Many people would love to live a longer, healthier, and happier life. But what exactly is the secret behind this? One way to find out is to investigate the places of the world called “Blue Zones.”
Many people in these blue zones live to be centenarians (100-year-olds) and even longer. But why? This article will provide you with facts and details about their lifestyle, diet, and more.
Dan Buettner, a world-renowned journalist/health activist, has identified five blue zones and has written many books on the subject. Mr. Buettner also owns the trademark to the term “Blue Zones.” The five blue zones are:
- Ikaria, Greece
- Sardinia, Italy
- Okinawa, Japan
- The Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
- Loma Linda, California (Seventh Day Adventists)
However, I am adding several more because I believe they deserve to be placed on the list of Blue Zones. Many people in the following areas live well into their 90’s, 100’s, and more. Here is the list I am adding:
- Campodimele, Italy
- Acciaroli, Italy
Let’s start with the island of Ikaria.
Ikaria, a Greek island near Turkey in the Eastern Aegean Sea, is a Blue Zones powerhouse with many nonagenarians — people that live between the ages of 90 and 99. Interestingly, an exceptional third of Ikaria’s residents live to be 90.
The island is named after Icarus, who fell into the sea near the island after flying too close to the sun, according to Greek mythology. Ikaria’s population is about 8,000. It was initially called Dolichi.
Ikaria is also known for its mineral springs, which have been found to cure many ailments.
The most extensive studies done on Ikarians have been from the University of Athens, who examined residents over 65. They found that, on average, out of the 8,000 islanders, they live ten years more than their European counterparts and in exceptional health until their end. Dementia and depression are very low, and so is cancer and heart disease.
There are numerous notable factors about the Ikaria’s lifestyle that may explain their fascinating longevity:
- Ikarians eat very little meat but plenty of fish and vegetables.
- 60% of its residents over 90 continue to be physically active, compared to an average of about 20% in other parts of the world.
- Olive oil is used regularly in most of their foods.
- Considerable amounts of wild greens are harvested from the hillsides for eating and to be used for homeopathic purposes.
- The older people on the island have a daily regimen of drinking a specially made mountain tea, which includes organic herbs such as thyme, chamomile, sage, and mint that is sweetened with organic honey. The herbs contain beneficial antioxidants and diuretics, which can help lower blood pressure and other numerous health benefits.
Researchers think other factors of their lifestyle are also important.
- Most are non-smokers.
- Mid-day naps are a ritual on this island.
- Lifestyle is easygoing.
- The residents socialize regularly with close friends and family members, enjoying modest amounts of red wine and talking about their day.
- Families give their older relatives an influential position in society.
- They use one of the best made extra-virgin olive oil—produced without any special treatment other than cleaning the olive, pressing it, draining the oil, and then filtrating it—turns into a rich, thick, deep-colored green essential oil.
- One of this Blue Zone’s diet secrets is their bioactive feta cheese, which is fermented goat’s milk that has been curdled with rennin, an enzyme they get from the goat’s stomachs. This cheese is a powerful probiotic that is very high in protein with anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Ikarians use lemon juice for almost everything. They even eat the whole fruit, including the skin. The polyphenol antioxidants found in lemon peels may have a beneficial effect on blood glucose, diabetes, cholesterol, inflammation, blood pressure, and more.
- Ikarians drink their coffee strong. Two to three cups a day of Ikarian coffee have been shown to reduce cardiovascular disease in past studies.
The charming island of Sardinia, located in the Mediterranean Sea, became the first recognized hotspot of the Blue Zones after demographers Michel Poulain and Gianni Pes observed that it had the highest density of male centenarians than any other country.
Presently, 24 out of 100,000 Sardinians are over the age of 100. Ovodda, one agricultural village in Sardinia, has a population of 1,700 people, five of which are more than 100 years old.
The Village Of Seulo
Researchers found a hot spot of longevity in this mountain village where a fantastic proportion of men reach the age of 100 years.
This isolated Sardinian village named Seulo has the record for the most centenarians between 1996 – 2016 with a total of 20. At that given time, it was verified that this was the area in the entire world that people lived the longest. L’Unione Sarda Newspaper reported these facts and more.
What’s the cause of this extraordinary data? The residents claim it is the fresh air, their unique diet that includes organic fruits and vegetables, and their unique goat cheese and low-stress levels. They also seem to maintain plenty of activity even as they are aging, such as plenty of walking, and hard work.
And one of their other secrets is a love for drinking wine. It has been discovered that moderate drinking can make you live longer than not drinking at all. However, there is a catch to that. You should drink 1-2 glasses of wine per day, specifically the distinctively made Sardinian Cannonau wine. The residents always drink it with food.
