Blue Zones: The Longevity Lifestyle of Earth’s Oldest People (Purpose, Diet, Activity, Community, & More)
One of the most fascinating things I’ve come across in the last couple years is the Blue Zones.
Dan Buettner is the founder of Blue Zones and has found 5 places on Earth where people live the longest, healthiest lives:
- Ikaria, Greece
- Sardinia, Italy
- Okinawa, Japan
- Nicoya, Costa Rica
- Loma Linda, California
Dan is also the author of multiple best-selling books including:
- 2019: The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100 (Summary | Amazon)
- 2017: The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons from the World’s Happiest People (Amazon)
- 2015: The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People (Amazon)
- 2012: The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest (Amazon)
Why should you care about the Blue Zones?
I’ve done quite a bit of homework on the Blue Zones.
The people in the Blue Zones seem to have figured out the perfect combination of purpose, lifestyle, time, money, geography, diet, activity, and community.
This post will summarize some of the takeaways in those various areas of life. These are the types of people who live the story of the tourist and the fisherman on a daily basis.
Although genetics play a part, the belief is that is only accounts for 20%. The remaining 80% includes factors like lifestyle, environment, and habits.
One of the things Buettner has found that unites the elderly inhabitants of all the blue zones is that they are unintentionally old—they didn’t set out to extend their lives.
- “Longevity happened to these people. The centenarians didn’t all of a sudden at 40 say, ‘I’m going to become 100; I’m going to start getting exercise and eating these ingredients.’ It ensues from their surroundings. So my argument is that the environmental components of places such as Ikaria are portable if you pay attention. And the value proposition in the real world is maybe a decade more life expectancy. It’s not living to 100. But I think the real benefit is that the same things that yield this healthy longevity also yield happiness.”
Blue Zones Purpose
- “Older Okinawans can readily articulate the reason they get up in the morning. Their purpose-imbued lives gives them clear roles of responsibility and feelings of being needed well into their 100s.”
- “Okinawa, Japan, boasts the longest-lived women in the world and has the longest disability-free life expectancy in the world.”
- “In Okinawa, there’s none of this artificial punctuation of life. Instead, the notion of ikigai — ‘the reason for which you wake up in the morning’ — suffuses people’s entire adult lives. It gets centenarians out of bed and out of the easy chair to teach karate, or to guide the village spiritually, or to pass down traditions to children.”
- “The Nicoyans in Costa Rica use the term plan de vida to describe a lifelong sense of purpose.”
- “As Dr. Robert Butler, the first director of the National Institute on Aging, once told me, being able to define your life meaning adds to your life expectancy.”
Blue Zones Time
- “Seeking to learn more about the island’s reputation for long-lived residents, I called on Dr. Ilias Leriadis, one of Ikaria’s few physicians, in 2009. On an outdoor patio at his weekend house, he set a table with Kalamata olives, hummus, heavy Ikarian bread and wine. ‘People stay up late here,’ Leriadis said. ‘We wake up late and always take naps. I don’t even open my office until 11 a.m. because no one comes before then.’ He took a sip of his wine. ‘Have you noticed that no one wears a watch here? No clock is working correctly. When you invite someone to lunch, they might come at 10 a.m. or 6 p.m. We simply don’t care about the clock here.'”
- Random thought: Maybe 24 hours in a day seem more like 42 when you aren’t worried about it?
Blue Zones Money
- “Pointing across the Aegean toward the neighboring island of Samos, he said: ‘Just 15 kilometers over there is a completely different world. There they are much more developed. There are high-rises and resorts and homes worth a million euros. In Samos, they care about money. Here, we don’t. For the many religious and cultural holidays, people pool their money and buy food and wine. If there is money left over, they give it to the poor. It’s not a ‘me’ place. It’s an ‘us’ place.'”
Blue Zones Food
Update: I’ve posted a summary of The Blue Zones Kitchen which is the deepest dive into the Blue Zones diet.
- 95% plant-based diet: 65% carbs, 20% protein, 15% fat
- “Ikarians eat a variation of the Mediterranean diet, with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, potatoes and olive oil.”
- “Ikarians have traditionally been fierce Greek Orthodox Christians. Their religious calendar called for fasting almost half the year. Caloric restriction – a type of fasting that cuts about 30 percent of calories out of the normal diet – is the only proven way to slow the aging process in mammals.”
- “The diet of 673 Ikarians…She found that her subjects consumed about six times as many beans a day as Americans, ate fish twice a week and meat five times a month, drank on average two to three cups of coffee a day and took in about a quarter as much refined sugar — the elderly did not like soda. She also discovered they were consuming high levels of olive oil along with two to four glasses of wine a day.”
