Blue Zones – Places In the World Where People Live to 100 and Stay Healthy

990 49 Loading

They are called blue zones – places in the world where people live longer and healthier than anywhere else on earth.  Several of these blue zones exist, and in each of these places people living to 90 or even 100 years is common.  And they aren’t just living long either – these people are living healthy – without medication or disability (see video later in this post).

blue-zones

Lead Photo For National Geographic Feature Story On Blue Zones

Five blue zones have so far been identified and thoroughly researched by journalist Dan Buettner in a partnership with National Geographic during more than five years of on-site investigation.  So what is the secret to longevity and health underlying these fascinating communities?  Do they possess modern technology, do they take massive amounts of supplements, do they run on treadmills, do they have special genes?  As you may have guessed, the answer is none of these.

The five blue zones are as follows:

  • The Italian island of Sardinia
  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Loma Linda, California
  • Costa Rica’s isolated Nicoya Peninsula
  • Ikaria, an isolated Greek island

Its Lifestyle, Stupid!

So lets cut to the chase instead of building up the suspense any further.  After more than five years of investigation, what has Buettner discovered about why people in these places are living so long?  The secret is lifestyle.  Quite simply, these people live a lifestyle that includes a healthy diet, daily exercise,  and a low stress life that incorporates family, purpose, religion, and meaning.  Sure we can go into more detail, and we will, but at a high level it really is this simple.   Check out this video:

If you have read Kurzweil’s books on health, or pretty much any other major work on health in the last decade, the “secrets” to blue zone longevity and health are no surprise.  In fact, for many years now it has been known that choosing the right lifestyle can have a dramatic impact on longevity and health.  The hard part (for many people at least) is actually doing it!

Although it may seem hard to achieve this lifestyle, the absolute simplicity and power of it should actually be refreshing and uplifting.  People are always thinking that complicated medicine and expensive modern technological therapies are required to live long and healthy.  But it simply isn’t so.  The gift of a long and healthy life is already in the hands of each and every one of us.  It is up to each of us to choose the lifestyle of health, and sadly most of us are choosing not to live that lifestyle.  To each his own.

Pollute Your Body And It Suffers – Imagine That!

For Just $4.99 This Will Destroy Your Body.  What a Deal!

For Just $4.99 This Will Destroy Your Body. What a Deal!

So lets get into a bit more detail.  First off, what do we mean by a healthy diet?  A healthy diet, according to mountains of literature, and now supported by blue zone investigation, is one that is loaded with vegetables, fruits, fish, and nuts and low on meat, sugar, fat, and the toxic processed foods of modern civilization.  Buettner actually goes into even more detail, highlighting red wine, goats milk, local teas, and several other aspects of blue zone diets that seem to be beneficial.  Sure you can get all precise about it if you want, but my take is that the exact details, such as red wine, are not so important.  What is most important is the high level theme of generally eating good stuff (fruits, veggies, fish) and cutting out the bad stuff (meat, fat, sugar).

Your body is a living biological machine.  Is it surprising our bodies suffer when we stuff them with inflammatory, chemically destructive diets high in saturated fat and sugar?  The literature shows that heart disease and diabetes can often be almost 100% attributed to a lifetime of obesity and poor diet.  It has been documented in thousands of trials and scientific studies that the incidence and severity of several major diseases, including cancer and Alzheimer’s, can be severely restricted by a healthy diet.

People in blue zones eat healthy diets, and not surprisingly they suffer from these major diseases either less frequently or not at all.  That means they live longer and healthier.  According to Beuttner, in blue zone Ikaria the people suffer from one half the rate of heart disease and 20% less cancer than Americans and there are more healthy people over 90 than anywhere else in the world.

Work That Body…or Watch it Wither

Get off your butt!

Get off your butt!

A daily routine of regular exercise is another theme that is common across all blue zones.  Wait a minute you say – I don’t see treadmills and fitness centers in the remote Nicoya peninsula of Costa Rica.  But that is just it!  The people in blue zones don’t need to artificially incorporate exercise into their lives with machines.  The exercise comes for free, already built into their daily lives naturally.  Common across all of the blue zones is that the people climb mountains, walk through the hills, work the land, and generally use their bodies in a constant grind as they perform their daily activities.  And it doesn’t have to be high intensity “run as fast as you can” exercise either.  Often the exercise is slow and relaxed, but ongoing throughout the day.  These people are using their muscles, burning calories, and circulating their blood.  Their bodies are tough and healthy, conditioned by the daily routine to be fit and alert.  Ready to fight disease.  Quick to break down toxins and waste.