Most of the male centenarians in Sardinia are surprisingly farmers or shepherds. They have a habit of walking and hiking for hours on end every day with their friends. This is an incredible activity that adds to their longevity.
The small, isolated island of Okinawa in Japan is an incredible Blue Zones longevity hotspot, and is praised for two distinctive characteristics:
- The most centenarians in the world.
- The women live longer than any other place in the world. An impressive 740 residents out of their 1.3 million population are centenarians. More fascinating, 90% of the centenarians are women.
When you ask Okinawan the reason for their longevity, they respond with the word “moai.” In Japanese moai means “a support group of life-long caring, close friends.”
Okinawans have extremely low cases of cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and dementia, to name a few.
Researchers have discovered that there are two foremost determinants behind their longevity – their lifestyle and diet.
Dr. Craig Wilcox, Professor of Gerontology, explained in the video above, that he discovered many of the foods that Okinawans eat seem to activate a longevity gene called FOXO (Forkhead box O).
The foods mentioned by Dr. Wilcox to help activate FOXO are curcumin, and seaweed (Wakame and Kombu are the main seaweeds eaten by Okinawans) found in the Okinawan ocean that contains xanthophyll and astaxanthin, to which both are in the carotenoids family and are two potent antioxidants.
According to Dan Buettner’s book, “Blue Zones Solutions,” Okinawans eat foods that may help them live a long healthy life. Here are some of those foods mentioned:
Okinawan Beni Imo is a purple sweet potato full of health benefits. Specifically, it is full of an antioxidant called sporamin. A significant factor of sporamin is its ability to search and destroy free radicals that do harm to your body.
Tofu, a soy product, is a staple of the Okinawan’s diet. It has a reputation for protecting the heart. Studies have shown that people who eat soy instead of meat have lower cholesterol levels, which explains why they have a low risk of cardiovascular disease.
Goya (Bitter Melon)
Goya looks like a cucumber with warts. It tastes extremely bitter. Recent studies found bitter melon to be an “efficient anti-diabetic” just as potent as pharmaceuticals drugs in treating the regulation of blood sugar. Goya also has chemicals that may reduce the creation of destructive free radicals.
Turmeric, which contains curcumin, is a spice used regularly by the Okinawans. Research has discovered that it has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin has been researched and studied. The results show that it has anti-aging benefits as well.
Regarded as the “heaven of longevity,” Okinawa also holds the record for the most centenarians. There are 35 for every 100,000 inhabitants.
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
This area of Costa Rica is recognized for its beautiful beaches and is a popular vacation spot. Its inhabitants commonly live past the 100-year mark, precisely one out of every 250 residents.
They have a simplistic lifestyle – Nicoyans ordinarily make a living as farmers and or cattle ranchers, and this consistent activity is said to be one of the reasons for their longevity. The beautiful view of the beaches may also have a hand in this.
This vigorous village is one of the Blue Zones’ unique hotspots. It is a bit different than the others in the sense that they have the most male centenarians out of anywhere else in the world.
One of Nicoya’s dietary secrets is their nutritious corn tortillas. They are made through a unique process that creates a tortilla that controls cholesterol. They add wood ashes when they soak the corn. This peculiar process helps release a Vitamin B called Niacin. This particular vitamin is what helps regulate the levels of cholesterol.
The following are some of the other factors of this Blue Zones village that helps them live longer:
- Active and hardworking – the centenarians have an intense work regimen that keeps them healthy while adding to their sense of purpose for living. Their physical activity consists of cycling gardening, walking, housekeeping, etc.
- Strong faith – they have a strong belief in God, and their prayer routines help them to relieve stress.
- Have a reason to live – Centenarians strongly focus on their families. This gives them the power to go on to live.
- Get a lot of sun – Nicoyans like getting a lot of sunshine. This helps them get all the vitamin D the body needs. Experts have said that getting 10 to 15 minutes of sun every day can lower the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease.
- Have a strong social network – The centenarians have a strong bond with their families. It dramatically enhances their well-being and provides them with a sense of purpose.
- They drink plenty of hard water – Nicoya’s water contains a lot of calcium and magnesium. Both of these minerals are vital for bone and muscle health. Since they use this water regularly for cooking, washing, and drinking, they get plenty of calcium every day of their lives.
- Eat a healthy diet – they eat plenty of legumes, such as beans and peas. They love their unique cashews, which contain more vitamin C than an orange. Their diet also consists of the noni, a pear-shaped fruit high in antioxidants. Nicoyans eat big meals during the day and small ones in the evening.
- Do not smoke – Nicoyanos do not smoke cigarettes.
- Get quality sleep – Nicoyanos get approximately eight hours of sleep per day. They have a set schedule of going to sleep right after nightfall and wake up at sunrise.
