Blue zones lifestyle

Longevity and good health in old age are the wishes of many of us. For decades, scientists have been trying to find a way to prolong people’s lives. Although they have succeeded with the help of medicines and medical progress, the quality of life from a young age is often lower than we would like. This is due to the lack of exercise, obesity, metabolic dysfunctions, stress, immune disorders, allergies, mental health problems and other health problems that do not allow us to actually live, but sometimes just to live through.
Imagine you are 90 years old, your head serves you as well as when you were 50, and your body still allows you to be fully self-sufficient and physically active. You could continue to create, pass on your rich experience and be a fully-fledged and respected member of society. A nice idea, isn’t it? What may seem like science fiction to you is a reality in some parts of the world. These are the places with the highest average life expectancy and the highest number of 100-year-olds in the world. The so-called “blue zones”.
The explorer and journalist Dan Buettner took the term from demographers who coined it when mapping one of these “regions of longevity” in Sardinia. Over time he has added other areas of the world with significantly above-average length and quality of life, and through his publications he allowed us to get to know the lifestyle of long and happily living people in 5 blue zones. So let’s get inspired by the life in Sardinia (Italy), Okinawa (Japan), Loma Linde (USA), Nicoya (Costa Rica) and Ikaria (Greece).
So what are the secrets of longevity? I’ll give you a cue. There are not miraculous elixirs. They are not medicines or first-class medical care. It’s just a healthy and happy lifestyle. Dan Buettner has consistently studied the life in the blue zones and summarized his knowledge into several common features that unite these places. For us, it can be a guide to a longer and healthier life.


1. Natural movement
People in all blue zones have in common a lot of daily movement of mild and medium intensity, mostly associated with their work. The long-lived men in Sardinia were often shepherds who covered many kilometers a day in rugged terrain. People in Okinawa originally spent hours a day in their gardens to grow their food. Adventists in Loma Linda go for frequent walks in nature. Through regular exercise, people in the blue zones keep their locomotor system in a good condition, their muscles are stronger and more flexible, their bones stronger and their joints better nourished and more stable even in old age. This prevents many of the injuries and disorders of the musculoskeletal system that are common in the modern world in the elderly.
  • Forget the convenience that today’s technology offers and put in a little more effort – use stairs instead of a lift, a bicycle instead of a car, use more tools and fewer electrical or gas machines in the garden. At least partially replace robot work with your own hands. It looks like a return to the past, but it seems to prolong life.
  • Don’t force yourself into physical activities. Instead, look for activities that make you happy. This will give you a much better chance of maintaining regular exercise.
  • Try to grow something for yourself. Working in the garden can become your relaxation and at the same time a regular source of exercise. The grown fruits will be a reward and motivation for further work.
  • Engage in walking and hiking. These activities are gentle on the joints. During a brisk walk, you can also exercise your cardiovascular and respiratory systems. In addition, it can be a pleasant mental relaxation, especially if you go out into nature.
  • Complement your activities with strength training or yoga. Proper strength training in all planes and the full range of motion will ensure that your muscles, joints and bones are better prepared to handle more demanding physical activities with less risk of injury.


2. Eating in moderation
Long-living residents of Okinawa say a phrase (Hara Hachi Bu) before each meal, reminding them to fill their stomachs to only about 80%. Such an approach brings many health benefits. It has been shown that a moderately energy-deficient diet can significantly prolong life and is also associated with a lower incidence of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. A pleasant side effect is weight loss associated with lowering blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels. Although the younger generations are gradually transitioning to poor eating habits, for the traditionally eating blue zones inhabitants there is no such thing as regular overeating.
  • Add volume to your food by using low-calorie foods. Two meals with the same energy value can have diametrically different volumes. If you also prepare a large bowl of salad with your meal, the feeling of satiety will come sooner, you will avoid unnecessary weight gain and you will supply your body with a lot of live enzymes, vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients.
  • Serve your meal on smaller plates and sweet drinks and alcohol (if you can’t do without them) in taller narrow glasses. Several studies have repeatedly confirmed that people automatically eat less from smaller plates, bowls or packages.
  • Do not get distracted by television or other things that require your attention while eating.
  • Focus on food, eat slowly, chew well and enjoy it.
  • Eat the biggest meal of the day in the first half of the day. The long-living residents of Nicosia, Sardinia and Okinawa eat the biggest meal of the day for lunch. On the contrary, the smallest meal of the day is consumed late in the afternoon or early evening.


