The Blue Zones refer to the five places in the world where people live the longest and healthiest lives. Each geographic area is associated with lower rates of chronic disease, as well as home to a high number of centenarians (people who are 100 years or older).
Although located in different countries, journalist Dan Buettner discovered each zone shares similar traits when it comes to diet, exercise and lifestyle. In the Netflix documentary Watch to Live 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones, Buettner travels to each location to observe the behaviours contributing to such vitality and longevity.
Below we breakdown the key takeaways and tips—although it’s certainly worth a watch the next time you’re looking for a series!
Where are the Blue Zones?
For over 20 years, Buettner and his team of researchers have been studying the following five communities:
Ikaria, Greece: A tiny island in the Aegean Sea with mountainous terrain and seaside villages.
Loma Linda, California: A community of over 9,000 Seventh-day Adventists, residing in a small city in San Bernardino County.
Sardinia, Italy: The second largest Italian island (after Sicily), peppered with hidden beaches and rocky coastline.
Okinawa, Japan: A group of more than 160 islands surrounded by cerulean waters with a subtropical climate.
Nicoya, Costa Rica: An unspoiled peninsula on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, known for its surf breaks and sandy beaches.
5 ways to live like the Blue Zones
Although relocating to a remote island sounds quite dreamy, the key to good health and longevity lies within the lifestyle habits of the Blue Zones, rather than the locations themselves. Here are the top five shared traits that you can easily try no matter where you live.
Embrace a (mostly) plant-based diet
Wholegrains and beans dominate meals within the Blue Zones, combined with seasonal fruits and vegetables. Across all five zones, plant-based foods make up 95% of their diet on average. That’s not to say meat is omitted completely, with pork, chicken and lamb consumed in some areas in small amounts.
Move often, every day
Buettner’s team observed that people within the Blue Zones were nudged to move approximately every 20 minutes. These movements were not necessarily exercise but natural, everyday motions from things like gardening, kneading bread, operating tools, dancing and walking.
Outside of the Blue Zones, physical activity has been shown to improve mortality. In a study of over 60,000 people, those who did 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, compared to those who did none, had a 20% lower mortality rate.
With the exception of the Adventists in California, people in Blue Zones drink moderately—up to one drink daily for women and two for men. Importantly, wine is often the drink of choice and consumed with friends over food rather than consumed in excess. Sardinians are particularly known for their robust regional red wine called Cannonau, which has two to three times the level flavonoids (a source of antioxidants) as other wines.
Approximately one in three Australian adults aren’t getting the minimum recommended amount of seven hours of sleep a night. Meanwhile, people in the Blue Zones rise with sun and sleep with the night, reaching 7-9 hours regularly. In Ikaria and Sardinia, daytime napping is also common and there is evidence to suggest a short nap can boost brain health.
Make time for community
Keeping socially connected was another shared commonality among all the Blue Zones. In Ikaria, Sardinia and Nicoya, people frequently stop to chat to neighbours as they pass by and often connect with friends at daily happy hours. Roughly half of Okinawans also belong to a ‘moai’—a group of individuals who meet weekly or more to share hobbies, interests and support each other. Considering research has linked loneliness and social isolation to a variety of health and mental conditions, there are plenty of positives to staying connected.