Especially in America, when we see those rare individuals that actually make it to 90 years old, they are often frail and weak, hunched over in wheelchairs and propped up with countless medications.  Not so with the individuals in blue zones.  Buettner shows us a man in his 90’s who actually bests him in an arm wrestling match, and this is not just a special case.  The individuals who are reaching 90 or even 100 years old in the blue zones are often able to live active, normal, medication free, mostly healthy lives all the way to the very end.  Its an amazing revelation, and it gives hope to all of us that we too can live healthy in addition to living long.

But to live long and healthy you have to earn it!  You have to work your body everyday, or nearly so.  Sit around all day and let your body turn into a low efficiency, low energy, low impact carcass and you can kiss your health goodbye.  Your bones will weaken, your muscles will wither, toxins and waste will accumulate.  Use it or lose it.

A Happy Low Stress Life – Now Who Doesn’t Want That?

Dude, Relax

Dude, Relax

A life of low stress and filled with happiness.  In theory most of us want this, but in reality few are achieving it.  Buettner has found that those who live long and healthy in the blue zones unanimously live low stress, happy lives enriched with strong family ties, a sense of purpose, and a healthy dose of spirituality, and plenty of sleep.  Unlike the straightforwardness of eating healthy and exercising, this third pillar of a healthy lifestyle is hard to precisely define.  How do we measure stress?  How do we measure happiness?  Can one go to church once a day, once a month, or not at all and still qualify as spiritual?

Although the specifics may be hard to define, I think at a high level we all should be able to grasp the point.  If we are generally happy with our place in life then we behave in ways that promote longevity and health.  We are more likely to take good care of our bodies and our bodies are more often flooded with hormones and chemicals associated with happiness and health.

Stress is especially proven through mountains of data and studies to have serious harmful effects on the body.  Cortisol, the hormone in our bodies produced in response to stress, is especially harmful to the body.  Those that are living a life constantly full of stress, anger, and resentment have high levels of cortisol constantly flowing in their bodies.  The long term effects of this are dramatic, increasing blood pressure, and generally increasing the onset and severity of heart disease and several other major diseases.

So Its Just Lifestyle Then?

Is it really that simple that the secret to longevity and healthy is nothing more than lifestyle?  No magic pill is needed?  No advanced machinery is needed?  The answer is yes!

Living long and healthy is not mysterious.  It is not hard to understand.  It is a choice.  And sadly most people are choosing wrong.  If you are already living the blue zone lifestyle then good for you!  Keep on doing it!  If you aren’t living the lifestyle, then it is never too late to start.  Several studies show that dramatic improvements in longevity and health can return to an individual very soon after correcting a bad lifestyle.

Living long and healthy like people in the blue zones is not achieved through shortcuts or quick fixes.  You can’t workout hard on Sunday and then sit on your butt Monday through Saturday.  You can’t say you are eating healthy just because you stick a bunch of “healthy” vegetables on top of that “unhealthy” greasy pizza.  You can’t repent spiritually one day and expect to erase the damage of decades of stressful decisions and anger.

To live long and healthy requires a constant, daily lifestyle of positive enrichment for the body and mind.  For many this may seem hard, but it doesn’t have to be.  Find ways to make healthy food taste good.  Find ways to make exercise a meaningful part of your daily routine rather than a burdensome chore.  Surround yourself with others that share your interest in living a full life that is low in stress, happy, and meaningful.  Get plenty of sleep.

It is interesting to note that one of the blue zones is in the United States, in Loma Linda, California – proof that even Americans can live long and healthy lives!  Want to learn more?  Check out Buettner’s website, aptly named bluezones.com, which is an entire site dedicated to revealing Buettner’s findings and posting daily developments in the field.

Discussion — 49 Responses

  • Unomi July 21, 2009 on 7:05 am

    Hi. Thanks for the good article. But I think a lot of people do want to live healthy but are not able to, due to the fact veggies are not raw or untreated or they can’t pay for fresh and quality fish and fruit etc. Other studies about health also focus on alkaline and acid balance in the body. The body is electrical and needs a good balance to give strong signals to operate properly. What I also miss in the article is the importance of enough oxygen. Probably these blue zones do have less problems with fumes of cars or industrial areas and are richer of oxygen levels.

    Read more on the following page:
    http://daughter-nature.blogspot.com/2008/12/electric-alkaline-base-foods-dr-sebis.html

    If I where able to leave this place for a blue zone or able to buy the just ingredients I would do it in a snap. It’s not that simple.

