wellness insights

What We Can Learn From Blue Zones

 

Scientists have found that an extremely high rate of people in certain regions of the world live much longer than the average, over 90 and even 100 years. These regions were named the “Blue Zones” and include Okinawa (Japan); Sardinia (Italy); Nicoya (Costa Rica); Icaria (Greece); and Loma Linda (California, USA). A village called Seulo, located in Sardinia, Italy, holds the record of 20 centenarians from 1996 to 2016, giving it the title “the place where people live the longest in the world.”

Interestingly, research has found that genetics only account for about 20–30% of longevity. Instead, environmental influences, including diet and lifestyle, play a significant role in determining one’s lifespan. To find out the reasons for Blue Zone inhabitants’ longevity, a study on their eating and lifestyle habits was conducted; here is what they found.

1. Focusing On Plant Foods 

What people in all Blue Zones have in common is that their diet is primarily plant-based, with 95% of it consisting of whole plant foods, and only 5% of meat and dairy. Although most of them are not strict vegetarians, they usually only eat meat about five times per month. This is attributed as a major reason for their longevity, as several studies have shown that avoiding meat can significantly reduce the risk of death from heart disease, cancer, and a number of other different causes. 

People in Blue Zones eat diets packed with vitamin-, mineral-, nutrient, and fiber-rich vegetables, legumes such as beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas, as well as whole grains which are also rich in fiber and nuts. Another dietary factor contributing to their longevity is the consumption of omega-3-rich fish, which is important for brain and heart health and helps prevent cognitive decline in old age.

2. Regular Fasting and the 80% Rule

Blue Zones also follow reduced calorie intake and fasting. A 25-year study in monkeys found that eating 30% fewer calories than normal leads to a significantly longer life, which may be a factor in peoples’ longevity in Blue Zones. 

Studies in Okinawans suggest that before the 1960s, they were eating fewer calories than they required. In addition, Okinawans follow something called “hara hachi bu”, which involves stopping to eat after feeling 80% full. This prevents them from eating too many calories as well as from weight gain and chronic disease. Most people in Blue Zones also periodically fast which helps reduce weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and many other risk factors for chronic disease in humans. 

3. Get Sufficient Sleep  

The right amount of sleep is important for overall health. While too little sleep is bad, too much sleep isn’t healthy either. People in Blue Zones get the optimal seven hours of sleep at night and often also nap no more than 30 minutes during the day, which may help reduce their risk of heart disease and death.

4. They Consume Alcohol in Moderation

Alcohol is consumed in moderation in Blue Zones, which reduces the risk of death from heart disease. In addition, most people in Blue Zones consume mostly red wine, which is considered healthier than other types of alcohol due to its antioxidants. Antioxidants may help prevent damage to DNA that can contribute to aging. Consuming up to two glasses of red wine per day is common in Italian Blue Zones. 

5. Exercise Is a Daily Habit  

People in Blue Zones don’t exercise with the intention of working out. Instead, their daily physical activities are built into their routines and include gardening, walking, climbing stairs, cooking, and other daily chores that may help prolong life. Regular exercise or physical activity can reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and overall death.

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