In five regions around the world, called Blue Zones, living over 100 isn’t uncommon. What contributes to the longevity of these Blue Zone residents?
There is much to learn from these five regions in the world where the average life expectancy is significantly higher than the comparable local average. Despite the many differences they share from each other in climate, location, and culture, every Blue Zone shares these five characteristics.
Residents in Blue Zone regions eat an average of 4x more legumes than the average American. This includes foods like beans and lentils which are low in fat and cholesterol, and high in potassium, folate, and iron. Across all regions, there is an emphasis on local unprocessed foods and ingredients. As a result, diet-related diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease are rare in these populations.
Blue Zone regions also share a common value of moderation in their diets. Meat is typically only eaten a few times a month, and meal portions tend to be smaller. In the Blue Zone of Okinawa, Japan, residents abide by the Confucian mantra, “Hara hachi bu”which is an instruction to stop eating when you’re about 80% full.
The key to Blue Zone exercise is incorporating moderate physical activity into daily life. This could be walking a few miles a day, leisurely swimming, or gardening for a few hours - but it’s almost always outdoors and practiced through old age.
Studies have shown numerous benefits to regularly spending time outdoors including stronger immune systems and boosted memory. The incorporation of regular sustained exercise into the daily routine is found across all five Blue Zones, and is a very different approach than the bursts of physical activity in the gym that we’re often used to in places like North America.
Whether it’s abiding by the “plan de vida” or “reason to live” philosophy in Nicoya, Costa Rica, or practicing the Adventist faith as in Loma Linda, California – residents of Blue Zone regions all seem to have a clear purpose and intention in their lives that they incorporate into their daily thoughts and activities.
The correlation between stress and reduced life span has been shown in numerous studies. That’s why it comes as no surprise that Blue Zone populations all have regular practices to mitigate stress.
This includes taking a daily nap, imbibing with friends regularly, or practicing faith. These restful and restorative practices keep stress levels low and fulfillment high, and the result of this can be seen in the average lifespan of these populations.
Each Blue Zone region prioritizes community and relationships. With a strong social circle and support system of friendship, Blue Zone residents benefit from a combination of psychological and emotional benefits that contribute to their overall health. Humans evolved as very social creatures, so having a local culture that values friendship and community can directly contribute to living longer.
If there is one thing to learn from the five regions of Okinawa, Sardinia, Nicoya, Ikaria, and Loma Linda, it’s that maintaining balance is a key component to living a healthy and fulfilled life. We can see evidence of this in the balanced diet, exercise, rest, and social activity of Blue Zone residents which all contribute to an overall sense of purpose.
Perhaps incorporating elements of the Blue Zone lifestyle can help you uncover your own sense of purpose and lead you to a more balanced and healthful life.