Blue Zone denotes areas of the world where people exceed the average lifespan. Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow, coined the term Blue Zone as he was highly interested in those who lead longer and healthier lives.
There are 5 areas identified as Blue Zones. Beyond listing the 5 places, I will break down the unique practices and lifeways of those who live in these areas.
Sardinia has the highest concentration of male centenarians (a centenarian is a person who lives over the age of 100). As we will see in many of these Blue Zones, Sardinians consume a plant-based diet that resembles the Mediterranean diet. Thus, Sardianians eat whole grain bread, beans, garden vegetables, fruits, and a small amount of sheep's milk and cheese. They also drink red wine for the benefits of antioxidants which lowers inflammation and oxidative stress. Beyond their eating choices, Sardinians lead an active lifestyle as shepherding and farming are so integral to their daily routine.
Okinawans consume a plant-based diet and take in a moderate amount of fish. Similar to Sardinians, Okinawans have activities planted into their daily routines. Okinawans practice low-intensity exercises such as tai chi and gardening. Unique to the Okinawa lifestyle is the Confucian concept of Hara Hachi Bu: a mindful eating practice (also a way that they control calorie consumption) in which Okinawans eat until they are 80% full. This practice supports heart health and longevity.
Nicoya has the lowest rate of middle age mortality. 70% of their diet consists of 'The Three Sisters' of Mesoamerican agriculture: corn, squash, and beans. Additionally, Nicoyans engage in movement throughout the day since their agricultural practices are very labor-intensive.
Those in Icaria eat a Mediterranean diet. This Blue Zone is unique because Icaria is a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, so their lifestyle tends to be a bit more relaxed than that of other Blue Zones. In Icaria, there is an emphasis on leisurely activities and afternoon naps. This relaxation promotes stress reduction which supports longevity!
The only Blue Zone in the United States, Loma Linda, is one of the main Seventh-day Adventist cities. This is a Protestant Christian denomination that follows the Bible diet. This is a mostly vegetarian diet and alcohol and smoking are prohibited. Beyond their diet, those in Loma Linda engage in frequent exercise.
Beyond each Blue Zone’s unique practices and lifeways, it is critical to mention that each area highly values social connections, volunteerism, and active living environments (like farming, which promotes social cohesion as communities work together). Blue Zones prioritize multi-generational interaction, where elders share wisdom with the younger generations, who in turn, provide companionship.
Ultimately, Blue Zones share many similar habits and practices such as consuming a primarily plant-based diet, engaging in physical activity, building social connections and community, obtaining low-stress levels, and maintaining a sense of purpose in life. Each of these factors, paired with environmental and cultural support, heavily contributes to longevity.
How can we use these lessons from the Blue Zones? A lot of the time we spend bored scrolling through social media, we can begin practices that support longevity. My top suggestions: gardening, volunteering in your community, trying new recipes, and connecting with your neighbors. These activities incorporate activity, social connection, and healthy eating- all tips we can take from Blue Zones!