- “She noted that the Ikarians’ diet, like that of others around the Mediterranean, was rich in olive oil and vegetables, low in dairy (except goat’s milk) and meat products, and also included moderate amounts of alcohol. It emphasized homegrown potatoes, beans (garbanzo, black-eyed peas and lentils), wild greens and locally produced goat milk and honey.”
- “Every one of the Ikarians’ dietary tendencies had been linked to increased life spans: low intake of saturated fats from meat and dairy was associated with lower risk of heart disease; olive oil — especially unheated — reduced bad cholesterol and raised good cholesterol. Goat’s milk contained serotonin-boosting tryptophan and was easily digestible for older people. Some wild greens had 10 times as many antioxidants as red wine…Local sourdough bread might actually reduce a meal’s glycemic load. You could even argue that potatoes contributed heart-healthy potassium, vitamin B6 and fiber to the Ikarian diet. Another health factor at work might be the unprocessed nature of the food they consume: as Trichopoulou observed, because islanders eat greens from their gardens and fields, they consume fewer pesticides and more nutrients. She estimated that the Ikarian diet, compared with the standard American diet, might yield up to four additional years of life expectancy.”
- “You asked me about food, and yes, we do eat better here than in America. But it’s more about how we eat. Even if it’s your lunch break from work, you relax and enjoy your meal. You enjoy the company of whoever you are with. Food here is always enjoyed in combination with conversation.”
- “The classic Sardinian diet consists of whole-grain bread, beans, garden vegetables, fruits, and, in some parts of the island, mastic oil. Sardinians also traditionally eat pecorino cheese made from grass-fed sheep, whose cheese is high in omega-3 fatty acids. Meat is largely reserved for Sundays and special occasions.”
- “Older Okinawans have eaten a plant-based diet most of their lives. Their meals of stir-fried vegetables, sweet potatoes, and tofu are high in nutrients and low in calories.”
- “Almost all Okinawan centenarians grow or once grew a garden. It’s a source of daily physical activity that exercises the body with a wide range of motion and helps reduce stress. It’s also a near-constant source of fresh vegetables. Mugwort, ginger, and turmeric are all staples of an Okinawan garden, and all have proven medicinal qualities. By consuming these every day, Okinawans may be protecting themselves against illness.”
- “The Okinawan diet is rich foods made with soy, like tofu and miso soup.”
- “Snack on nuts (handful a day)…Consume nuts at least five times a week have about half the risk of heart disease and live about two years longer than those who don’t. At least four major studies have confirmed that eating nuts has an impact on health and life expectancy.”
- “Nonsmoking Adventists who ate 2 or more servings of fruit per day had about 70 percent fewer lung cancers than nonsmokers who ate fruit once or twice a week. Adventists who ate legumes such as peas and beans 3 times a week had a 30 to 40 percent reduction in colon cancer. Adventists women who consumed tomatoes at least 3 or 4 times a week reduced their chance of getting ovarian cancer by 70 percent over those who ate tomatoes less often. Eating a lot of tomatoes also seemed to have an effect on reducing prostate cancer for men.”
- “‘Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper,’ American nutritionist Adelle Davis is said to have recommended –an attitude also reflected in Adventist practices. A light dinner early in the evening avoids flooding the body with calories during the inactive parts of the day. It seems to promote better sleep and a lower BMI.”
- “Sweet potatoes and turmeric are also two interesting longevity foods. About 60 percent of the dietary intake of Okinawans used to be sweet potatoes, which are high in flavonoids and complex carbohydrates. Turmeric has been associated with lower rates of cancer, and healthier hearts.”
- “Samos, for instance, is just eight miles away. People there with the same genetic background eat yogurt, drink wine, breathe the same air, fish from the same sea as their neighbors on Ikaria. But people on Samos tend to live no longer than average Greeks. This is what makes the Ikarian formula so tantalizing.”
Blue Zones Drink
- “The AHS suggests that men who drank 5 or 6 daily glasses of water had a substantial reduction in the risk of a fatal heart attack – 60 to 70 percent – compared to those who drank considerably less.”
- “Drink a glass or two of red wine daily. Sardinians drink wine moderately. Cannonau wine has two or three times the level of artery-scrubbing flavonoids as other wines. Moderate wine consumption may help explain the lower levels of stress among men.”
- “Wine — in moderation — had been shown to be good for you if consumed as part of a Mediterranean diet, because it prompts the body to absorb more flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. And coffee, once said to stunt growth, was now associated with lower rates of diabetes, heart disease and, for some, Parkinson’s.”
- “A glass of goats milk contains components that might help protect against inflammatory diseases of aging such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s.”
- “People in Ikaria enjoy drinking herbal teas with family and friends, and scientists have found that they pack an antioxidant punch. Wild rosemary, sage and oregano teas also act as a diuretic, which can keep blood pressure in check by ridding the body of excess sodium and water.”
