to long and healthy lifespans.
What have researchers found? It seems that there are many factors that play into longevity.
For example, eating a plant-based diet, moderate alcohol consumption, exercise and getting enough sleep are all important for a long and healthy life. Additionally, having a sense of purpose and being part of a supportive social network deem to be important for Blue Zone residents.
Nine Secrets to Longevity in Blue Zones
Take heed to these nine secrets to longevity so that you can learn how to live a happier and healthier life, too.
1. Follow a Plant-Based Diet
A plant-based diet is one of the healthiest ways to live — and some health experts say it’s our best shot at a long, healthy life. The term “plant-based” is a little bit ambiguous.
But generally refers to a diet that’s heavy on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and low on processed foods, meat and dairy.
It may also be called a vegan diet or vegetarian diet, depending on whether you are eliminating eggs, cheese and other animal products.
2. Fasting and the 80% Rule
Fasting is more than just the latest diet craze. People have been fasting for centuries. And the health benefits are no joke. Fasting is a healthy practice that can help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure and boost your immune system.
Yet fasting isn’t just good for your body. It’s good for your brain, too. Researchers have found that fasting can help your brain stick to new habits and even help you think more creatively. Not only that, but fasting can even lead to longer life.
The 80/20 rule is a guide that can help you make healthier choices in your everyday diet. It goes something like this. Eat nutritious foods 80 percent of the time and allow yourself a serving of your favorite treat with the other 20 percent.
When focusing on the “80 percent” part of the plan, aim to drink lots of water and eat nutritious foods that include whole grains and fruits and vegetables. By doing this, you’ll be setting up yourself for success in making smarter choices about the food you eat on a daily basis.
3. Physical Activity
There are plenty of reasons to exercise, and not just for the sake of losing weight. Exercising can improve your health, reduce your stress levels and boost your mood. If you exercise regularly, you’ll feel better, sleep better, have more energy and live longer.
4. Consume Alcohol in Moderation
Alcohol, when consumed responsibly, is actually good for your health. When consumed in moderate amounts, alcohol (especially red wine) has been proven to have health benefits. These include reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, lowering blood pressure and even reducing the risk of diabetes.
5. Get Enough Sleep
You know that you need to get enough sleep, but do you know why? Sleep is the best way to restore your body and mind, the key to a healthy, happy lifestyle. For those who sleep a healthy amount, it may seem strange to hear that they are in better health than someone who sleeps too little or too much.
The fact is, people who don’t get a healthy amount of sleep are more at risk for heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, depression and even car accidents. It’s also been shown that people who sleep a healthy amount are more productive at work and more focused, which means they get more done.
6. Faith-Based or Spiritual Affiliation
Blue Zones have been traditionally associated with religious communities. This is because a number of studies have found that faith-based or spiritual affiliation is linked with a lower risk of mortality. People who pay attention to their spiritual side also have reduced rates of depression.
7. Nurture a Life Purpose
People who live in areas known as the Blue Zones have something called “ikigai” in Okinawa or “plan de vida” in Nicoya, which translates to having a life purpose. And having this purpose is linked with a lower risk of dying, possibly because it boosts mental well-being.
8. Sense of Belonging
People with a wider social circle not only tend to live longer, but also lead healthier lifestyles. This is likely because they have more friends to motivate them to exercise and socialize regularly.
Furthermore, people with larger social networks typically have a greater sense of purpose in life. This is also beneficial in terms of work and career opportunities, as they are more likely to get hired or promoted. In other words, finding your right tribe can lead to greater success in life.
9. Family Ties
Happy and healthy centenarians put their families first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home. They also commit to a life partner (which can add up to three years of life expectancy) and go out of their way to invest in their children with time and love.
The Five Blue Zones
The Blue Zones map includes the five regions of the world with the longest-living and healthiest populations.
1. Okinawa (Japan)
Okinawa is one of the world’s Blue Zones, areas with a high concentration of centenarians (people over 100 years old). The Okinawa diet, rich in Okinawan sweet potatoes, soybeans, mugwort, turmeric and goya (bitter melon) is thought to be one of the secrets to the longevity of Okinawan elders.
2. Sardinia (Italy)
Sardinia is an island off the coast of Italy with the highest concentration of male centenarians in the world. The Sardinian diet is low in protein and associated with lower rates of diabetes, cancer and death for people under age 65.
3. Nicoya (Costa Rica)
Costa Ricans attribute their longevity to several factors, including strong faith communities, deep social networks and a habit of regular, low-intensity physical activity.
4. Ikaria (Greece)
The longevity secret of Ikaria in Greece is partially attributed to their diet, which is based on the Mediterranean diet—emphasizing fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts and olive oil. Fish and poultry are also eaten in small quantities, while red meat and dairy products are consumed in moderate amounts.
5. Loma Linda (California)
This community has the highest concentration of Seventh-day Adventists in the United States. The residents who follow a biblical diet of grains, fruits, nuts and vegetables live 10 more healthy years than the average American.
Blue Zones Teach Us How to Live a Happy and Healthy Life
Blue Zones are areas of the world with the highest concentration of people living to 100 years old. The people in these places share common habits and lifestyle practices, like eating a plant-based diet, consuming only moderate amounts of alcohol, exercising, getting enough sleep, having a sense of purpose and being part of a supportive social network.
This is why they live happy and healthy lives. By studying Blue Zones, we can learn how to live happier and healthier lives, too.
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