Lifestyle

Blue Zones: 15 Things We Can Learn From People Who Live to 100

Most people like the idea of living long lives while staying healthy enough to enjoy them. However, with the average life expectancy ranging between 70 and 72 years old worldwide, this may not be long enough for some people. (1)

A few regions of the world seem to have cracked the code to a longer and healthier life with the majority of their population living well into their 100s. Multiple studies of these areas support the findings that these populations are generally healthier as well. These areas are the Blue Zones.

Contents:

Defining a Blue Zone
The Five Largest Blue Zones in the World
15 Things We Can Learn From Blue Zones

  1. They Eat a 90% Plant-Based Diet
  2. They Only Eat Small Amounts of Quality Meat
  3. They All Perform Stress Reduction Strategies
  4. They Rarely Consume Dairy and Don't Eat Refined Sugar
  5. They Have Optimally Performing Guts
  6. They Incorporate a Lot of Beans Into Their Diet
  7. They Have Purpose
  8. They Are Active in Natural Ways
  9. They Have a Strong Sense of Family and Community
  10. They Constantly Hydrate
  11. They Occasionally Fast
  12. They Include Wine in Their Daily Diets
  13. They Eat Larger Meals Earlier and Smaller Meals Later in the Day
  14. They Create a Healthy Living Environment
  15. They Find Their "Tribe" or Group

Bottom Line

Defining a Blue Zone

As we mentioned Blue Zones are areas of the world where the population is healthier, has fewer disabilities and enjoys longer lifespans than the average population. They first came into knowledge when the National Geographic did a survey of populations worldwide to find the longest-lived people in the world to study them. (2)

The areas where they found the longest-lived populations earned the name of the Blue Zones. These small pockets in the population are situated around the world, and there are several common trends that run through all of the Blue Zones in regards to lifestyle choices. These could potentially be the keys to unlocking the mystery of longevity. But, before we get to these 15 things, we're going to go over the five major Blue Zones around the world.

The Five Largest Blue Zones in the World

The following Blue Zones were areas where the population meet criteria such as living to or over 100 years old, enjoying low disability rates and had fewer health problems than the average person their age. These blue zones are:

  1. Barbagia Region- Sardinia, Italy- The Barbagia region of Sardinia is mainly mountainous highlands with rugged terrain. The Blue Zone is home to the world's single highest concentration of males who live to and over 100 years old. This was one of the first Blue Zone areas identified and studied. (3)
  2. Ikaria, Greece- Researchers recorded that the Greek island of Aegean is another Blue Zone. This smaller island has one of the lowest dementia rates by population size. It's also home to one of the lowest rates of middle-aged morality in the world. (4)
  3. Loma Linda- California, United States- Loma Linda is a smaller town in the state of California that is home to a large population of Seventh Day Adventists. On average, this population lives around a decade longer than the average American. (5)
  4. Nicoya Peninsula- Costa Rica- Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula is home to worlds lowest middle-aged mortality rates. This peninsula also houses the second-largest population of male centenarians in the world. (6)
  5. Okinawa, Japan- The final large Blue Zone is in Okinawa, Japan. The picturesque island is home to the longest-lived female population in the world. The female population over who are over 70 years old claim this title. (7)

15 Things We Can Learn From Blue Zones

You don't have to live directly in or around a Blue Zone to potentially increase your own lifespan. Instead, you can take 15 things that the population in these Blue Zones do and incorporate them into your everyday life. You could see yourself living longer and being healthier by following these 15 things:

1. They Eat a 90% Plant-Based Diet

Unlike come culture's diets, people in Blue Zones enjoy a diet that is mostly plant-based. Adding a lot of plants to your diet and decreasing your meat intake gives you a healthy and filling diet that is easy on your system. (8)

This type of diet comes packed with essential vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants and fibre. It includes things like whole grain, fresh fruit and fresh vegetables. They get most of this food locally, and it's usually grown within 10 to 15 miles of their home. People in Blue Zones also tend to eat a wide variety of fruits along with vegetables to add variety to their diets and ensure that they get clean, healthy and balanced meals. (9)(10)

2. They Only Eat Small Amounts of Quality Meat

Unlike most traditional Western diets that focus on meat and build a dish around it, Blue Zones are the opposite. They only eat meat a few times a month at the most, and it has to be a high-quality cut from a reputable source. In fact, four out of the five Blue Zones only eat meat three or four times a month at the very most. (11)