    – Unomi -

  • Unomi July 21, 2009 on 3:05 am

    Hi. Thanks for the good article. But I think a lot of people do want to live healthy but are not able to, due to the fact veggies are not raw or untreated or they can’t pay for fresh and quality fish and fruit etc. Other studies about health also focus on alkaline and acid balance in the body. The body is electrical and needs a good balance to give strong signals to operate properly. What I also miss in the article is the importance of enough oxygen. Probably these blue zones do have less problems with fumes of cars or industrial areas and are richer of oxygen levels.

    Read more on the following page:
    http://daughter-nature.blogspot.com/2008/12/electric-alkaline-base-foods-dr-sebis.html

    If I where able to leave this place for a blue zone or able to buy the just ingredients I would do it in a snap. It’s not that simple.

    – Unomi -

  • David July 21, 2009 on 5:24 pm

    Interesting article and I don’t think anybody would argue that less stress, exercise and eating right improves longevity, but one glaring omission from this article is a discussion of the genetics of these blue zone people. Most are from islands, and often on islands, people have relatively homogeneous genetic make-ups. This has got to play a big role in the longevity of these people, at least as much as the lifestyle, if not more. So lets not just say, it’s the lifestyle stupid, because I seriously doubt that is really all it is.

  • David July 21, 2009 on 1:24 pm

    Interesting article and I don’t think anybody would argue that less stress, exercise and eating right improves longevity, but one glaring omission from this article is a discussion of the genetics of these blue zone people. Most are from islands, and often on islands, people have relatively homogeneous genetic make-ups. This has got to play a big role in the longevity of these people, at least as much as the lifestyle, if not more. So lets not just say, it’s the lifestyle stupid, because I seriously doubt that is really all it is.

  • Keith Kleiner July 21, 2009 on 5:34 pm

    David:

    It is certainly possible that genes are playing a part in this…but I doubt that is the big player here. Lifestyle is the dominating factor in my opinion. If we all choose to live the blue zone lifestyle we might not all make it to 100, but we will almost certainly all see dramatic improvements in longevity and health – that is the point. As it stands right now, most people are living a lifestyle that dramatically decreases their longevity and health.

    Unomi: It is a good point that sadly many people do not have access to the right conditions and resources for a blue zone lifestyle. Hopefully that situation will be improved. Alkaline balance and oxygen may be helpful, but the blue zone people seem to demonstrate that paying attention to these factors is not necessary.

  • Keith Kleiner July 21, 2009 on 1:34 pm

    David:

    It is certainly possible that genes are playing a part in this…but I doubt that is the big player here. Lifestyle is the dominating factor in my opinion. If we all choose to live the blue zone lifestyle we might not all make it to 100, but we will almost certainly all see dramatic improvements in longevity and health – that is the point. As it stands right now, most people are living a lifestyle that dramatically decreases their longevity and health.

    Unomi: It is a good point that sadly many people do not have access to the right conditions and resources for a blue zone lifestyle. Hopefully that situation will be improved. Alkaline balance and oxygen may be helpful, but the blue zone people seem to demonstrate that paying attention to these factors is not necessary.

  • David July 21, 2009 on 5:36 pm

    Just like to add, I’d like to see a comparison of these blue zones with other islands where people have similar lifestyles and use this as a control, then compare life-spans. That would go far in determining how much is lifestyle and how much is genetics. Look at the Solomon islands for example, primarily subsistence farming there, I imagine they eat lots of fish and good organic food as a result. And lots of exercise and low stress. Yet Unicef reports their life expectancy at birth as being only 63! What gives? And what about considering as well the availability of medical care?

  • David July 21, 2009 on 1:36 pm

    Just like to add, I’d like to see a comparison of these blue zones with other islands where people have similar lifestyles and use this as a control, then compare life-spans. That would go far in determining how much is lifestyle and how much is genetics. Look at the Solomon islands for example, primarily subsistence farming there, I imagine they eat lots of fish and good organic food as a result. And lots of exercise and low stress. Yet Unicef reports their life expectancy at birth as being only 63! What gives? And what about considering as well the availability of medical care?

  • Keith Kleiner July 21, 2009 on 5:44 pm

    David,

    I agree completely. Sounds like a reasonable scientific inquiry to get to the bottom of this further. In the meantime though, I intend to live the blue zone lifestyle as I know it will let me live longer and healthier, even if I don’t ultimately make it to 100+.

