Blue zones, Sardinia (Italy), Okinawa (Japan), Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica), Loma Linda (California), and the Island of Ikaria (Greece) are regions of the world where people live active lives often past 100. What contributes to these pockets of people living longer and healthier lives? Funded in part by the U.S. National Institute on Aging, scientists studied these five longevity hot spots to discover the answer. They found that good genes help (20-30%), but there were other contributing factors people share that appear to play a bigger influence than your parents’ longevity.
The residents of the Italian island of Sardinia—first Blue Zone identified—are culturally isolated. Here, not only do the women reach the age of 100 at an amazing rate, but men do as well. Sardinians hunt, fish, and harvest their food. Families and friends remain close, with laughing and sharing red wine together a part of everyday life.
The longest living women in the world are in Okinawa, Japan. According to the UN, Japan has the highest number of centenarians (85% of the world’s centenarians are female) in the world. Active and social, the Okinawans’ regular diet is fish, rice, vegetables, soy, and whole grains. Japanese centenarians rule for eating is to stop when their stomachs are 80% full. I take that to mean before they actually feel full. Sumitra writes, “Not only do they live long lives, they live very healthy and happy ones too.” An old Okinawa saying goes, “At 70 you are still a child, at 80 a young man or woman. And if at 90 someone from heaven invites you over, tell him: ‘Just go away, and come back when I am 100.’”
The centenarians in Nicoya, a peninsula in Costa Rica, say the have a “plan de vida,” a reason to get up in the morning because they feel needed. Families retain close social networks and share a strong belief in God and their daily “faith routines” which helps them relieve stress and anxiety. Moderate daily activities include walking bicycling, cooking, and taking care of animals. Like other Blue Zone populations, their diet is primarily plant-based, especially legumes (beans, peas, and lentils).
The fourth Blue Zone was found by researchers who were studying a group of Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, a community in southern California. They discovered that the Adventists suffered a fraction of the diseases that kill most people in other parts of the U.S. “Many Seventh-Day Adventists are vegetarians, physically active, and involved in their community. In other words, their lifestyles are quite unique in an America where community has become less and less important and over one-third of the population is obese.” Adventists believe you should take care of what God has created. In the words of Pastor Randy of Loma Linda University’s Medical Center, “You are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Whatever you do in your body, you do it to the honor, the glory and the praise of God.” Smoking and drinking are discouraged, as is the consumption of caffeine, rich foods, and certain spices. Many celebrate the Sabbath (Saturday) by removing themselves from the larger culture.
Ikaria is an island where people forget to die. They stay up late and take a siesta in the afternoon. The Ikarians experience a low stress lifestyle, maintaining their gardens, walking in nature and around the village with a view of the blue Aegean Sea. Their diet consists mainly of vegetables, fresh fruits, nuts, wheat, beans, fish and drinking with with friends and family. Family ties are important to Ikarians and houses often hold multiple generations. Grandparents have an active part in the upbringing of their grandchildren and the work in the household. From the Ikarian perspective, living alone is unhealthy.
Conclusion? The gift of a long and healthy life may be within our control. True, some of us are cursed with misbehaving genes that take us down, but those occurrences are a low percent. These five longevity zones suggest that a long healthy life is about simplicity of lifestyle, whole food, sense of purpose—looking forward to getting up in the morning—, daily exercise, low stress, and social interactions.
Article is based on the book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest