A Guide and Introduction to the World's Blue Zones

The term "blue zones" is the name given to geographic regions where people live quantifiably longer, healthier lives. These geographic areas have also been called "longevity hotspots." Made popular in the early 1970s by a National Geographic report, many of the claims of these so-called blue zones have since been shown to have been greatly exaggerated. The fact still remains, however, that in all of these blue zone regions, elderly people are much more active, youthful, and energetic than in the United States. Perhaps most importantly, the majority also do not suffer from the chronic diseases that we in the West have simply associated with aging, a discovery that has shed new light on what healthy aging can look like.

World With Arctic Ice Pack In Geographic Projection, True Colour Satellite Image
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The Word's Most Famous Blue Zones

In Dan Buettner's book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest, he discusses five regions of blue zones that he identified along with National Geographic and a team of longevity researchers. These zones spanned the globe from the Nicoya Coast of Costa Rice to Sardinia, Italy. They included:

  • Icaria (or Ikaria), Greece
  • Loma Linda, California
  • Sardinia, Italy
  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Nicoya, Costa Rica

While these five blue zones have been made the most famous as a result of the success of Buettner's work, they are not the only areas in the world that have been identified as longevity hotspots.

Profiles of Other Studied Blue Zones

In addition to Buettner and National Geographic's work in the early 2000s, researchers have shown interest in the remarkable longevity seen in communities and cultures of several other areas of the world:

  • The Okinawans: Buettner certainly wasn't the first to show interest in this group of healthy, long-living people in Japan. In fact, the Okinawans are the most well documented and studied population of centenarians. They live longer and healthier than any other people in the world. One of their secrets is the cultural practice of Hara Hachi Bu, or the practice of eating just until the stomach feels 80% full.
  • The Hunza Valley, in Pakistan, is said to be a place that fosters long life. Legend has it that the Hunza people routinely live until age 90 in good health, with many living as long as 120. Legend or not, the Hunza people do live healthfully into old age. They eat a diet primarily of fruits, grains, and vegetables.
  • The Vilcabamba in the southern region of Ecuador are reported to reach age 100 and beyond while staying in good health. Some people attribute this longevity to the natural mineral water, others simply to their unique lifestyle. The claims of the Vilcabamba to have reached ages of 120 and beyond, however, are probably exaggerated.
  • The Abkhasia: During Soviet times, the Abkhasia were held up as the longest-lived people on Earth. While claims were exaggerated, no one can deny that the Abkhasia lived into their 90s and beyond without any of the chronic illnesses that plague the West.

The Common Characteristics of Blue Zones

While there are still plenty of questions about blue zones, what the research has confirmed is that all of these known blue zones have more than just their number of healthy, long-living people in common. In fact, the people who inhabit these places all share very specific cultural, dietary, and lifestyle traits despite the great distance of their geographical separation.

Those common characteristics of the people who live in blue zones include:

  • Eating less overall (particularly as compared to their Western counterparts)
  • Eating more fruits and vegetables
  • Eating healthy fats
  • Staying active throughout life
  • Having a positive attitude about aging

What's most intriguing about these shared characteristics is that none are out of reach for the rest of humanity. But they do require a whole new approach to life.

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