This means that roughly every 1 in 20 meals features a cut of meat. They also eat smaller amounts of meat that weighs in at around three or four ounces. For scale, this is roughly the size of a pack of playing cards. One study showed that people who eat more meat-heavy diets have an increased risk of developing health problems. (12)(13)

3. They All Perform Stress Reduction Strategies

Stress is something you deal with every day, but most of the population doesn't put importance on having effective stress reduction strategies in place like Blue Zone residents do. Stress can cause a multitude of health problems including high blood pressure, increased risk of strokes and heart attacks and a shorter lifespan. (14)

Residents who live in Blue Zones make it a priority to perform stress reduction strategies each day. The Ikarians take a short daily nap, Sardinians do a happy hour or drink a glass or two of wine and Adventists pray and take comfort in their beliefs. All of these things lead to lower stress levels. (15)(16)(17)

4. They Rarely Consume Dairy and Don't Eat Refined Sugar

Foods with a high sugar content rarely make the mealtime cut in all of the Blue Zones. They also don't add sugar to their food. Instead, they save their sugar intake for sweeter-tasting wines or fruit. In turn, this helps to lower the occurrences of diabetes across the board. (18)

Dairy is also another staple that Blue Zone populations don't have a lot of. When they do have dairy, it doesn't go through the processing routine. Goat's milk is a popular dairy item these populations add to their diets because it's easier to digest than cow's milk, has higher tryptophan and has higher amounts of calcium. (19)(20)

5. They Have Optimally Performing Guts

Many diets today add artificial preservatives or ingredients to make them taste better and last longer. However, these ingredients can cause digestive problems or chronic health problems that come with developing intestinal permeability. Intestinal permeability can lead to problems like system-wide inflammation. (21)(22)(23)

Eating a diet that is more toward the natural side can help reduce any chances that you end up with intestinal permeability or other digestive problems. Plants have a lot of fibre that helps to keep your digestive system healthy, and people in Blue Zones eat a mostly plant-based and natural diet. This also helps to keep the bacteria levels balanced throughout their digestive tract, and they're able to extract more nutrients each time they eat. (24)(25)(26)

6. They Incorporate a Lot of Beans Into Their Diet

In Western Society, beans are more of a side dish, and they're not a staple at every meal. This can lead to dietary issues because eating a diet is rich in different varieties of beans is a fast and efficient way to give yourself a boost of vitamins and minerals. On average, people in Western society eat beans once or twice a week. (27)

In Blue Zones, the residents eat different varieties of beans usually once a day. Ikarians like to add garbanzo beans and black-eyed peas to their diet in almost every meal because they're rich in antioxidants, fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals. Also, other Blue Zones typically eat beans an average of five to seven times per week. (28)(29)

7. They Have Purpose

As we age in Western Society, many people find themselves losing their purpose. Maybe their kids have grown up and moved out or they separated from their spouse of many years. This can leave people lost and floundering, and their mental and physical health can suffer as a result. This can reduce their lifespan. (30)

If you go to Blue Zones, you'll notice that the people there wake up every day with a purpose in mind. This could be visiting friends, taking care of family or doing something they enjoy to improve their health. This is extremely important because researches found that people who have a purpose live around seven to ten years longer. (31)

8. They Are Active in Natural Ways

More than 80% of the population in the world doesn't get enough exercise during the day. Technology has made it very convenient to stay immobile, and it's taking a toll on the general health and well being of the population. These statistics get worse as the population ages and it becomes more difficult to move around. (32)(33)

Blue Zone residents are active in very natural ways. For example, they do lawn or garden work by hand instead of relying on machines. They walk where they need to go instead of getting a ride, and they do their own housework. The average Ikarian walks up to six miles every single day just to accomplish the tasks they set for themselves. (34)(35)

9. They Have a Strong Sense of Family and Community

Getting lonely and being deprived of human interaction can lead to a variety of health problems on both a physical and mental front. In Western culture, around 80% of the older population reports feeling lonely or isolated. This can lead to depression, chronic health problems and cognitive decline after age 65. (36)(37)

