The Blue zones in the world
When you think, where should I take my next trip, think about the blue zones of the world. Get inspired by the local lifestyles and maybe you’ll adopt some of them and unknowingly add a few years to your life.
There are 5 areas in the world that can call themselves ‘blue zones’.
These are places in the world where people live longer than average. And there is a reason for that!
They call it ‘the secret of longevity’. In other words, ‘the secret of longevity’.
We take you to these special places.
We start in the West and travel to the easternmost Blue Zone.
Loma Linda, California
We start with Loma Linda which is located in California. Loma Linda means ‘beautiful hill’ in Spanish. It is located in the San Bernardino region in the state of California, USA.
Loma Linda has one of the highest life expectancies in the world. Residents of Loma Linda are 10 times more likely to live to be 100 than other Americans. The average man in Loma Linda lives to 89, the average woman to 91 – both are ten years older than the national average.
Before you immediately start looking for the Fountain of Eternal Youth, let me tell you that there is nothing in the water. Loma Linda is home to a thriving population of Seventh-day Adventists who place great importance on treating their bodies like temples. They do not smoke, drink alcohol, eat meat and get plenty of exercise.
Only since 1970 has Loma Linda been a city. But it has existed since 1800. At that time, the area was developed for tourists and named ‘Mound City’. Shops and cottages were built. But the project failed. In the late 1890s, a group of Los Angeles businessmen and doctors bought the Mound City Hotel and reopened it as a convalescent home and spa.
And so Loma Linda became a place of rest and healthy living.
Lessons from Loma Linda:
Find refuge in time.
The 24-hour Sabbath, a weekly break from daily worries, provides a time to focus on family, God, companionship and nature. Adventists claim it relieves their stress, strengthens their social networks and provides consistent exercise.
Maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI).
Adventists with a healthy BMI (i.e., weight appropriate for height) who stay active and eat little or no meat have lower blood pressure, lower blood cholesterol, and less cardiovascular disease than heavier Americans with a higher BMI.
Get regular, moderate exercise.
The Adventist Health Survey (AHS) shows that you don’t have to be a marathon runner to maximize your life expectancy. Regular low-intensity exercise, such as daily walks, has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
Spend time with like-minded friends.
Adventists often spend time with many other Adventists. They feel good by sharing each other’s values and supporting each other’s habits.
Snack on nuts.
Adventists who eat nuts at least five times a week are about half as likely to develop heart disease and live about two years longer than those who do not. At least four major studies have confirmed the impact of eating nuts on health and life expectancy.
Give something back.
Like many faiths, the Seventh-day Adventist Church encourages and provides opportunities for its members to volunteer. People like centenarian Marge Jetton stay active, have a purpose and avoid depression by focusing on helping others.
Eat meat in moderation.
Many Adventists follow a vegetarian diet. The AHS shows that eating fruits and vegetables and whole grains seems to offer protection against a wide variety of cancers. For those who prefer to eat some meat, Adventists recommend small portions served as a side dish rather than a main meal.
Eat an early, light meal.
“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper,” the American nutritionist Adelle Davis is said to have recommended – an attitude also reflected in Adventist customs. A light meal early in the evening prevents the body from being flooded with calories during the inactive parts of the day. It seems to promote better sleep and lower BMI.
Use more plants in your diet.
In support of a biblical diet of grains, fruits, nuts and vegetables, Adventists cite Genesis 1:29: “And God said, Behold, I have given you all the herb that yields seed, which is in all the earth, and all the tree, on which is the fruit of a tree that yields seed; it shall be for your meat.” The Adventists encourage a “well-balanced diet” of nuts, fruits and legumes, low in sugar, salt and refined grains. Studies have shown that non-smoking Adventists who ate 2 or more servings of fruit per day had about 70 percent less lung cancer than non-smokers who ate fruit once or twice a week. Adventists who ate legumes such as peas and beans 3 times a week had 30 to 40 per cent less colon cancer.