  • David July 21, 2009 on 5:44 pm

    I understand the point of how healthy lifestyles improve longevity, but using these blue zones as an example of that is the wrong approach I think, because of other factors that could be involved. If your article’s purpose was indeed to illustrate the impact of lifestyle on longevity, I would find a twin study to be much more compelling. This just doesn’t seem very scientific.

  • Keith Kleiner July 21, 2009 on 1:44 pm

    David,

    I agree completely. Sounds like a reasonable scientific inquiry to get to the bottom of this further. In the meantime though, I intend to live the blue zone lifestyle as I know it will let me live longer and healthier, even if I don’t ultimately make it to 100+.

  • David July 21, 2009 on 1:44 pm

    I understand the point of how healthy lifestyles improve longevity, but using these blue zones as an example of that is the wrong approach I think, because of other factors that could be involved. If your article’s purpose was indeed to illustrate the impact of lifestyle on longevity, I would find a twin study to be much more compelling. This just doesn’t seem very scientific.

  • Marvin Caldwell-Barr July 21, 2009 on 8:08 pm

    We know that people can have genetic predisposition to cancer, heart disease, diabetes etc. Too, people can have genetic resistance to the same diseases. The common thread of predisposition or resistance can run through families down the generations.

    I remember reading about a guy in Britain who every night for forty or so years drank a dozen or more pints of beer in his local pub, his supper consisting of a pie or two or a couple of boiled eggs, whichever was available for purchase at the pub. He ate practically no fruit or vegetables.

    He was also a heavy smoker.

    The article described how Harley Street specialists found him to be in perfect health.

    Currently in the news is a guy who has already passed his hundredth birthday. He too spends most of his leisure time in the local pub quaffing copious tankards-full of beer. And he smokes.

    He is fit and healthy and jogs to his job as a car washer every day.

    I believe a healthy lifestyle is beneficial. But I have no doubt that genetics plays the dominant role in longevity.

    The people in those blue zones probably share longevity genes. And remember, they don’t all live long, healthy lives. Some of them succumb to heart disease and cancer just like people do anywhere else in the world.

    In case you are wondering, I am a teetotaller, so I have no personal agenda to push here.

  • Marvin Caldwell-Barr July 21, 2009 on 4:08 pm

    We know that people can have genetic predisposition to cancer, heart disease, diabetes etc. Too, people can have genetic resistance to the same diseases. The common thread of predisposition or resistance can run through families down the generations.

    I remember reading about a guy in Britain who every night for forty or so years drank a dozen or more pints of beer in his local pub, his supper consisting of a pie or two or a couple of boiled eggs, whichever was available for purchase at the pub. He ate practically no fruit or vegetables.

    He was also a heavy smoker.

    The article described how Harley Street specialists found him to be in perfect health.

    Currently in the news is a guy who has already passed his hundredth birthday. He too spends most of his leisure time in the local pub quaffing copious tankards-full of beer. And he smokes.

    He is fit and healthy and jogs to his job as a car washer every day.

    I believe a healthy lifestyle is beneficial. But I have no doubt that genetics plays the dominant role in longevity.

    The people in those blue zones probably share longevity genes. And remember, they don’t all live long, healthy lives. Some of them succumb to heart disease and cancer just like people do anywhere else in the world.

    In case you are wondering, I am a teetotaller, so I have no personal agenda to push here.

  • Keith Kleiner July 21, 2009 on 8:46 pm

    David & Marvin,

    I really can’t argue much with what either of you have said. Good points from both of you. You both show that genetics may play a strong role, but this still doesn’t take away from the lifestyle angle of the story. For the guy in Marvin’s story, jogging to work everyday may have had a huge impact on his longevity. We can’t do much about the genetics portion of who we are (at least not yet) but we have great control over our lifestyle choices. I believe that the lifestyle choices of the blue zone people are a good path to go and so that is what I have been doing and will continue to do. As you know, elements of the blue zone lifestyle (such as exercise and low stress) are supported by several studies to be good for health, so these recommendations have more evidence than just the blue zone study to support them.

  • Keith Kleiner July 21, 2009 on 4:46 pm

    David & Marvin,

    I really can’t argue much with what either of you have said. Good points from both of you. You both show that genetics may play a strong role, but this still doesn’t take away from the lifestyle angle of the story. For the guy in Marvin’s story, jogging to work everyday may have had a huge impact on his longevity. We can’t do much about the genetics portion of who we are (at least not yet) but we have great control over our lifestyle choices. I believe that the lifestyle choices of the blue zone people are a good path to go and so that is what I have been doing and will continue to do. As you know, elements of the blue zone lifestyle (such as exercise and low stress) are supported by several studies to be good for health, so these recommendations have more evidence than just the blue zone study to support them.

  • Marvin Caldwell-Barr July 21, 2009 on 9:19 pm

    Keith

    As you say, right now we can’t do anything about our genes, so the next best thing is to live as much as possible the blue zone life. I, too, try to follow that lifestyle.

  • Marvin Caldwell-Barr July 21, 2009 on 5:19 pm

    Keith

    As you say, right now we can’t do anything about our genes, so the next best thing is to live as much as possible the blue zone life. I, too, try to follow that lifestyle.

  • Robert July 27, 2009 on 7:38 am

    This whole “blue zone” thing is really a money-making scam…it’s quackery. The big lie is that longevity only occurs on these “blue zones” that Dan discovered…this is nothing more than a marketing scheme using the leverage of big-moneyed interests (National Geographic, NY Times, AARP) which are there to fleece baby boomers out of their money. No need to pay someone to tell you that eating right, exercising, being socially connected, and taking a stress-reducing cruise to a Greek island etc. will result in a better lifestyle. I’m sure that if Dan went to another Greek island the people would be doing just as great. By the way, the world’s oldest person lives in smoggy Los Angeles. Lifestyle is important but it’s not the only factor, genetics and luck make a difference too.

  • Robert July 27, 2009 on 3:38 am

    This whole “blue zone” thing is really a money-making scam…it’s quackery. The big lie is that longevity only occurs on these “blue zones” that Dan discovered…this is nothing more than a marketing scheme using the leverage of big-moneyed interests (National Geographic, NY Times, AARP) which are there to fleece baby boomers out of their money. No need to pay someone to tell you that eating right, exercising, being socially connected, and taking a stress-reducing cruise to a Greek island etc. will result in a better lifestyle. I’m sure that if Dan went to another Greek island the people would be doing just as great. By the way, the world’s oldest person lives in smoggy Los Angeles. Lifestyle is important but it’s not the only factor, genetics and luck make a difference too.

  • Tom October 8, 2009 on 8:00 pm

    This is a great article. To believe that this is all a marketing scam to get the country to eat healthier and live longer is preposterous. Taking money away from pharmaceutical companies and fast food industry and making the country healthier? Keep scamming me please.

  • Tom October 8, 2009 on 4:00 pm

    This is a great article. To believe that this is all a marketing scam to get the country to eat healthier and live longer is preposterous. Taking money away from pharmaceutical companies and fast food industry and making the country healthier? Keep scamming me please.

  • Gladys Dale October 21, 2009 on 4:37 pm

    My family is from Puerto Rico, which is an Island, and we still have a history of heart desease and diabedies. I agree with improvment of lifestyle adding to longetivity and overall quality of life. It couldn’t hurt. I’m willing to try it.

  • Gladys Dale October 21, 2009 on 12:37 pm

    My family is from Puerto Rico, which is an Island, and we still have a history of heart desease and diabedies. I agree with improvment of lifestyle adding to longetivity and overall quality of life. It couldn’t hurt. I’m willing to try it.

  • marla pesterson November 8, 2009 on 5:20 am

    Please pass me a carrot.

  • marla pesterson November 8, 2009 on 1:20 am

    Please pass me a carrot.

  • Ed August 4, 2010 on 2:38 pm

    It’s insane that someone would call this a marketing scheme! It was never suggested that one needed to MOVE to a Blue Zone. And even if it were, who would benefit from that? The chosen nation itself, maybe an airline and moving company.. not Nat Geo and AARP.

    This makes sense! Our bodies were made to eat fresh things and to run around. Even in the examples given of people who supposedly lived lives that contradicted this article, you could see one of the Blue Zone suggestions actually shining through.. Take the “man in the news.” Marvin wrote that the man “jogs to his job as a car washer every day.” There’s exercise for you! That’s probably part of what keeps him going!

  • Ed August 4, 2010 on 10:38 am

    It’s insane that someone would call this a marketing scheme! It was never suggested that one needed to MOVE to a Blue Zone. And even if it were, who would benefit from that? The chosen nation itself, maybe an airline and moving company.. not Nat Geo and AARP.

    This makes sense! Our bodies were made to eat fresh things and to run around. Even in the examples given of people who supposedly lived lives that contradicted this article, you could see one of the Blue Zone suggestions actually shining through.. Take the “man in the news.” Marvin wrote that the man “jogs to his job as a car washer every day.” There’s exercise for you! That’s probably part of what keeps him going!