Have you ever heard of the term “Blue Zones”? This phrase refers to five different regions around the globe that researchers have identified as having the highest concentrations of centenarians in the world.

While in the U.S., the average life expectancy is 78 years, in the Blue Zones, living to be over 100 isn’t uncommon. The regions that make up the Blue Zones include Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Icaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California.

Despite the geographical differences, people in these areas share nine key lifestyle habits, which have been coined the "Power 9" by Dan Buettner, National Geographic Fellow, award-winning journalist and producer, and a New York Times bestselling author. In Buettner's book, "The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest," he details these 5 different regions named "Blue Zones" after years of research on longevity. Here is a glance at what the longest-living people in the world have in common what you can do to adopt their longevity practices, no matter where you live, according to Buettner's research.

Move Naturally

Physical activity is part of daily life for the residents in the Blue Zones and is incorporated into the day through activities like gardening, walking and cooking. Research on men living in the Sardinian Blue Zone discovered that living longer was associated with activities like raising farm animals, living on steeper slopes in the mountains and walking longer distances to work. Building more physical activity into daily life can help meet the physical activity guidelines for Americans. These guidelines suggest at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week.

Sense of Purpose

In the Blue Zones communities, having a sense of purpose in life is associated with living longer.

In Okinawa, a life purpose is known as “ikigai” and in Nicoya, it is referred to as “plan de vida.”

Having a reason to get out of bed in the morning is closely intertwined with happiness, and without one, it can be difficult to maintain healthy behaviors and a lifestyle that contributes to a longer life. Research on psychological well-being has linked a sense of purpose and happiness with a reduced risk of death. The evidence is clear; having a positive outlook on life can influence how long you live.

Manage Your Stress

We know that too much stress is bad for us and often leads to inflammation that is associated with many age-related chronic diseases. In the Blue Zones, people still experience stress, however they have different routines that help manage their stress. For example, people in Okinawa take time every day to remember their ancestors, while Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda often pray, Ikarians take frequent naps, and Sardinians partake in happy hour. It is clearly important to find stress management techniques that work for you, whether that is getting the right amount of sleep, being physically active or socializing with friends and family.

Eat Until You Are 80% Full

Another practice that Blue Zone communities have in common is that they don’t overeat. Okinawans follow the 80% rule, which is known as “hara hachi bu.” It simply means that they stop eating when they feel 80% full, rather than 100% full. Because of this, it is harder to consume too many calories, which leads to weight gain, obesity and other chronic diseases. Strategies like placing your fork down between bites and focusing on your sense of fullness can help make it easier to stop eating when you feel 80% full.

Plant Slant

It may sound strange to us in the United States, but the cornerstone of most Blue Zone diets is plants.

Although most are not vegetarians, they do tend to eat a 95% plant-based diet. Instead of being the main course, meat is served as a small side, and is often considered a celebratory food or a way to add flavor to plant-based dishes. Diets in the Blue Zones are rich in vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains.

Moderate Wine Consumption

Another factor common to many of the Blue Zones is moderate wine consumption. Some studies have shown that one to two drinks per day can significantly reduce mortality, specifically from heart disease. In the Icarian and Sardinian Blue Zones, red wine is the drink of choice, with many people consuming 1-2 glasses per day. Red wine contains an antioxidant called resveratrol, which may prevent blood vessel damage and may reduce LDL cholesterol. It is important to remember that these benefits are only seen for moderate wine consumption (up to one 5-ounce glass a day for women and up to two for men). Be sure to talk with your doctor before making any changes in alcohol consumption.

Find Community

Most of the Blue Zones are religious, with the majority of people belonging to a faith-based community. Many studies on faith and religion have shown that being religious is associated with a lower risk of death. It is unclear why, however, researchers speculate that this could be due to social support and reduced rates of depression. If this is the case, being a part of any meaningful community could also increase longevity, whether that be faith-based or not.

Put Family First

In the Blue Zones, family members are often close. Not only do younger generations value older generations, but they often live together and help care for older family members. In many Blue Zones, it is not uncommon for grandparents to live with their families. In fact, studies have shown that grandparents who help raise their grandchildren have a reduced risk of death than those who do not care for grandchildren. It seems that being close with family can influence lifespan.

Maintain a Fulfilling Social Life

People in Blue Zones have supportive social circles and actively participate in them. In Okinawa, the term “moais” refers to groups of five friends that are committed to each other for life. Social support and a sense of community are essential in all Blue Zones areas, and research has linked this to good health, happiness and longevity. Additionally, many studies have shown lower rates of hypertension, obesity and diabetes in those who have a strong support network.

Katie Greenawalt is a Penn State Extension educator for food, families and health in Lebanon County.


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