If you have a Netflix account, you are probably familiar with a recent docuseries called “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones.” It follows Dan Buettner, a researcher and writer, who has written several books about blue zones and blue zone diets. Through his most recent book, The Blue Zones, and the docuseries, Buettner explores lifestyle and dietary habits in areas of the world that have the largest population of centenarians (people who live over 100).
What Can Blue Zones Teach People?
According to a March 2018 report, life expectancy in the U.S. was 78.8 years. An even more alarming statistic is that life expectancy in America is declining for the first time in decades. As of this year, life expectancy is down to 76.4 years. That is lower than the life expectancy, which ranges from 80.7 and 83.9 years, in peer countries.
With all of that information in mind, the goal of Buettner’s blue zone expedition was to highlight what people do to live as long as possible. These blue zones have the highest concentration of centenarians and researchers note that people who live in these places share certain behavioral and lifestyle characteristics. Although these blue zones are full of different races, nationalities, and are in different regions, there are various similarities. Family coherence, avoidance of smoking, eating lots of plant-based foods, social engagement, and daily moderate physical activity are all commonplace in blue zones.
Where Are These Blue Zones?
There are five blue zones where researchers found the longest-living people on Earth. These areas are as follows:
- Sardinia, Italy
- Ikaria, Greece
- Okinawa, Japan
- Nicoya, Costa Rica
- Loma Linda, California
In addition to the above areas, Buettner also included Singapore in his book about blue zones. It is a fascinating case study because it doesn’t share the same characteristics that those five blue zones do. The life expectancy in Singapore skyrocketed 20 years since its founding in 1965. Singapore is more urbanized than other blue zones, proving that you can live longer even if you don’t live in a specific type of environment.
Buettner details that the average U.S. lifestyle and diet is not a recipe for longevity. Processed foods, sedentary behavior, and limited exercises can contribute to a shorter life expectancy. Making changes to your diet and adding a daily exercise routine may help change that. Additionally, your attitude and general outlook on life also factor into how long you live. The people who live in blue zones grow old in a much healthier and more optimistic state. Not only do these people live longer, but they also live better. Below, you’ll find a few lessons that you can adopt from blue zones.
Avoid Processed & Packaged Foods
People in blue zones consume diets that are very low in sugar, pesticides, and artificial ingredients compared to the Standard American Diet. Blue zone diets tend to consist of locally grown foods and only use small amounts of natural sweeteners on occasion. Refined sugars, carbohydrates, and added sugars in the U.S. contribute to high rates of obesity and diabetes. If people in blue zones want a treat, they opt for antioxidant-rich guilty pleasures like red wine, sake, herbal teas, or simple desserts made with locally produced cheese or fruits. Adhering to a diet that consists of whole food ingredients, many of which have a low glycemic index, may be the path towards a longer life.
Exercise Often, But Make It Enjoyable
If you don’t enjoy the activities you engage in, you lose interest in exercise. Centenarians in blue zones tend to lead active lifestyles, but don’t set foot in a gym and they don’t dread exercise. They remain active as a way of life, gardening, engaging in community events, and completing chores with their hands instead of machines. They run errands on foot and typically practice gentle to moderate forms of exercise, such as yoga, Tai Chi, or playing sports/games with friends/community members.
Spend More Time With Family And Nature
It’s a sad reality, but a large percentage of the U.S. population doesn’t pay much attention to elderly people. In blue zones, family is everything! In Loma Linda, CA (a rare exception in the U.S.), for example, there is a weekly 24-hour sabbath that the Seventh-day Adventists practice. They focus on family, God, camaraderie, and nature. Senior living homes don’t really exist in blue zones because there is an expectation to take care of the elderly, especially older family members. Older people play an integral role to their communities in blue zones, remaining active and important well into their 90s.
Learn To Appreciate Whole, Real Foods
Although centenarians are not typically vegans or vegetarians, their diets mostly consist of plant-based foods. They rely on homegrown or locally grown foods, focusing on whole grains, legumes, sweet potatoes, herbs, fruits, vegetables, and quality fats like olive oil. They also focus on fermented foods (kefir, tempeh, miso, and natto), high quality dairy products (grass-fed goat milk and homemade cheeses), and more wild-caught fish than beef or poultry. Focusing on more plant-based foods means that people in blue zones consume more fiber, antioxidants, and potential anti-cancer compounds. Eating in such a way also reduces the risk of diabetes, stroke, heart attacks, cancer, and dementia, all of which are prominent health problems in the U.S.
The takeaway is that living a longer, healthier life doesn’t just come from one single practice. A combination of habits may help you stay healthy into your later years. How does your life compare to those in blue zones, and what can you do to change it?