3. Plant-based diet
Another characteristic feature that connects the blue zones is that a plant-based diet forms the basis of their menu. The consumption of meat is more of a festive matter, a maximum of a few times a month. Adventists from the American blue zone do not eat meat at all. It is similar with the consumption of man-made and technologically modified foods, such as fast food, sweet bars, savory snacks or soft drinks. Food of this kind was unavailable in the blue zones until recently, so their inhabitants had no chance to spoil their healthy eating habits. The basis of the traditional diet in the blue zones consists of their harvest from gardens (mainly vegetables) supplemented with staple foods such as durum wheat (Sardinia), sweet potatoes (Okinawa) or corn (Nicoya). Legumes make up a significant proportion of the energy intake of these long-living people as well. In Okinawa, it is soy mainly in the form of tofu and miso soup. In the coastal blue zones also fish are consumed, and algae, turmeric and ginger are also ingested in Okinawa. Herbs and spices are an important part of the blue zone diet, too. In Sardinia, they also attribute longevity to the consumption of red wine (Cannonau) with a high content of polyphenols (of course in moderation: 1 to 2 glasses a day).
  • Eat vegetables with each main course. By that, I don’t mean a small bowl of cucumber salad with a 200-gram steak and three scoops of rice, but a decent portion of fresh vegetables. It should make up about half of your plate. Try to gradually take away the meat and side dishes and replace them with fresh or unpasteurized fermented vegetables.
  • If possible, reduce meat consumption to once to twice a week. Also, reduce portions of meat to about 100 grams. If you do not have a physically exhausting job or do not perform performance (especially strength) sports, your body will not need an excessive amount of protein to regenerate the muscle tissue. If we take in more protein than we need, the body can transform it into carbohydrates through glycogenesis, which, if not used during exercise, will be stored in your fat tissue.
  • If the legumes do not cause you digestive problems, include them in your diet several times a week. They give you a lot of fiber, protein, minerals and flavonoids. In order to get the most out of them, we need to prepare them properly. Sufficiently long soaking (12-24 hours) and cooking can deactivate the so-called antinutrients (e.g. phytic acid, tannins, etc.), and thus significantly increase the availability of minerals for our bodies. Other alternatives for their preparation are sprouting and fermentation.


4. The sense of purpose
Is there something in your life that motivates and drives you forward? Do you have clearly defined goals that you want to achieve? Do you wake up every morning knowing that you have a mission in this world that needs to be accomplished? In Okinawa it is called ikigai, in Nocoya plan de vida. It’s an inner feeling that there’s a reason why you’re here, that you’re needed for family or society, that your life makes sense. You can find this meaning in the upbringing of your children or grandchildren, in the service to society, in helping others or in some activity or work that fills you to such an extent that you forget about the world around you and your current worries. Whatever it is in your case, it can lead to the reduction of stress and a lower risk of neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases, and thus to a longer and better life.
  • Ask yourself this simple question and try to answer it: “Why do I wake up every morning?” or “What is my mission in this world?”. If you have a clear answer, you are probably getting up feeling good and looking forward to every day. Your life has that important spice that gives it taste and a certain dose of piquancy that keeps you in good shape, gives you energy and joy of life.
  • Regularly engage in activities that bring you a sense of freedom, joy, fulfillment, and that you can immerse yourself in by forgetting the time, food, and your ego. If such an activity is missing in your life, try to find it, start learning new things. You may have always wanted to play a musical instrument, but you didn’t have the opportunity or the time. Maybe you’ve always wanted to try some sport or some kind of art that fascinates you. You may have wanted to travel and explore new countries. Organize your priorities in your life and find time for yourself. Embark on what fascinates you and go in for it. It can be an excellent means of reducing stress for you, which can lead to a significant prolongation of life as well as an increase in quality of life.


5. Stress reduction
Another common characteristic of the inhabitants of the blue zones is the time designated for regular meetings with friends and family, where they can forget about work and responsibilities, laugh together, support each other or help each other. And so the Sardinians set out to the streets every day at five in the afternoon, the people of Nicoya take a lunch break to socialize, and in Okinawa they have their moai (meeting of lifelong friends) every day before dinner. Adventists in the American Blue Zone keep their Sabbath, setting aside all workweek responsibilities from Friday sunset until Saturday sunset and focusing their attention only on God, family and nature. Then they don’t work, the children don’t do their homework, they don’t even take part in organized sports and clubs. All the time is reserved for family activities, time in nature and closer contact with God. Do you have time in your (perhaps hurried) life to stop and enjoy moments and the little things? Do you ever admire the sunrise or the formation of clouds on the way to work? Will you stop while working to admire the beauty of a storm or rainbow through the window? Do you ever wonder how a tree can grow from a tiny seed, producing hundreds of pieces of fruit and thousands of other seeds in its lifetime? If so, your perception of life is similar to that in the blue zones, where they do not know the constant haste and busyness, because they realize that some beautiful moments of life could escape between their fingers.
  • Make time for yourself, your family and friends, and never trade it for work and “duties”. Over time, you may realize that through the constant busyness and pursuit of success and money you have lost something much more valuable. It can be your health or relationships with those you love.
  • Set aside time for yourself in silence, which you can use for contemplation, meditation or prayer.
  • Do not forget about a regular time spent in nature, preferably in a good company, where you forget about duties and gain new strength.


