What are Blue Zones and why do some suggest they are the secret to living longer?

Key to increasing longevity is believed to be found in five regions of the world

Meredith Clark
New York
Friday 08 September 2023 20:17 BST
Related: How to eat a “Blue Zones” diet to live longer

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Louise Thomas

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The secret to living a longer life isn’t found in some elixir or fountain of youth. Rather, it’s said to be found in Blue Zones.

Blue Zones are the five regions in the world where people are known to live long, healthy lives. These areas are Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece and Loma Linda, California. Here, the foods people eat aren’t just part of some diet - it’s a way of life.

Now, Blue Zones have become the subject of a new Netflix docuseries, Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones. Since its release on 30 August, the limited series has already shot to the Top 10 shows on Netflix.

The term Blue Zone was popularised by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic journalist who travelled the world studying the cultures of these thriving communities. In the docuseries, Buettner travels to the five regions of the world where people have the highest life expectancy, and he seeks to learn how to live to over 100.

In a 2020 master class hosted by the Global Wellness Summit, Buettner shared the foundation of living in a Blue Zone. “The big epiphany of all these Blue Zones is that long-lasting health is very rarely successfully pursued; it ensues,” he revealed.

Now, not everyone can pack their bags and whisk themselves off to Italy or Greece, but there are many ways to adapt your daily routine to the Blue Zone lifestyle. Here’s what we can learn from these regions:

Fibre, fibre, fibre

Foods rich in fibre are prominently featured in the diets of those living in a Blue Zone. Beans and whole grains like brown rice and quinoa are high-fibre ingredients that can lengthen your life. Fruits, vegetables, and legumes are also natural sources of fibre.

Fibre plays a key role in promoting gut health, managing your weight, and reducing cholesterol levels. Research shows that children and adults need at least 20 to 30 grams of fibre per day, but most Americans get only about 15 grams a day.

Whether it’s garbanzo beans in Greek hummus to black beans in Costa Rican soup, increasing your fibre intake is key to living a longer life.

Move naturally

You don’t need to work out at the gym five times a week to increase your longevity. In fact, residents in Blue Zone areas rarely workout at all, as their exercise mostly comes from activities done throughout the day, such as walking and gardening. Incorporating 20 minutes of movement in your daily routine is just one way to live the Blue Zone lifestyle.

Maintain a positive outlook

On average, Americans spend nearly five to six hours on their phones a day, from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to bed. Instead, begin your daily routine with a positive meditation, or separate the work day with mini stress breaks. In Blue Zones, residents shed their stress by engaging in sacred daily rituals, such as remembering their ancestors in Okinawa or taking naps in Costa Rica. Or, do like the Sardinians do: happy hour.

Connect with others

Curating a social circle is one of the main pillars of living in a Blue Zone. In an era of Zoom calls and work from home, connecting with those around us has proven to be a little more difficult than in years past. Even if it’s just a small group, engaging with others who keep you active, eat a similar high-fibre diet, and care about you on a bad day can help you live until you’re 100.

Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones is now available to stream on Netflix in the US.

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