Why Do People Live Longer in Blue Zones? Exploring The Secrets of Exceptional Longevity 

242
2
Bluezone banner
Imagine living 100 years and beyond with full health and happiness! It sounds interesting, doesn’t it? This is a reality for people living in geographical regions called ‘Blue Zones’. Read on to learn more about Blue Zones and the secrets of the extraordinary longevity of the people living there.

What are Blue Zones?

Blue Zones are geographical regions across the globe where people have incredibly high longevity. Residents of Blue Zones often live upto 100 years and beyond without the burden of chronic diseases and sustain a high quality of life.

There are a total of 5 Blue Zones in the world. These are:

  • Sardinia, Italy
  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Seventh Day Adventist community of Loma Linda, California, USA
  • Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
  • Ikaria, Greece

Why are these regions called Blue Zones?

In 2004, Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain published an article in the Journal of Experimental Gerontology, highlighting Sardinia, Italy, where the maximum number of male centenarians live. Centenarians are people who are 100 years of age or older. Pes and Poulin drew concentric blue circles on the map of the villages of Sardinia to indicate the high number of centenarians. They referred to these regions with high longevity as ‘blue zones’.

Expanding upon their demographic research, National Geographic Explorer and journalist Dan Buettner and a group of scientists undertook an exploratory project to identify geographical areas around the world with high longevity. This exploration led to the identification of additional longevity hotspots, where people lived longer and experienced a high quality of life during their older years. Subsequently, all these 5 hotspots came to be called “blue zones’.

Blue zone

What is Power 9?

The nine common lifestyle habits found in the five blue zone regions are called ‘Power 9.’

These habits include:

  1. Move naturally: The residents of blue zones live in environments that require them to engage in physical activities without thinking about it. These include gardening, walking, and other forms of activities
  2. Purpose: Blue Zones have a strong sense of purpose in life through work, family, and community has been linked to greater longevity
  3. Downshift: People living in blue zones have routines that help them shed the stress.
  4. 80% rule: Blue Zoner’s avoid overeating. For example, Okinawan’s stop eating when they are 80% full
  5. Plant based diet: Blue Zone residents mostly eat a plant-based diet with some meat occasionally
  6. Wine @5: People in the blue zone (except the Seventh Day Adventists) consume alcohol moderately and regularly
  7. Belong: The centenarians in blue zones belonged to some faith-based community and attended services
  8. Loved Ones First: Blue Zone centenarians put their families first
  9. Right Tribe: Blue Zoners lived in social circles that supported healthy behaviours

What role does diet play in the longevity of Blue Zone people?

The Blue Zone diet plays a significant role in the longevity of its people.

  • Plant-based foods, which include leafy vegetables, nuts,beans, legumes, yams, whole grains, and fruits, are chiefly characterised Blue Zone diets. Their consumption of meat is meagre and is often restricted to special occasions. Their fruits and vegetables are often fresh, locally sourced, and pesticide free
  • They do not overeat
  • They typically eat a large breakfast and a small lunch. They have their smallest meal during the late afternoon or early evening, after which they do not eat anything for the rest of the day

Overall, these dietary choices provide essential nutrients for the blue zoners while contributing to cardiovascular health, reducing inflammation, and improving well-being.

How do social connections impact longevity in Blue Zones?

Social connections have a significant impact on longevity in Blue Zones. This is evident in the three common traits shared by all five blue zones.

  • Out of the 263 centenarians interviewed in blue zones, all except 5 belonged to some form of faith community. Participating in faith-based services four times per month is shown to add 4-14 years of life expectancy
  • Blue Zoners kept their ageing parents and grandparents close or in their home, which had the additional benefit of lowering the disease and mortality rates of children at home. They remained committed to their partner, which increase their life expectancy by upto 3 years. They also loved their children and gave them time, which meant that these children were more likely to care for them when the time comes
  • Blue zoners had social networks or friends who favourably shaped their health behaviours

In short, social connections profoundly contribute to emotional support, reduced stress, and an overall sense of belonging and purpose for blue zone centenarians.

How does the environment help the longevity of Blue Zones?

The environment in Blue Zones often sustains an active lifestyle, including walkable communities. They move every 20 minutes. They also do gardening, knead their own dough for bread, and use hand-operated tools. In addition, they have access to nature and clean air. These factors encourage movement and significantly contribute to the overall well-being of residents.

Do genetics play a significant role in the longevity of Blue Zone populations?

Research shows that genetics play only about a 20% role in longevity. The remaining 80% is contributed by lifestyle and environmental factors. The shared genetic traits among centenarians, along with positive health behaviours and environments in Blue Zone regions, suggest that genetics and environment may interact to promote a longer life.

How do Blue Zone communities handle stress?

People living in Blue Zones have routines to manage their stress. It varies from community to community. Okinawans venerate their ancestors, Adventists of Loma Linda pray, Ikarians take a nap, and Sardinians do happy hour. These activities reduce stress, prevent chronic inflammation that is caused by stress, and help them live longer.

How does the concept of "Ikigai" contribute to the longevity of Okinawa?

Ikigai, often translated as “a reason for being,” is central to Okinawan culture. This is their vocabulary for purpose. Another similar word is ‘plan de vida’ used by Nicoyans. These communities are able to effectively articulate their purpose for existence. Having a sense of purpose contributes to around seven years of life expectancy.

How can I incorporate Blue Zone principles into my life to achieve longevity?

Here are some lifestyle changes you may adopt:

  • Follow a primarily plant-based diet
  • Eat mindfully, avoid overeating, chew slowly and avoid TV and cellphones while eating
  • Make movement a part of your life
  • Form meaningful social connections
  • Make family a priority
  • Live with purpose

References

  1. Pes, G. M., et al. (2022). “Diet and longevity in the Blue Zones: A set-and-forget issue?” Maturitas 164: 31-37.
  2. Buettner D. The Blue Zones, Second Edition: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. National Geographic; 2012.
  3. Buettner D, Skemp S. Blue zones: lessons from the world’s longest-lived. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016;10(5):318-321. doi:10.1177/1559827616637066.
  4. Buettner, D. and S. Skemp (2016). “Blue Zones: Lessons From the World’s Longest Lived.” Am J Lifestyle Med 10(5): 318-321.
  5. Inquiries Journal. Longevity Blue Zone Centenarians: An Expository Paper. https://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/1899/longevity-blue-zone-centenarians-an-expository-paper. Published May 2019. Accessed December 3, 2023.
  6. Social connections lead to longevity, especially in seniors – Blue Zones. (2017, April 5). Blue Zones. https://www.bluezones.com/news/social-connections-longevity-seniors.
  7. Wilcox BJ, Wilcox CR. The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. National Geographic; 2008.
  8. Blue Zones. PMC. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6125071/. Published July 2016. Accessed December 3, 2023.
Montu
WRITTEN BY

Montu

A skilled Medical writer with an M.S. (Pharm) degree in Pharmacology and Toxicology, who is passionate about scientific research. He is also dedicated to advancing the field and positively impacting the landscape of healthcare and patient care.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 thoughts on “Why Do People Live Longer in Blue Zones? Exploring The Secrets of Exceptional Longevity 

  1. Fantastic site A lot of helpful info here Im sending it to some buddies ans additionally sharing in delicious And naturally thanks on your sweat

  2. I discovered this brilliant website earlier this week, they provide awesome content for their audience. The site owner works hard to educate followers. I’m thrilled and hope they keep up their great service.