What are Blue Zones?
Blue Zones are select regions of the world where the inhabitants live disproportionately longer than the average population and record lower rates of chronic diseases. The zones in question contain disproportionately large number of centenarians, those who live over 100. It is said that genetics only account for 20-30% of longevity, so environmental factors play a huge role in determining lifespan. Although geographically distant, experts have boiled this longevity down to 5 key lifestyle factors.
Where are these areas located?
The 5 Blue Zones are as follows:
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Loma Linda, California, USA
What makes these few areas so special?
Well, the lifestyles of those living in these ‘Blue Zones’ often share very similar characteristics across key areas of: Diet, Physical activity, Social connections, Purposeful living and Moderation in lifestyle.
Let’s understand each of these in more detail…
Blue Zone areas above all prioritise eating from the local surroundings, food is unprocessed and fresh with an onus on healthy fats, proteins, legumes and local vegetables. Protein intake is moderate, fats aren't restricted but instead come from healthy sources and fruit and vegetables are consumed daily but in line with seasonality to ensure maximum nutritional value. What is really key with the diets of these Blue Zones, is the lack of processed goods. You won't find food eaten from packets, nor will you read an ingredient list full of alien words you struggle to pronounce. Instead, meals are comprised of local ingredients and what is in season. Eating with the seasons ensures that all produce is consumed when it is at its freshest and most nutrient dense.
Blue zone communities emphasise active aging, older individuals continue to engage in physical activities that contribute to their well-being. Regular, low-intensity physical activity is an integrated part of daily life. Although exercise is common and promoted almost everywhere in the world for those younger generations, the difference with Blue Zones is that this is continued later into life. The geographical landscape of Blue Zone areas actually lends itself to this ethos. People emphasise walking or cycling over motorised travel due to the accessibility and compact nature of these areas. Additionally, the community remains within certain areas and rarely grows outwards, so socialisation is done on foot.
Social support and strong community connections are common in blue zones. Feeling a sense of belonging and purpose in a community is associated with both better mental and physical health and this social cohesion can act as a safety net during challenging times. Blue Zones typically span over small areas, those in the area known to each other and from there a close knit community is built. Those in Blue Zone inhabitants look out for their neighbour, and see the up-keep of where they live as a responsibility shared by all. If each individual contributes a small amount, then the community as a whole will benefit.
The Japanese term "ikigai," roughly translates to "a reason for being" or "a sense of purpose." Having a clear sense of purpose is thought to contribute to overall well-being and longevity. Even those inhabitants making up the oldest section of the population continue to live with purpose. Ikigai is about finding joy, fulfillment, and balance in the daily routine of life. It is about placing value upon the smallest and seemingly insignificant of things and pursuing them to your highest standard. Without an innate sense of ikigai, appreciation of the simplicities in life is lost.
Moderation in Lifestyle
Rather than cutting anything out completely, things such as alcohol and sugar are instead enjoyed in moderation, although tobacco consumption in these areas is very low. If your Grandmother ever told you that 'A little bit of what you fancy is good for you', she might just have been right. When studying these Blue Zones, it was found that, even amongst older generations, regular alcohol, sugar and fat consumption was still common. However, the difference in this case is the level at which it is consumed. No, Blue Zone inhabitants aren't drinking two bottles of wine of an evening, but a glass with your evening meal is a welcome edition. Remember, life is there to be enjoyed.