Blue Zones and Longevity

Feb 18, 2022

 by Christina Wilson

While healthy aging and longevity are influenced in part by genetic factors, studies have demonstrated that genetics account for only about 25% of the variation in human life expectancy.  Modification of certain environmental factors, such as diet, lifestyle, and psychosocial factors, may support healthy aging and longevity. 

Certain places, like Eastern Asia, have embedded the value of longevity into their cultures for centuries. And it’s not surprising that there are some regions in these countries that have the highest population of healthy longest-living citizens.

What are Blue Zones?

What began as a National Geographic expedition, led by Dan Buettner, to uncover the secrets of longevity, evolved into the discovery of the 5 places around the world where people consistently live over 100 years old, dubbed the Blue Zones.

According to the Blue Zone source, Dan Buettner has spent over a decade researching and identifying places around the world with the highest populations of centenarians (people who live to 100 or more years) without major health problems like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or obesity.

He designated these regions, the Blue Zones. 

Where are the original Blue Zones?

  • Ikaria, Greece
  • Loma Linda, California
  • Sardinia, Italy
  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Nicoya, Costa Rica

After studying the lifestyle and eating habits of the people living in Blue Zones, Dan and his team set out to start the Blue Zone project across America to create healthier, happier, and longer living communities. 

And here’s some of what they found:

  • Double-digit drops in obesity, smoking, and BMI (body mass index)
  • Millions of dollars of savings in healthcare costs
  • Added ~3 years to lifespan after only one year on the project
  • Significant reductions in stress levels
  • Turned some of the unhealthiest ranked cities into the healthiest ranked cities

What Makes the Blue Zones Work?

Okay, so now that we covered a little background, let’s talk how it works.

Dan and the Blue Zone team claim that the success of the Blue Zones is found from a set of behaviors and principles that contribute to not just longevity, but vitality.

Here are the Blue Zone behavior principles to a healthier happier life:

  1. Move in nature for both physical and psychological benefits (try grounding).
  2. Find your purpose. Knowing this can add up to 7 years to your life.
  3. Create a routine to de-stress (like these meditations for every part of the day)
  4. Eat until you’re 80% full. The 20% gap could make a big difference in unnecessary weight gain.
  5. Eat less meat. The centenarians all ate beans for their main protein source, having meat sparingly.
  6. Moderate drinking (1-2 glasses of wine per day) in social settings and with food has shown to be beneficial.
  7. Belong to a faith-based community (denomination doesn’t matter).
  8. Keep family first. Being close to your significant other, parents, or children can extend life expectancy.
  9. Maintain friendships that support healthy behaviors. Healthy social engagement is linked to happier and longer life spans. 

Relax, get outdoors, be social, and don’t indulge too much (just enough).

Blue Zone Foods to Eat and Avoid

According to the Blue Zones rules, here are the foods to eat and avoid:

Blue Zone Foods to Eat

  • Whole Grains (e.g. farro, quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal, whole cornmeal, bulgur wheat)
  • Nuts (a handful per day, variety is good, avoid sugary coatings)
  • Beans (for protein, a cup of cooked beans per day)
  • Fruit & Vegetables (5-10 servings per day). Berries and leafy greens are the most researched. 

Blue Zone Foods to Avoid

  • Sugar-sweetened beverages (unneeded empty calories)
  • Salty Snacks (too much salt and preservatives)
  • Packaged Sweets (e.g. cookies, candies, processed sweets)
  • Processed Meats (linked to cancer and heart disease)

The Blue Zones solution is an excellent example of how a balanced lifestyle incorporating all 3 pillars of health (nutrition, physical activity, and mental well-being) can actually lead to a longer and happier life.