6. Spiritual community
Healthy long-lived residents of the blue zones are believers. The Sardinians and Nicochians are mostly Catholics, the Okinawans practice a religion that worships their ancestors, the Icarians are traditionally Greek Catholic Christians, and in Loma Linda they are Adventists. Whatever your faith, studies have shown that if you attend services at least once a month, your life expectancy increases and the risk of various diseases decreases. There may be several reasons for these positive results. In general, people who attend services regularly tend to have a healthier lifestyle. This includes less susceptibility to smoking, drinking alcohol before driving, drug use, overeating and other vices, while being more likely to be physically active and to respect the fasts of their religious calendar. Regular church visits are accompanied by regular self-reflection, unburden from sins, meditation in the form of prayer and time spent in silence. This is associated with gaining inner peace, which results in stress reduction. Moreover, believers are allowed to shift their problems to a higher power – God. People living with the idea that everything is in God’s hands and believers ready to accept God’s will (whatever it may be) are likely to have a calmer, happier, and therefore longer life.
  • If you go to church regularly, keep going, you are well on your way to a longer and happier life in this earthly world.
  • If you are not a believer and you have an open mind, try to attend Sunday services for one or two months. Then you can evaluate whether it has brought you more peace or other values and decide whether to continue or not.


7. Family first
Most of the long-lived residents of the blue zones put the family first. The family bond remains strong throughout life, families often visit and support each other. In Okinawa, they also worship their ancestors, and some tombstones are even equipped with a picnic table so that families can celebrate Sunday meals with their deceased loved ones. In the blue zones, it is normal for several generations to live in the same house. The younger generations accept the older ones into their homes to repay them for the love and care they received when they were children. Studies have shown that older people who live with their children are less prone to various diseases, eat healthier, have less stress and much fewer injuries. The psychological support of the family, especially in difficult times (illness, other problems) is invaluable.
  • Spend more time with your loved ones. Eat at least once a day in a family circle. Plan joint holidays, trips and weekend activities.
  • Give back to the older generation (parents, grandparents, etc.) at least in part the love and care you received until adulthood and probably still receive.


8. The right company
The people of the blue zones were naturally part of a society in which everyone had a similar healthy lifestyle. In addition, their frequent socialization with friends and family only strengthened their good habits. However, the negative influences of the developed world have already begun to affect the younger generations in the blue zones, so the traditional way of life is slowly disappearing. Just as the traditional inhabitants of the blue zones could proudly set an example, in the western world, it is, unfortunately, in many areas the opposite. On the one hand, it is very positive that many friends or families often meet, have fun and help each other, on the other hand, let us admit that when it comes to lifestyle, we are often more of a negative example for others. Several studies have shown that we are prone to adopt the right or wrong habits of the people we are surrounded by. If your closest friends or relatives are obese, your weight will likely increase as well. Fortunately, the opposite is also true.
  • Surround yourself with people who have healthy eating habits, are physically active, cheerful, sociable, and have similar goals as you. So these positive habits and qualities will be transferred to you and they will deepen with each meeting. Of course, if you want to feel this effect as soon as possible, meet people within your own “blue zone” regularly and often.
  • Be nice to people around you, always help and try to set an example for others. In this way, you will naturally attract people with the same characteristics, goals and lifestyle.


Aging is a natural and inevitable process that involves biological, physiological, psychological, behavioral and social changes. We must admit that at a certain age we will begin to lose the strength and flexibility of the musculoskeletal system, cognitive functions will begin to deteriorate, the senses will become dull, and all the functions of our bodies will gradually degrade. We will not prevent this in any way. But what we can influence is the quality of our lives. As Dan Buettner said, we decide with our lifestyle whether we will live a shorter life with more years of disability or the longest possible life with the fewest bad years.
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