The Blue Zones are five regions in the world where many residents live to be over 100. They consume a healthy diet, yes, but in addition to that they lead productive lives (they are physically active and perform daily physical tasks such as farming and gardening), and they seem overall happier with their lives than we would expect them to be, given their age.
Why do people want to live a very long life? Wouldn’t it be lonely without friends and loved ones that know them best? Plus wouldn’t the generational gaps make building new relationships harder? People, in general, have goals and aspirations. Working towards goals gives life purpose. However, with a finite amount of time, a person can only accomplish so much. Due to being creatures of insatiable ambition, people wish to have as much time as possible to accomplish everything they wish to do, which for some people, is forever. Having said that, the productivity does deteriorate with age. But there is no denying that if one can do as much at 70 as others do at 50 then we would really love to emulate the Blue Zones.
What are the Blue Zones?
The five regions identified and discussed by Buettner in the book The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest:
- Sardinia, Italy (particularly Nuoro province and Ogliastra): one team of demographers found a hot spot of longevity in mountain villages where men reach the age of 100 years at an amazing rate.
- The islands of Okinawa, Japan: another team examined a group that is among the longest-lived on Earth.
- Loma Linda, California: researchers studied a group of Seventh-day Adventists who rank among North America’s longevity all-stars.
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica: the peninsula was the subject of research on a Quest Network expedition which began on January 29, 2007.
- Icaria, Greece: an April 2009 study on the island of Ikaria uncovered the location with the highest percentage of 90-year-olds on the planet – nearly 1 out of 3 people make it to their 90s. Furthermore, Ikarians “have about 20 percent lower rates of cancer, 50 percent lower rates of heart disease and almost no dementia.”
What are some common lifestyle characteristics in the Blue Zones?
- They focus on leading a rich family and social life.
- They smoke less.
- They enjoy a moderate alcohol intake (and when they do, it’s usually red wine).
- In most cases, they are semi-vegetarian, i.e. they eat a plant-based diet.
- They maintain a moderate and regular level of physical activity.
- They experience low levels of stress (due to their lifestyle).
- They are regularly engaged in spiritual practices (including religion).
- They express having a sense of purpose: the belief that one’s life has value and there is a reason to enjoy it.
Why is having a sense of purpose important to leading a high quality of life?
- In Okinawan culture, people call this sense of purpose Ikigai: it literally means “a reason to get up in the morning.”
- Ikigai is not something that can be acquired quickly; it is a long process of the search for self and requires a deep level of personal maturity.
- People who discover ikigai experience a greater satisfaction of living a meaningful life, which is likely one of the top reasons people in the Blue Zones live such long lives.