There are some parts of the world that are referred to as the Blue Zones to indicate that the people residing there tend to live the longest. What exactly does this imply and why is it a phenomenon? What is it about these zones that bind them together?
- What Are The Blue Zones?
- What Do Blue Zones Have In Common?
- Other Blue Zone Practices
- Summing Up
What Are The Blue Zones?
The Blue Zones comprise five different places in the world, seemingly quite distinct and different in their own right apart from the fact that their lifestyle and diet choices are similar.
These five places typically called Blue Zones are;
- Okinawa, Japan
- Icaria, Greece
- Ogliastra, Sardinia, Italy
- Loma Linda, California
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
It started with the discovery of Sardinia as having a large number of men living up to 100 years old (this phenomenon was symbolized by blue dots or circles on the world map), leading Dan Buettner from National Geographic to see if there were other such places in the world.
Within these places, the residents commonly tend to live up to their nineties and even until they turn 100 while also seeing a general absence of chronic diseases and unhealthy conditions.
Of course, while a part of this can be attributed to genetics, most of it tends to come from the fact that their diets and lifestyle contribute to their longevity. You can learn more about this in the next section.
What Do Blue Zones Have In Common?
Blue Zones' longevity diets are quite similar to each other in the sense that they include mainly plant-based, whole foods and locally caught fish. You can learn about these dietary similarities below along with some other commonalities that earn these five places this kind of label and status.
Overall, the Blue Zones tend to follow a generally plant-based diet but with the addition of fish, if it is locally caught, with minimal meat options. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and legumes, potatoes and beans are a major part of this diet. In fact, as much as 95% of their diet is plant-based with meat consumption taking place only on an occasional basis.
All of these foods are full of fiber and can also contribute to gut health and a reduced risk of severe and chronic diseases.
In addition, while such diets restrict the consumption of meat, there is still an abundant consumption of fish in some of these zones since the omega-3 fatty acids that this can provide can help slow down the occurrence of cognitive decline.
Many of these places in the zones do not necessarily consciously and deliberately follow this kind of dietary choice but it simply happens to be a part of their lifestyle and due to the types of produce grown locally.
Residents of the Blue Zones tend to consume whole grains more often as compared to refined grains. Some whole grain foods and options include oats, whole wheat, buckwheat, millet, whole barley, quinoa, corn, brown rice and more.
Consuming these foods and their products (such as whole-wheat bread or whole wheat pasta) can reduce the risk of certain diseases while also providing plenty of fiber and nutrients.
This also includes opting for bread like sourdough due to the presence of lactic acid.
Additionally, even if you do happen to buy foods labelled as whole grains, make sure that there aren’t too many other added ingredients as this could end up being counterproductive.
However, the locally grown wheat, rice and other grains in these blue zone locations tend to be far less toxic than what is produced in the United States, where large amounts of pesticides are used to get the biggest yield from crops. These pesticides are very unhealthily, so if you can't get organic grains then you are best to avoid grains altogether.
Reduced Dairy Consumption
Another common aspect of their diet is the limited consumption of dairy, especially cow’s milk and associated products like cheese, cream and others. This is mainly because of the presence of too many calories along with the body’s difficulty digesting lactose.
While cow’s milk and its products are generally avoided, some parts of the Blue Zones still continue to consume other milk products such as sheep’s milk or goat’s milk.
Yogurt, in particular, from organic fermentation processes, is still something that these zones consume on an occasional basis.
Fasting on some days of the year or on an occasional basis is something else that the Blue Zones have in common when it comes to their diets. In particular, religious occasions and other such festivities that might call for fasting are observed that might require established fasting periods during the day.
Certain days in the year are also sometimes set aside for fasting.
This kind of fasting can actually help maintain one’s health by potentially controlling conditions like diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol and more. Since these are associated with diseases like heart disease that can severely harm one’s health, occasional fasting can help keep these factors in check.
Lower Calories And 80% Rule
Quite commonly, foods that have lower calories are a major part of the diet of the people of these Blue Zones. Consuming foods with lower calories can potentially reduce the risk of age-related diseases and conditions and contribute to a longer lifespan.
Another aspect of this is the 80% rule in which people tend to stop eating until their hunger is fulfilled up to 80%, reducing the potential of consuming more calories with the remaining 20%. This is quite common and a conscious choice in Okinawa and, in fact throughout Japan, and is known as Hara Hachi Bu or “stop eating when you are 80% full.
Controlled Alcohol Consumption
Across the Blue Zones, certain kinds of alcohol such as wine are actually quite popular on a regular basis and in social settings as a way of reducing stress and increasing the level of antioxidants in the body that can then have all kinds of health benefits such as improving immunity and minimizing the risk of chronic conditions.
Even this, however, is still done in a controlled manner. They also control and limit the consumption of other kinds of alcohol to an occasional basis with several others choosing not to drink at all.
Residents of the Blue Zones tend to consume nuts on a regular basis as well, often eating them as snacks that can ensure health benefits while also providing a tasty solution between their meals whenever they feel hungry.
Nuts, in fact, have various enriching effects on the body. For instance, they can provide plenty of fiber and proteins while also reducing the risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
This is another aspect that you can corporate into your diet as well, with options including walnuts, almonds, cashews peanuts and several kinds of dried fruits. You should, however, only consume them in small quantities.
See also; Which Nuts Are Best For Brain Health
In general, the Blue Zones avoid or at least considerably limit their consumption of beverages like soda, soft drinks and processed juices, instead of relying on natural and organic choices.
Coffee is still a beverage that the people tend to consume on a regular basis while still ensuring that they do so on a moderated and regulated basis. Drinking multiple cups of coffee a day, for instance, is something they avoid.
Apart from wine, another beverage that the Blue Zones rely on includes copious amounts of organic or herbal tea. The exact flavor or kind of herb can differ in each zone.
Coffee and Tea in these locations is always black without sugar. Milk is never added.
Other Blue Zone Practices
There are several other practices and elements of the lifestyle of the Blue Zones that can contribute to their longevity and a general sense of contentment. These include the following.
Incorporating stress-relieving practices within the daily routine such as socializing, taking naps, relaxing and moving away from a culture of overworking is common in these zones.
Exercising every day and without fail is something else that keeps these people so healthy. This is not necessarily intensive but comes naturally through taking long walks to get to one place from another and working outdoors, such as in the gardens or farms.
Sleeping well and for a certain number of hours is something else that the Blue Zones have in common. Apart from the regular eight hours of sleep at night, napping for short intervals during the day is also something that some regions do on a daily or at least frequent basis.
A vast majority of the people in the Blue Zones are spiritual or practice some form of faith. This can lend them peace, harmony and a sense of association and social solidarity. Group gatherings through social and religious events are quite common as well.
Having an established sense of community and placing more value on a close-knit group of people, family and friends to spend time with regularly and fall back on is another commonality that these regions have between them. This can often lead to satisfaction, joy and happiness.
More and more researchers are saying that being part of a close knit community is one of the main contributing factors to longevity. Loneliness in the West is rampant these days with families moving away from their original roots and higher levels of divorce. This is not just the case for older people but many younger people.
Essentially, the Blue Zones are five different parts of the world that might seem like a random group but actually have lifestyles and dietary choices in common, leading to better health, reduced occurrence of major diseases and a much longer lifespan as compared to other parts of the world.
Now that you know what it is about these regions that make them so healthy, you can also try incorporating some suitable elements into your own lifestyle.