Loma Linda, California (Seventh Day Adventists)
About seventy miles from Los Angeles is the town of Loma Linda, where the average lifespan for a woman is 91 and 89 for a man. There are also numerous centenarians living there. The Adventist faith supports healthy living by curbing smoking and alcohol and promoting exercise.
One study of this Blue Zones population analyzed the eating practices of 73,000 Adventists. They found that the vegetarian volunteers in the study group had a 12 percent lesser chance of dying of diabetes, renal disorders, and cardiovascular disease combined in comparison to the non-vegetarians counterparts.
They live an average of ten years more than other Americans. Dr. Larry Beeson, from Loma Linda University, has been carefully studying the health habits and lifestyle of the Seventh Day Adventists for the last five decades.
Dr. Beeson discovered that Adventists do die of the same diseases as everyone else but at a much later time in life.
They respect the human body as a temple of the Holy Spirit. What that means is that they are earnest about abstaining from tobacco and alcohol. And they are very persistent at following a plant-based, vegetarian diet.
Many of the Adventists are 100% vegetarians. Others will include dairy and eggs in their diet. There are a few that eat small amounts of meat, chicken, and fish but do not eat pork.
Diet is not the only reason why Adventists live longer. Seventh-Day Adventists tenaciously observe the Sabbath.
Every week, beginning on Friday at sundown, they rest entirely for 24 hours. This helps them to recover from the week’s stresses and gets them ready for the next one. They also utilize this rest day to socialize with family and friends, or just be with God.
During the Sabbath, the Adventists do not use any type of electronic gadgets, such as cellphones, laptops, etc.
Exercise And Activity
Adventists live a very active lifestyle and exercise regularly, even at an old age. This has been a priority for them and clearly has a beneficial effect on their longevity. Numerous studies that have proven exercise can prolong life.
More Blue Zones
This tiny country clearly belongs to the Blue Zones list. The average resident living in Monaco lives to be almost 90 years old. This lifespan is four years longer than the average lifespan of any other country in the world. And more fascinating, close to ten years longer than the average US resident.
But here is the strange thing about Monaco. Over 75% of Monaco’s resident population is foreign-born. Only About 9,259 of Monaco’s 38,300 resident population was born there. What this suggests is that genes may have nothing to do with their longevity.
Studies have suggested that your genetic makeup may play a 20% to 30% part in how long you live. But Monaco just may arguably turn these studies on their head. What are the odds that almost everyone foreign-born, living in Monaco have longevity genes? There has to be more to this longevity.
The Wealth Factor
Could their wealth be a factor as to why they live longer? One out of every 56 residents in Monaco is worth over 30 million dollars. That is the highest density compared to any other country in the world, by far.
And crazier, about 33% of its residents are millionaires. But what does this have to do with living longer? Well, in a new study, researchers have discovered that the wealthy can live up to nine years longer. The quality of life seems to add to the quantity of life.
Monaco’s vital statistics for “life expectancy” are too good to be ignored:
Total population: 89.4 years (2018 est.) Male: 85.5 years Female: 93.4 years
Let’s take a look at their diet and lifestyle:
Monaco is located in the Mediterranean, and so because of the region, it may be helping the inhabitants when it comes to staying healthy. Their diet consists of fresh seafood, nuts, olive oil, vegetables, whole grains, and fruits. It is the typical Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean diet has been proven beneficial against bad cholesterol, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. Also, it’s tasty.
Eat Small Meals
The American Heart Association (AMA), considers one serving of meat to be two to three ounces—meaning that one serving of meat or chicken should be the size a piece of lean meat should be about the size of a kiwi. That is a lot smaller than what is typically consumed by the average person.
When you pay careful attention to the portion sizes, you wind up eating fewer calories, and that will probably help you maintain an ideal body and give you better health as you age.
As is recognized by the Center For Disease Control, being overweight can put you at risk for certain cancers, cardiovascular diseases, high cholesterol, and other types of medical issues.
Spend A Lot Of Time Outdoors
With its mountainous hills, the soothing blue seawater and warm temperatures all year long, many of Monaco’s residents spend a lot of their day getting the fresh Mediterranean air.
Cycling, boating, plenty of walking, swimming, is all included in their lifestyle. Increased activity has been proven to be essential to good health.
Maybe it’s the fresh Mediterranean air or the sound of the ocean waves, or perhaps it’s because most people are rich in Monaco, or maybe because many are retired people, or maybe it’s the customary joy of life that comes with living in Monaco.
Whatever it may be, there’s a relaxing lifestyle here. The residents enjoy life thoroughly. One study advises that stressors can cause heart disease. Chronic stress has been shown to cause harm to your health.
The elevated village of Campodimele (translated to Italian it means “field or area of honey“) is found in the Italian province of Latina, between Rome and Naples. Its population has an average lifespan of 95. The residents will tell you that it’s the fresh mountain air, the laid-back, easygoing lifestyle, and above all, their Mediterranean diet of spaghetti, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, and anchovies.