In Blue Zones, it's not uncommon to see multiple generations living in the same home. The grandparents help to raise their grandchildren, and family and community ties are strong. They usually commit to a partner, and it's not unusual groups of people to meet each evening at a local cafe or bar for games and social interactions. This can help strengthen the bond between the family and community members and ward off depression. (38)(39)(40)

10. They Constantly Hydrate

Staying hydrated is a constant struggle for a lot of people all over the world because it isn't a priority. People are so busy in their everyday lives that they forget to take a few minutes and re-hydrate, and this can lead to health problems. Studies show that staying hydrated can help to prevent certain diseases or breakdown of your systems. (41)(42)

Since residents of Blue Zones don't eat or drink things that contain artificial flavouring, excess sugar or artificial ingredients, they stay hydrated by drinking a lot of water. Water helps to flush their bodies of any toxins or waste build up, hydrate their joints to keep them healthy, and it promotes cell health. (43)(44)(45)

11. They Occasionally Fast

To many cultures, fasting is a common occurrence that takes place on a weekly basis or during important religious holidays. In Western culture, fasting is more of a health community thing that people participate in, and this can cause a problem with weight gain, poor health in general and cognitive decline. (46)(47)(48)

Many members of different Blue Zones participate in occasional fasting practices. They stop eating red meat and dairy as well as occasionally olive oil and wine as well. They add squid and octopus into their plant-based diet to balance the missing staples. This switch combined with intermittent fasting can slow the aging process and improve diabetes, blood pressure and weight management. (49)(50)(51)

12. They Include Wine in Their Daily Diets

Drinking a glass or two of wine each day may seem excessive to some people, but there are proven health benefits to drinking a good wine once a day. It's not recommended for people who have chronic health issues or certain health problems, but most people would be fine adding this to their routine. (52)

Every Blue Zone except for the Seventh Day Adventists Blue Zone in California incorporates wine into their diets. Red wine has studies that show it can improve heart health, cardiovascular health and help to add antioxidants into the body. This can result in a healthier body with reduced chances of cardiovascular issues or illness, and the antioxidants can also help to make you look younger. (53)(54)(55)

13. They Eat Larger Meals Earlier and Smaller Meals Later in the Day

Many cultures put a lot of importance in eating smaller meals for breakfast and lunch and indulging in larger and heavier meals in the early evening hours. However, this practice can lead to disrupted sleep patterns, weight gain and even an elevated risk for diabetes or cardiovascular problems as you get older. (56)(57)

On Okinawa and Ikaria, it's common for people to eat a larger breakfast, a moderately-sized lunch and a very small and light evening meal consisting of a light salad and bread. They also limit any snacking after they eat this light evening meal. This pattern can help with weight management, reduce cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of diabetes and reduce cardiovascular risk. (58)(59)(60)

14. They Create a Healthy Living Environment

Have you ever noticed that people who are unhealthy or make unhealthy life choices either hang around people who make the same choices or they live with people who make unhealthy choices? This can lead to a vicious cycle that can very easily have negative impacts on a person's health and wellbeing. (61)

People in Blue Zones actively work to create healthy environments to live and work in. They don't obsess over things like portion sizes or counting calories. They get plenty of natural movement throughout the day as they go about their tasks, and they do very well with surrounding themselves with people who are like-minded. (62)(63)

15. They Find Their "Tribe" or Group

Forming meaningful connections within a community is essential for health and longevity. For the Okinawans, this means creating moais. These are groups of five friends that commit themselves to each other for their lives. Other people may choose to commit themselves to their immediate family or spouse to help improve their lives. (64)

For other Blue Zone residents, they find their group in their faith. Studies show that having a strong church or faith-based family can increase longevity by as much as a decade. Many people who live in Blue Zones go to their faith-based activities at least three or four times a year. (65)(66)

Bottom Line

These 15 things we can learn from Blue Zones can help you live healthier and happier lives. All of these studies and research show that having a healthy diet may not be enough be live a full life well into your 100s. You have to combine a healthy diet with a healthier and happier lifestyle by forging strong bonds with your friends, family and community.

This can help reduce your stress levels, fight certain diseases and it could potentially improve your life while increasing your lifespan all at the same time. If you plan to make radical changes, we suggest talking to your doctor first and letting them help you get on the right path to a happier, healthier and longer life.

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