Blue Zones Activity
- “I ask a number of men in their 90s and 100s if they do any keep-fit exercise. The answer is always the same: ‘Yes, digging the earth.'”
- “The secret they teach us is the importance of engineering ‘nudges’ for physical activity into our daily life, like planting a garden, which sets up a nudge for the entire growing season to be out there watering, weeding or harvesting. And don’t look to completely convenience your life with mechanized tools. Houses in Ikaria have just hand tools. They knead bread by hand. They live in a place where every trip to the store or to work occasions a walk.”
- “Older Okinawans are active walkers and gardeners. The Okinawan household has very little furniture; residents take meals and relax sitting on tatami mats on the floor.”
- “Getting regular, low-intensity exercise like daily walks appear to help reduce your chance of having heart disease and certain cancers.”
- “Walking five miles a day or more as Sardinian shepherds do provides all the cardiovascular benefits you might expect, and also has a positive effect on muscle and bone metabolism without the joint-pounding of running marathons or triathlons.”
- “Centenarians seem to have enjoyed physical work of all their lives. They find joy in everyday physical chores.”
- “The longest-lived Ikarians tended to be poor people living in the island’s highlands. They exercised mindlessly by just gardening, walking to their neighbors house or doing their own yard work. The lesson to us: Engineer more mindless movement into our lives.”
Blue Zones Nature
- “Where you live is the biggest, non-genetic influence on how healthy you are.”
- “Vitamin D, produced by the body when it’s exposed on a regular basis to sunlight, promotes stronger bones and healthier bodies. Spending time outside each day allows even senior Okinawans to have optimal vitamin D levels year-round.”
- “Nicoyans regularly take in the sunshine, which helps their bodies produce vitamin D for strong bones and healthy body function. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with a host of problems, such as osteoporosis and heart disease, but regular, “smart” sun exposure (about 15 minutes on the legs and arms) can help supplement your diet and make sure you’re getting enough of this vital nutrient.”
Blue Zones Community
- “Sardinia’s strong family values help assure that every member of the family is cared for. People who live in strong, healthy families suffer lower rates of depression, suicide, and stress.”
- “Men in this Blue Zone are famous for their sardonic sense of humor. They gather in the street each afternoon to laugh with and at each other. Laughter reduces stress, which can lower one’s risk of cardiovascular disease.”
- “The Okinawan tradition of forming a moai provides secure social networks. These safety nets lend financial and emotional support in times of need and give all of their members the stress-shedding security of knowing that there is always someone there for them.”
- “If you’re lonely in this country, it takes about eight years off your life expectancy as compared with the most connected people. In Okinawa, they traditionally don’t have to worry about loneliness because when you’re a child, you’re put by your parents into these moais. It can be defined as a committed social network that lasts a long time: a personal board of directors. I profiled several 102-year-old women who had belonged to the same moai for 98 years. They still gossip and drink sake and argue. But ultimately have each other’s backs when it comes to tough times.”
- “Spend time with like-minded friends. They find well-being by sharing each other’s values and supporting each other’s habits.”
- “Nicoyan centenarians tend to live with their families, and children or grandchildren provide support and a sense of purpose and belonging.”
- “Nicoyan centenarians get frequent visits from neighbors. They know how to listen, laugh, and appreciate what they have.”
- “‘We know that people who make it to a hundred tend to be nice,’ he said. ‘They … drink from the fountain of life by being likeable and drawing people to them.'”
Blue Zones Sleep
- “If you’re napping 30 minutes a day, five days a week, your chance of heart disease is about one third lower than if you muscle through the afternoon.”
Your Next Step:
- “Set up your life, your home environment, your social environment, and your workplace so that you’re constantly nudged into behaviors that favor longevity.”
You May Also Enjoy:
- All 150+ Longevity Ingredients from The Blue Zones Kitchen Cookbook (+ Spreadsheet Summary)
- Blue Zones: How Ikarians Live Simply for 100+ Years
Bonus: Dr. Valter Longo’s Fasting-Mimicking Diet (FMD)
Want to take the Blue Zones even further? Check out Kevin Rose’s podcast with Dr. Valter Longo below.
Dr. Longo also has a book that’s the #1 new release in “Longevity” on Amazon: The Longevity Diet: Discover the New Science Behind Stem Cell Activation and Regeneration to Slow Aging, Fight Disease, and Optimize Weight.
Kevin sets it up by saying: “The diet is that of centenarians (people living 100+ years) combined along with with the scientifically engineered 5-day fasting-mimicking diet (or FMD), done just 3-4 times a year. Dr. Longo designed the FMD after making a series of remarkable discoveries in mice, then in humans, indicating that specific micro-fasts can activate stem cells and promote regeneration and rejuvenation in multiple organs to significantly reduce the risk for diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease.”