For the last decade, researcher Dan Buettner and his National Geographic team have embarked on a worldwide investigation into the places with the highest longevity and quality of life.
The idea of the research was simple but profound: instead of looking at fad diets, books, “gurus”, etc., the goal would be to find out where people actually are in health, and find out what they do differently. That is exactly what the research did, very successfully, and many conclusions were drawn.
From the research, the term “Blue Zone” began to be used to denote these regions of the world where people consistently have good health and quality of life above the world average. In these places, the number of people reaching the age of 100 is significantly higher than the average. So, where are these places?
Sardinia, Italy: This place has the highest concentration of centenarians in the world. In a specific mountain, more than 50% of men reach 100 years of age.
Okinawa Islands, Japan: It is a home to women of extraordinary health, with the longest life expectancy in the world. People die 5x less from lung and colon cancer, and 6x less from cardiovascular disease (compared to the United States).
Loma Linda, California: This place has a Longest-lived group of people in the United States, who are mostly religious. People in this group live on average 11 years longer than other people in the area.
Peninsula of Nicoya, Costa Rica: These inhabitants eat lots of fruits, and cereals rich in antioxidants. It is considered the largest blue zone in the world. It is the place where more people live above 100 years than any other place in the world.
Icaria, Greece: In Icaria, Greece, you will find the highest rate of people reaching the age of 90 on the planet – about 1 in 3. It has also been found that Icarians have a 20% lower rate of cancer incidence, 50% lower heart disease and virtually 0% dementia.
Now what are these “blue zones” special about? What are the common characteristics in the lifestyle of the inhabitants of these places belonging to such different countries and cultures? In summary, these are the results of the research, which can be grouped into three different attributes:
Moderate and Constant Physical Activity:
Physical activities in moderation are part of daily life for the people of blue zones. Everyone walks, cleans the house, picks their own food, and are always on the move. They don’t exercise at all but are constantly doing some task. They are rarely found sitting idle. So, here is some good news for the people who don’t like to exercise.
Intense Social Involvement:
People of all age groups are socially active and integrated into their communities. Everyone has many friends, and the sense of mutual help is very present. In addition, the family is always placed as a high priority.
The diet of these places varies greatly, as the blue zones are scattered around the world. However, some features were found in common:
Herbal Diet: The diet is not strictly vegetarian, but the vast majority of food consumed is derived from plants. The consumption of meat never goes by more than once a week, and even the consumption of fish is reduced; not more than twice a week.
Various foods with low glycemic load: Of the foods consumed (essentially vegetables), they always tend to be those with the lowest glycemic load, which are those that do not require high doses of insulin in the bloodstream to be processed. Moreover, no people focus on few foods; all of them tend to diversify the food a lot.
Intuitive calorie control: People tend to eat less than the world average, using small “tricks” such as: always stop eating when the stomach is at most 80% full; or always using small plates to serve.
Lecture on Longevity
Researcher Dan Buettner gave a talk at TED a few years ago about these research and findings. Here is a full 20 minutes long video where you can get tons of secrets of longevity and how anyone can potentially live up to 100 years: