Jean Huber, LCSW

What Are the Blue Zones and How Do They Affect Longevity?

Living in paradisaical conditions—clean air, sunshine, fresh and healthy food, taking it easy.

Who wouldn’t want that?

Just dreaming about getting away from the pollution-filled environment of the big city—skyscrapers, noisy streets, fast food, daily rush of work deadlines—seems to add length to your lifespan.

But are there such magical places where you just live longer automatically?

Well, there are some places in the world that boast a rather high proportion of long-lived people. The “automatic” part of their longevity, though, is certainly debatable.

Researchers have dubbed these places “the blue zones.”

What and Where Exactly Are the Blue Zones?

Researchers looking all over the world for key populations with the highest numbers of centenarians (people reaching 100 or beyond), discovered five specific locations with a concentration of the longest-living persons on earth.

These five blue zones are (in alphabetical order):

  • Ikaria, Greece – An Aegean Island that has one of the world’s lowest rates of mortality of middle-aged people and the lowest proportion of dementia in the world.
  • Loma Linda, California, USA – An area where a high concentration of the religious group of the Seventh Day Adventists lives. On average, they outlive their North American counterparts by 10 years.
  • Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica – This region boasts the world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality and the second highest concentration of males living to the age of 100 and above.
  • Okinawa, Japan – The females living over 70 in this area of the world are the longest-lived population of women on the earth.
  • Sardinia, Italy – People living in the Barbagia region (a mountainous highland) of this small island off the coast of Italy, particularly in an area called the Nuoro Province, make up the world’s highest concentration of male centenarians.

More impressive than their age, though, the world’s longevity champions also live better. Despite reaching or passing the century mark, the majority of them are not plagued by a lot of chronic health conditions but are still very much enjoying a high quality of life.

How Do the Blue Zones Affect Longevity?

Studies have found that only 20% of people’s life expectancy is determined by genes. The rest has to do with a person’s lifestyle and environment.

The research done in the blue zones has certainly added to the understanding that longevity isn’t automatic just because you live in a certain location. Of course, it helps to live in a cleaner environment. But it’s not all about the place, it’s also about the lifestyle traits of these centenarians.

What lessons can we learn from the information collected about people living in the blue zones?

1. Have a purpose in life

Knowing why you wake up in the morning gives sense and purpose to your life. It can add up to seven years to your life expectancy. That alone should make it worth considering what goals you’re pursuing.

2. Counteract stress

Of course, even the people living in the blue zones experience stress. But they generally have routines to counteract it. Rest, prayer, reflection, meditation, and having a fun time helps them combat having anxieties cut their lives short. Making sure you have time to decompress can do the same for you.

3. Be in motion

Blue zone inhabitants don’t go to the gym, run marathons, or give a whole lot of thought to exercising. Instead, they create environments that encourage them to naturally move throughout the day without thinking about it. Having a garden, doing yard work, and living without modern mechanical conveniences does that for them. Perhaps it’s time you evaluate all the things you rely on each day and start doing a few things by hand.

4. Eat sensibly

Having meat every day is way overrated. Centenarians from the blue zone eat a mainly plant-based diet and only a few times per month indulge in meat. They also keep their portions small and stop eating before they feel full. We could lose weight and increase our longevity with that recipe.

5. Drink moderately

Regular moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers… and over-drinkers, of course. In general, people in the blue zones indulge in a glass of wine or two every day, usually with food and in the company of friends. And no, saving all week and then have 14 glasses on the weekend does not work!

6. Promote healthy behaviors

One important way of helping us promote healthy behaviors is hanging out with people who encourage those type of behaviors. Blue zone dwellers choose social circles that support healthy habits. Research has shown that such things as happiness, obesity, smoking, and more are contagious. When you associate with people that shape your behavior favorably, they can motivate you to avoid a lot of unhealthy habits.

7. Develop strong social networks

A sense of community—social, spiritual, genetic—can add to your lifespan. In fact, blue zone centenarians stay close to their families. They commit to a partner for life and invest time and love in their children. And they keep aging parents or grandparents in their home or nearby and have regular contact with them. Living this way can even help your children stay healthier.

After reading all this, take just a moment now and think about your own lifestyle. Is your diet full of processed foods? Your day packed with responsibilities and deadlines? Do you have any time for relaxing and exercising? Do you think the type of life you’re living will add or take away from your potential maximum lifespan?

Why not seriously consider making changes to your attitude, your outlook, your diet, and your exercise routine. Research concludes that you can actually increase your chance of getting back an extra decade of your life if you make sensible adjustments. Would that alone not make it worth imitating the lifestyle of the centenarians in the blue zones?

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