In Campodimele, age seems to move at a much slower pace. The residents live to an extraordinary age – about 30 years longer than the rest of Italy. More so, they continue to stay healthy in both body and mind until their very last days.
Campodimele is a perfect example of a town that belongs to the Blue Zones list.
What is exactly causing this incredible longevity? Aldo Lisetto, a former head of police located in Rome, researched the matter. For several years he investigated and personally gathered information and studied all the evidence.
Finally, in 1987 he announced his conclusions in a book about this extraordinary unknown Blue Zones town. Lisetto, who was later elected as mayor of Campodimele, concluded that the resident’s longevity is the direct result of their eating habits.
Campodimele is considered to be a farming town. In the village, five prior generations of the same family have work in tandem in the fields, living off what they planted – pure organic vegetables and fruit. The residents eat ample amounts of fresh vegetables, including many types that are no longer being grown in other regions.
One example would be “scalonga,” a type of onion that you will not find anywhere else in the world. This old-style onion contains nutrients that help in digestion and to reinforce the immune system. The villagers in Campodimele eat very little meat, but homemade maize-bread is a typical food consumed by them.
Another little secret of the people of Campodimele is that they use a lot of cold-pressed olive oil – an equivalent of 0.2 liters per person each day or which corresponds to the size of an average drinking glass.
Researchers concluded that the oil improves health and lengthens life because it includes monounsaturated fats, which reduces the chance of getting cancer and heart disease. Seemingly, the energetic residents of Campodimele have practically no background of heart disease.
However, Campodimeleans themselves consider another liquid as their secret to a long, healthy life. One of their rituals is a glass of red wine with every one of their meals. The exciting part is that their long-held speculation was accurate.
Scientists soon after have learned that red wine does contain beneficial antioxidants called polyphenols, especially resveratrol. Red wine has been recommended to be consumed with meals, especially with the Mediterranean types of food.
Campodimele has a population of about 800 residents. From the 800, 120 are over 80 years old, 42 are more than 90, and numerous have attained the big 100 and more. Perhaps, Campodimele has discovered the secret of longevity.
Acciaoroli, located near Naples, Italy is where the world-famous Mediterranean Diet was first brought to light to the rest of the world in 1975 by Ancel Keys, an American Nutritionist who ironically moved to Acciaroli, began eating the Mediterranean Diet and lived to a ripe old age of 100.
Large-scale studies were done on this particular diet. According to the study, it is an apparently healthy diet, but one must also exercise or at least be more active to reap its benefits fully.
It has fascinated journalists, health enthusiasts, and researchers alike. Here, among the ecstatic scenery of rich golden hills and bright green countryside, at least one in 10 villagers live to 100 and more. This place is the home to more than 300 centenarians; it is frequently attributed to as the place where people live longer than anywhere else.
Not only are the residents blessed with a long life span, but even at an older age, they remain active, healthy, and continue to live a quality life. The common diseases that inflict older people in most areas of the world, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc., are practically nonexistent.
Their Mediterranean diet is abundant in fish and olive oil, and famous for being super-healthy. The meals are regularly cooked with rosemary, a herb known to have numerous health benefits. This herb is essentially the mainstay of the Acciaroli diet. They put it in almost everything and even it as they pick it.
Research has discovered that some of the carnosic acid – which is plentiful in rosemary – helps to improve memory. Carnosic acid may also promote eye health and fight off free radical damage to the brain. Other studies have shown that rosemary may have tumor-fighting and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Studies conducted by the Sapienza University in Rome and the San Diego School of Medicine discovered that the older residents in Acciaroli have peculiarly excellent blood circulation.
They found unusually low levels of a hormone called adrenomedullin in their blood, which is reputed to widen blood vessels. And more fascinating, the level of this hormone found in their blood was the equivalent of people in their 20s. Too much of this hormone can contribute to other severe health conditions.
The exciting difference about the centenarians of Acciaroli is that they drink and smoke but still live to a ripe old age.
Noticeably, they have a diet full of healthy nutrients, have a great social life, and have lots of fresh air. Maybe that is the secret to living longer.
A recent study suggests that you should eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, drink moderately, not smoke, and manage to keep a healthy body weight. It is evident that the blue zones named above have been doing correctly, and more for a very long time.
There is also research evidence claiming that genetic markers found in your body can predict with 77% percent accuracy if you can live until 100 years old.
However, some studies show that your diet can change your DNA and genes. So, remove the genetics excuse from your mind, and let’s get going on living a long, healthy life.
A more pleasant life doesn’t come from a single application alone, such as genetics or eating healthy, but from applying all the habits, the fantastic people in the blue zones live by.