Blue Zones - Lessons for a Long and Healthy Life

Blue Zones - Lessons for a Long and Healthy Life

25th Mar 2021

So what are Blue Zones? To put it simply they are areas across the globe where people live longer than the average and are healthiest.

The term was first used by Dan Beunttner’s in his cover story for National Geographic in 2005. The concept grew from an initial study by Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain, who discovered that Nuoro Province in Sardinina was home to the largest population of male centenarians. Building on their findings, Beunttner went on to pinpoint 5 longevity hotspots which are;

Okinawa (Japan); Sardinia (Italy); Nicoya (Costa Rica); Icaria (Greece); and the Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, California.

Alongside a team of experts, Beuttner set out to define the shared lifestyle attributes across these locations. They discovered what they refer to as 'The Power of 9'.

It is important to consider that studies have demonstrated that genetics play a relatively small role in our life expectancy (around 20-30%), so understanding the importance of environmental factors such as diet, sociability and mobility are key to living a longer and healthier life.

So what are the most important lessons we can learn from those living in the Blue Zones?:

Move Naturally

Lifestyles that nudge or compel people into moving without thinking or out of necessity. For instance, people in Blue Zones tend to gardens or land, but do not have machinery or appliances that make tasks easier. In Icaria, the roads make driving difficult so residents often have to walk to get to places rather than get in their cars.

A Sense of Purpose

The Japanese call it ‘Ikigai’ and the Sardinians refer to it as ‘Plan de Vida’ – both translate to mean ‘Why I get up in the morning’. Defining a strong sense of purpose is shown to add extra years to your life.

Stress reduction/ Down Shift

Those living in Blue Zones still experience stress, but the important difference is that they have routines that help them effectively manage and cope with it. For example, the Okinawans' take time out of their day to remember their ancestors, Seventh Adventists use prayer and Icarians' take a restorative nap.

Moderation – or the 80% Rule

Blue Zone inhabitants don’t overindulge. They eat their smallest meal early evening or late afternoon and then don’t tend to eat again for the remainder of the day.

In Okinawa their mantra is to stop eating when they feel 80% full. The 20% space between feeling hungry and full could be the difference between gaining or losing weight. 

Meat in Moderation, Beans in Abundance

Within Blue Zones meat (mainly pork) is eaten sparingly - around five times a month. The portion of meat is also small, around 4oz maximum per serving. 
Beans are a very important dietary factor, specifically fava, lentils, soy and black beans. In addition vegetables, wholegrains and nuts form the large majority of their diet.


The vast majority of centenarians interviewed in the Blue Zone study had a spiritual or faith based belief. The branch of religious group does not seem to matter, but regular attendance of faith-based gatherings does appear to increase life-expectancy by a minimum of four years.

Family First

Those in the Blue Zones put family first, which means reciprocal caring. By keeping elderly parents and grandparents nearby, it seems to increase the life expectancy for everyone. Aging family members benefit (as you may expect), but it also lowers sickness and mortality in the youngest family members as well.

Committing to a life partner is good for longevity and investing time to nurture your children is essential. Children are much more inclined to take care of frail family members when the time comes.

Healthy, Committed Friendship Groups

Turns out that having healthy friends makes you healthier. If you have a social circle who are not obese, do not smoke and have a happy outlook, this will positively influence and shape the way that you live your life.

Okinawans' also believe in creating what they call, Moai - this is a group of around five friends that are highly committed to each other for life. This group goes beyond social support, they offer help financially, with health issues and taking part in spiritual pursuits.

Wine with Friends, Heavy on Water & Tea

The interesting news is that drinkers outlive non-drinkers - however it is all about moderation. Blue Zone residents do not binge drink. They enjoy 1 or 2 glasses of wine daily (usually late afternoon/ evening) with friends and alongside food.

As for other beverages, Blue Zone inhabitants are drinking lots of water and tea - all day long. In Okinawa it is mainly Jasmine green tea and Turmeric tea. In Icaria, they consume a lot of herbal tea containing oregano, rosemary or mint.

The pursuit of living a long and healthy life is an endlessly fascinating subject, and far too large for us to cover in such a short blog. Please find a some links to further reading below: