Jul 06, 2023
Blue Zone Locations' Common Factors: Diet, Lifestyle Similarities
Imagine a way to improve your health and your longevity without any strict diet, without an exercise routine, expensive superfoods, supplements, or pills. Author Dan Buettner says he's found it, not
Imagine a way to improve your health and your longevity without any strict diet, without an exercise routine, expensive superfoods, supplements, or pills.
Author Dan Buettner says he's found it, not once, but five times over, in the world's so-called Blue Zones, where people tend to live for a very long time, in very good health.
His Blue Zones thesis, which he's spent 20 years defending and illustrating, is that these people aren't actually health nuts, and they don't work exceptionally hard to stay sharp as they age, either.
Instead, they're gently nudged into healthy living, day after day. To an untrained observer, they may even appear kind of lazy, taking naps and skipping vigorous exercise. Their environment is set up to let wellness happen accidentally.
"The reason they're living a long time is not because they pursue longevity, but because longevity ensues," Buettner told Insider, ahead of the release of his new book (August 29) and docuseries on Netflix (August 30), that both aim to unpack the "secrets" of the Blue Zones.
Blue Zoners are not exactly couch potatoes. They're out doing things that are good for their bodies, their brains, and their moods, all throughout the day. They just don't realize it.
They're filling up on vegetables, whole grains, and local honey, so there's not a lot of room for processed foods or table sugar on their plates. They're spending time with loved ones, feeling a sense of purpose, and keeping stress in check. Walking instead of driving, simply because it's too hilly, or too expensive. Longevity comes easy because it's organically baked into the default choices people in Blue Zones make.
"It is a product of the right environment, and that environment nudges them into moving every 20 minutes or so, eating largely a whole food, plant-based diet, socializing more," Buettner said. "Pay attention to the places in the world that have produced the health outcomes we want, and copy them."
On this island parked mid-way between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean Sea, about 130 miles East of Athens, people learned to eat local, because for centuries, they had to. The island has no natural ports. Their herbal teas made from sage and rosemary are rich in health-boosting compounds, their raw honey is never boiled, leaving bioactive compounds in the bee pollen intact. And if you ask 88-year-old Ikarian Vaso Parikos which tea she recommends drinking on a daily basis? It's wine. Often, Ikarians drink just a glass or two with dinner, and in good company. It's even possible there's something unique about the way their wine, their herbs, and their diet pair together, which makes it all more beneficial to their health (but research on this idea is still mixed.)
Just outside of Los Angeles, a bustling community of Seventh-day Adventists live in America's only Blue Zone. They prioritize eating healthy whole foods like nuts, vegetables, and beans, and generally don't consume meat or drink alcohol. They've made this heathy lifestyle easy to follow by sharing potluck dinners at church, and opening up a grocery store with plenty of staples like whole grains and fresh produce, but no meat in sight. (Some even make a "meat" loaf made with oats, walnuts, and breadcrumbs.)
On this large Mediterranean island roughly 170 miles west of Rome, people get their "exercise" just by walking around. Steep towns built into the hillside make mobility exercises a daily part of life, in the same way that tending gardens and traditionally sitting on the floor in Okinawa, Japan, or splitting logs on the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica helps keep elders mobile, strong, and engaged. After work, Blue Zoners might enjoy an afternoon nap to unwind, and then head out to share a laugh or a dance with friends.
"It's an environment that makes it easy for them to live out their purpose," Buettner said. "We tend to under celebrate that, 'cause marketers can't get their arms around it, so there's not much to sell. But it is manifestly producing 10 to 12 years of healthy life expectancy over what we're suffering through today."
Disclosure: Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Business Insider's parent company, Axel Springer, is a Netflix board member.
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