Adventist women who ate tomatoes at least 3 or 4 times a week reduced their risk of ovarian cancer by 70 percent compared to those who ate tomatoes less often. Eating lots of tomatoes also seemed to have an effect on reducing prostate cancer in men. A new study has found that adherents of this lifestyle have the lowest rates of heart disease and diabetes and very low rates of obesity in the country.
Drink plenty of water.
The AHS states that men and women who drank 5 or 6 glasses of water daily had a significant reduction in the risk of a fatal heart attack – 60 to 70 percent – compared to those who drank significantly less.
Nicoya, Costa Rica
The second blue zone is Nicoya in Costa Rica. It is located on a peninsula that has been cut off from the mainland for a long time. The people here are healthier, fitter, happier and more vital. We can learn a lot from these people.
One is the “plan de vida”, or the reason to live, which promotes a positive outlook on the elderly and helps them to stay active. Another is a focus on family and a special ability to listen and laugh. Nicobe centenarians often visit neighbours, and they often live with family and children or grandchildren who give them support and a sense of purpose.
Read more about the lessons Nicoya, Costa Rica can teach you about living a long life below.
Have a plan de vida.
Successful centenarians have a strong sense of purpose. They feel needed and want to contribute to a greater good.
Drink hard water.
Nicoya’s water has the highest calcium content in the country, which may explain the lower rates of heart disease, stronger bones and fewer hip fractures.
Stay focused on family.
Nicoyan centenarians usually live with their families, and children or grandchildren provide support and a sense of purpose and belonging. Connecting with family and community is very important. Family comes first and several generations of families usually live together or nearby, spend time together, learn from each other and help each other. It is typical that children walk to school together, play outside together and generally know and care for their neighbours. Multiple generations pull away from digital distractions and enjoy each other’s company.
Eat a light meal.
Eating fewer calories appears to be one of the surest ways to add years to your life. Nicoyans eat a light meal early in the evening. For most of their lives, Nicoyan centenarians ate a traditional Mesoamerican diet culminating in the “three sisters” of agriculture: pumpkin, corn, and beans.
An important aspect of the culture is the abundance of fresh, local food. Trees are full of ripe, exotic fruit and local farm stands sell seasonal produce on almost every corner. Ice coconuts, “pipas”, are available everywhere and quench every thirst. Usually, recipes with fresh, complete food are passed from generation to generation and the food is prepared slowly, with much intention and love. When it is time to eat, there are few distractions and the time to enjoy the meal is taken seriously. Several generations share the same dining table. Local restaurants reflect the local culture in their cuisine and unhurried ambience.
Social networks are maintained.
Nicoluan centenarians are often visited by neighbours. They know how to listen, laugh, and appreciate what they have.
Keep working hard but also slow down.
Centenarians seem to have enjoyed physical work all their lives. They find pleasure in everyday physical chores. If you are lucky enough to spend some time in this area of Costa Rica, it is quite easy to see that there is a slower pace of life compared to the ever-accelerating world. Don’t get me wrong, hard work seems to be a constant in the culture. But there is a sense of “if it’s not finished today, relax, because it will still be there tomorrow”. Time to rest is taken seriously – lunch breaks, afternoon naps and Sundays are meant to put your work aside and recharge your batteries.
Sit out in the sun wisely.
Centenarians regularly enjoy the sun, which helps their bodies produce vitamin D for strong bones and healthy body function. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a host of problems, including osteoporosis and heart disease, but regular, “smart” sun exposure (about 15 minutes on the legs and arms) can help supplement your diet and ensure you get enough of this vital nutrient.
Embrace a common history.
Modern Nicoyans’ roots in the indigenous Chorotega and their traditions have allowed them to remain relatively stress-free. Their traditional diet of fortified maize and beans is perhaps the best nutritional combination for a long life the world has ever known.
