In the US, the average life expectancy is 77 years, while in a Blue Zone living to over 100 isn’t uncommon. The name "blue zones" is derived from researchers labeling the “longevity hotspots” with blue circles on a world map. Blue Zones are found in 5 places on earth with the highest life expectancy or with the highest proportions of people who reached the age of 100.
The 5 locations that met the criteria include:
- Barbagia region of Sardinia – Mountainous highlands of inner Sardinia with the world’s highest concentration of male centenarians.
- Ikaria, Greece – Aegean Island with one of the world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality and the lowest rates of dementia.
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica – World’s lowest rates of middle age mortality, second highest concentration of male centenarians.
- Loma Linda, California – This city has a large proportion of members of the Seventh Day Adventists religion. They live 10 years longer than their North American counterparts.
- Okinawa, Japan – Females over 70 are the longest-lived population in the world.
The mission of Blue Zone living was informed and inspired by the world’s longest-lived cultures to empower individuals to live longer and better.
If you don’t live in a Blue Zone, how can you change your lifestyle to live longer?
Many people likely want to know the secret sauce to living longer, but there may be a path to not only extending your life expectancy but improving the quality of it as well.
Dan Buettner, leader of the National Geographic Expedition, that studied these Blue Zone groups of individuals with the help of medical researchers, anthropologists, demographers, and epidemiologists to find commonality between them and found nine. Based on the Danish Twin Study they found that genetics only likely accounted for 20% of longevity while there were other factors that played a role in determining one’s lifespan.1
The nine cornerstones of lifestyle, referred to as Power 9, which they believe to be crucial factors in living an exceptionally long life are:
1. Moving Naturally
2. Having Purpose
3. Down Shifting
4. 80% Rule
5. Plant Slant
6. Wine @ 5
8. Loved Ones First
9. Right Tribe
Moving Naturally - Individuals are encouraged to not only make time for exercise, but to also move whenever possible. This means walking instead of driving or engaging in gardening instead of relying on mechanical conveniences to complete everyday tasks.
Having a Purpose - Having purpose may seem like a cliché or something difficult to achieve, but it could be a tool to help you live a happier and healthier life. To get inspired, explore your interests to find things you love to do, consider injustices that bother you, volunteer for organizations that matter to you, or talk to others about projects that spark joy in their lives.
Down Shift - Stress can lead to chronic inflammation and ultimately have a negative impact on your health and well-being. Blue Zone promotes engaging in routines that help you manage or shed your stress.
80% Rule - This means eating only until you are 80% full. They believe that the 20% gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it. Slow down and eat with intention.
Plant Slant – Have a diet that contains more intake of beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, which are the cornerstones of most centenarian diets. Other plant food sources include various fruits and vegetables as well as nuts and seeds. This does not mean that all meat is off the table, but meat is eaten only on average only five times per month and servings sizes are limited to 3-4 ounces.
Wine @ 5 - All Blue Zones, except for Adventists, drink alcohol moderately and regularly. They found that those consuming in moderation, 1-2 glasses per day, with friends and/or with food per day outlived non-drinkers.
Belonging – 98% of centenarians interviewed belonged to some faith-based community and the denomination did not matter. They also claim that attending faith-based services four times per month can add 4-14 years of life expectancy.
Loved Ones First - The most successful centenarians in the Blue Zones put their families first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home. They commit to a life partner and invest in their children with time and love.
Right Tribe - The world’s longest-lived people chose–or were born into–social circles that supported healthy behaviors. Nourish friendships with people who will support your healthy habits, challenge you mentally, and be there for you when you are in need.
Is there something I should be eating to live longer?
Blue Zone also provides recommendations for which foods you should eat and when.
-Snack on nuts: About 1-2 handfuls a day
-Drink mostly water: About 7 glasses per day; coffee, tea, and wine in moderation
-Daily dose of beans: Half-cup to one cup per day
-Go wholly whole: Single-ingredient, raw, cooked, ground, or fermented food, and not highly processed
-Fruits and vegetables: 5-10 servings per day
-Slash sugar: Consume only 28 grams (7 teaspoons) of added sugar
-Reduce eggs: No more than 3 per week
-Go easy on fish: Fewer than 3 oz, up to 3 times weekly (choose fish that are common and not threatened by over-fishing)
-When choosing bread: opt for only sourdough (lower in glycemic load compared to other breads) or 100 percent whole wheat (higher fiber content)
-Retreat from meat: Blue Zones centenarians eat about 2 oz or less about 5x per month
Foods believed by Blue Zone researchers to promote longevity:
Vegetables: fennel, leafy greens, potatoes, shiitake mushrooms, squash, sweet potatoes, wild greens, yuca, seaweed, kohlrabi
Fruits: avocadoes, bananas, lemons, papaya, tomatoes, sweet peppers
Beans (Legumes): black beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, fava beans, lentils, peas, peanuts
Grains: barley, brown rice, maize nixtamal, oatmeal, whole grain bread, quinoa, farro, amaranth, millet
Nuts and Seeds: almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, walnuts, chia seeds, pecans
Beverages: coffee, green tea, herbal teas, red wine (in moderation), water
Other: garlic, honey, Mediterranean herbs, milk thistle, olive oil, soy milk, tofu, turmeric, miso, dashi broth
If you are looking to adopt more of the Blue Zone eating patterns and foods into your diet, you can view a collection of recipes to get you started: https://www.bluezones.com/recipes/
The cornerstones of Blue Zone practices are built upon implementing healthy habits to not only prolong how long you live, but the quality of the life you live. So, although the answer to living forever does not exist, making a few changes to your food choices and lifestyle might bring you just a little bit closer to finding it.
- Buettner D, Skemp S. Blue Zones: Lessons From the World's Longest Lived. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016;10(5):318-321. Published 2016 Jul 7. doi:10.1177/1559827616637066
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Life Expectancy. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/life-expectancy.htm