By Tess Schlink
Dubbed “Blue Zones”, these five global locations are home to the longest-living people on Earth, with many residents comfortably living past 100.
The term “Blue Zones” was first coined when European researchers Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain identified regions with unusually high numbers of centenarians in the Journal of Experimental Gerontology.
At the time, they circled these areas in blue pen, hence the name “Blue Zones”.
National Geographic journalist Dan Buettner popularised the original findings and drew up the following list as recognised Blue Zone areas:
These areas and the behaviour of people who live there have some common elements credited for the amazing lifespans – what Blue Zones researchers dub “the Power 9”.
Residents of Blue Zones don’t head to their local gym to get moving or compartmentalise exercise into one part of their daily routine. Instead, they rely on incidental exercise, incorporating movement into every part of their day, such as walking up hills, lifting, gardening and so on.
What you can do: The tried and tested tips that we’ve heard a million times still hold up. Park your car that bit further away, get off the train one stop early and take the stairs whenever you can. Make the most of your fitness tracker if you have one – it can help you stick to a daily step goal.
According to Buettner, having purpose can add an extra seven years to your life expectancy. In Nicoya, they call this “plan de vida” and in Okinawa, “ikigai” – both expressing the reason to get up every morning.
What you can do: Find your passions, whether they become your career or a hobby in your spare time. Identify what gets you excited everyday and pursue it.
Acute stress is a major cause of chronic inflammation, which can lead to disease. Those in the Blue Zones are masters at prioritising downtime, hence minimising stress. Residents of Ikaria carve nap-time into their daily routine, which allows them to unwind from the stresses of the day.
What you can do: Schedule time to relax on a daily and weekly basis and prioritise it. Pick your stress reduction method, be it meditation, unplugging from social media or going on a long walk – and make sure you stick to it.
The Okinawans practice “hara hachi bu”, which translates to “eat until you’re 80% full”. Not eating too much at each meal can help maintain a healthy weight, which in turn brings a myriad of health benefits. There is much research around showing we all eat too much.
What you can do: Eat slowly and mindfully, and don’t be afraid to put down your fork when you’re no longer hungry. It takes 15 to 20 minutes after eating for your brain to understand that you’ve been fed, so you may actually already be fuller than you first thought.
Those in the five Blue Zones don’t tend to follow strictly vegan diets, but they certainly consume less red meat than Australians. There’s a lot of buzz around plant-based diets at the moment and with good reason. The World Health Organization has classed red meat as a Class 2A carcinogen, meaning that it probably causes cancer.
What you can do: Up your consumption of veggies, legumes, fruits and grains. The CSIRO suggests eating red meat three to four times per week tops.
This one has been going around for years yet it has been proven true once again. The long-living inhabitants of the Blue Zones tend to have a glass of red wine daily. Red wine is rich in antioxidants such as resveratrol and catechin, and may prevent heart disease.
What you can do: Enjoy some good-quality red wine everyday – but don’t overindulge. One or two glasses per day is enough, according to the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
Faith plays a big role in the everyday lives of those in the Blue Zones and can add four to 14 years to life expectancy. Loma Linda has a predominantly Seventh-Day Adventist population and it appears their strong faith contributes to their longevity.
What you can do: This is probably the most personal element of the Power 9 and how you choose to incorporate it into your life will depend on your personal beliefs. You might wish to visit your closest place of worship and get involved in their community.
Family is one of the most important pillars of each of the Blue Zone communities, where spending time with family and building strong connections is a priority.
What you can do: Aim to spend as much quality time with your relatives as possible. Check in with family members who live far away as often as you can. Skype and social media have made this easier.
Good news: turns out spending more time hanging out with friends may help us lead longer, healthier lives. Being surrounded with supportive people you can turn to seems to be a key ingredient in the recipe for longevity.
What you can do: Put down your phone and catch up with your friends in person. Organise a regular coffee or walk date to look forward to every week. If you’ve got a particular hobby or interest, seek out and engage with like-minded individuals.