Get in touch with Mother Nature
The natural environment of Costa Rica in particular is phenomenal! The local people enjoy a deep connection with nature that is becoming increasingly rare in the world. We are surrounded by beautiful scenery and are not afraid to get dirty, feel the sand in our toes and take a dip in the salty blue ocean or the fresh water of the nearby river. Many people work outside and are lucky enough to breathe the fresh air and enjoy the sunshine every day. Leisure activities often include surfing, swimming, hiking, fishing and horse riding.
But what is life like in the third Blue Zone: Sardinia in Italy.
A group of villages in a kidney-shaped area on this island forms the first Blue Zone area ever identified. In 2004, a research team began investigating a rare genetic anomaly among the inhabitants. The M26 marker (a genetic trait) is linked to an exceptionally long lifespan and, due to the geographical isolation, the genes of the inhabitants of this area of Sardinia have remained virtually undiluted Sardinian. The result: almost 10 times more centenarians per capita than in the US.
But more importantly, the inhabitants of this area are also culturally isolated, and they have maintained a very traditional, healthy lifestyle. The Sardinians still hunt, fish and harvest the food they eat. They stay close to friends and family all their lives. They laugh and drink wine together. These are the reasons why Sardinians grow old in good health:
They eat a low-fat, plant-based diet with a touch of meat.
The classic Sardinian diet consists of wholemeal bread, beans, garden vegetables, fruit and, in some parts of the island, mastic oil.
Sardinians also traditionally eat pecorino cheese, made from grass-fed sheep, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Meat is largely reserved for Sundays and special occasions.
Put family first.
Sardinia’s strong family values help ensure that every member of the family is cared for. People who live in strong, healthy families suffer less from depression, suicide and stress.
Celebrate the elderly.
Grandparents can provide love, childcare, financial help, wisdom, and expectation/motivation to uphold traditions and encourage children to succeed in life. All this can lead to healthier, better adjusted and longer-lived children. It can boost the life expectancy of the entire population.
Go for a walk.
Walking, as the Sardinian shepherds do, offers all the cardiovascular benefits you would expect and also has a positive effect on muscle and bone metabolism without putting strain on the joints as in running marathons or triathlons.
Drink a glass or two of red wine daily.
Sardinians drink wine in moderation. Cannonau wine contains two to three times more artery-clipping flavonoids than other wines. Moderate wine consumption may help explain lower stress levels in men.
Laugh with friends.
People in this blue zone are known for their sardonic sense of humour. They meet in the street every afternoon to laugh with and at each other. Laughter reduces stress, which can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Drink goat milk.
A glass of goat’s milk contains components that can help protect against inflammatory diseases in aging, such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Moving eastwards, we come to Blue Zone Ikaria in Greece. The island where people forget to die
The long history of this small island is as rocky as its topography. The Aegean headland has been the target of invasions by Persians, Romans and Turks, forcing the inhabitants to move inland, away from the coasts. The result: An isolated culture rich in tradition, family values and longevity.
Today, Ikarians are almost completely free from dementia and some of the chronic diseases that plague Americans; one in three lives to be 90. This is due to a combination of factors, including geography, culture, diet, lifestyle and outlook. They enjoy strong red wine, late-night dominoes and a relaxed pace of life that ignores the clock. Clean air, warm breezes and rugged terrain draw them outdoors for an active lifestyle.
Ikarians have woven the recipe for a long life into their culture and lifestyle. Follow these common practices to cultivate your own centenarian lifestyle.
Mimic life in the mountains
The longest-lived Ikarians were mostly poor people living in the highlands of the island. They trained mindlessly by simply gardening, walking to their neighbours’ house or tending their own garden. The lesson for us: Incorporate more mindless exercise into our lives and take the time to walk rather than rush to the car.
Eat a Mediterranean diet
Ikarians eat a variation of the Mediterranean diet, with lots of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, beans, potatoes and olive oil.
Stock up on herbs
The people of Ikaria like to drink herbal tea with family and friends, and scientists have found that they have antioxidant properties. Wild rosemary, sage and oregano teas also act as a diuretic, which can keep blood pressure in check by ridding the body of excess sodium and water.
Take a leaf out of the Ikarians’ book and take a mid-afternoon break. People who nap regularly have up to 35 per cent less chance of dying from heart disease. This may be because a nap lowers stress hormones or gives the heart a rest.
Quickly every now and then
Ikarians are traditionally fervent Greek Orthodox Christians. Their religious calendar dictates that they fast for almost half the year. Caloric restriction – a form of fasting in which about 30% of calories are removed from the normal diet – is the only proven way to slow down the ageing process in mammals.
Make family and friends a priority
Ikarians cherish social bonds, which have been shown to improve overall health and longevity. So go out and make some plans.
Choose goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk
Instead of cow’s milk, Ikarians use grass-fed goat’s milk. It contains potassium and the stress-relieving hormone tryptophan. It is also hypoallergenic and can usually be tolerated by people who are lactose intolerant.
Now we come to the 5th blue zone, and that is the Blue zone we named our brand after, at least, the way of life in this Blue zone. Okinawa in Japan.
The islands to the south of Japan have traditionally been known for their longevity and were once called the land of the immortals. Okinawans have less cancer, heart disease and dementia than Americans, and women live longer than any other woman on the planet.
Perhaps their greatest secret is their strong commitment to friends and family. They maintain a powerful social network called “moai”, a lifelong circle of friends who support people into old age. Okinawans also have a strong sense of purpose in life, a driving force the Japanese call “ikigai”. Your ‘purpose’ in life. A combination of doing what you like, what you are good at, what is good for the planet and what you can also do for a living. You can read more about Ikigai here.
Read more about the lessons Okinawa, Japan can teach you about long life below
Despite years of hardship, Okinawans have developed a lifestyle and environment to live long and healthy lives. Follow these ancient practices to promote your own long life.
Embrace an ikigai.
Older Okinawans can easily articulate why they get up in the morning. Their purposeful lives give them a clear role of responsibility and a sense of being needed well into their 100s.
Rely on a plant-based diet.
Older Okinawans have eaten a plant-based diet for most of their lives. Their meals of stir-fried vegetables, sweet potatoes and tofu are high in nutrients and low in calories.
Almost all Okinawan centenarians grow or cultivated a garden at some point. It is a source of daily physical activity that trains the body with a wide range of movements and helps reduce stress. It is also an almost constant source of fresh vegetables.
Eat more soya.
The Okinawan diet is rich in soy-based foods, such as tofu and miso soup. Flavonoids in tofu may help protect the heart and prevent breast cancer. Fermented soya foods contribute to a healthy gut ecology and offer even better nutritional benefits.
Maintain a moai.
The Okinawan tradition of forming a moai provides safe social networks. These safety nets provide financial and emotional support in times of need and give all their members the stress-relieving assurance that someone is always there for them.
Enjoy the sun.
Vitamin D, which is produced by the body when it is regularly exposed to sunlight, makes for stronger bones and a healthier body. By spending time outside every day, even older Okinawans have optimal vitamin D levels all year round.
Older Okinawans are active walkers and gardeners. The Okinawa household has little furniture; residents eat and relax sitting on tatami mats on the floor. The fact that old people get up and off the floor dozens of times a day builds strength and balance in the lower body, which helps protect against dangerous falls.
Plant a medical garden.
Mugwort, ginger, and turmeric are all staples of an Okinawan garden, and all have proven medicinal qualities. By eating them every day, Okinawans protect themselves from disease.
Adopt an attitude.
An attitude of adversity has given Okinawans a smug self-satisfaction. They are able to leave difficult beginnings in the past, while enjoying the simple pleasures of today. They have learned to be sympathetic and to keep younger people in their company until old age.
When you travel through the 5 areas, they have a lot in common. In short, healthy eating, socialising and no stress can give you a longer, healthy life. Now that you know this, what are you going to change in your life to achieve it? It often sounds easier than actually doing it. In any case, I wish you all the wisdom and success and a good journey!