Geriatrician, Hospitalist, Patient Advocate, Healthcare Educator

What We Can Learn From Blue Zones?

Photo by Daniel Bernard

Blue zones are a term used by author Dan Buettner who has studied areas with long longevity for the past 2 decades. Blue zones are regions of the world where people live longer and healthier lives than average(about a decade longer than the US or Western Europe).

Here are some of the things that individuals in these blue zones are doing:

Okinawa, Japan

  • world’s longest lived women
  • diet plant-based with antioxidants and nutrient-rich vegetables and leaves
  • stop eating when they are 80% full and practice mindful eating(average calorie intake is 1900 compared to US average of 3600 calories)
  • they practice “ikigai” -they have a reason for living and life purpose such as gardening, art, friends
  • gardening is a part of life-get activity in, have fresh produce, and move around
  • traditionally sit on the floor to eat and relax-this means the elderly are getting up and down off the floor several times a day which helps with buliding lower body strength and balance

Sardonia, Italy

  • highest male centenarians in the world(in the US, 100 year old women outnumber men by 6:1 but in Sardinia, the ratio is 1:1)
  • steep towns built on the hillside make mobility and exercise a daily part of life by just walking
  • eat primarily plant-based diet and also consume Cannonau wine which has the highest amount of polyphenols in the world

Ikaria, Greece

  • Island with almost no dementia
  • villages are steep so everywhere they go and walk, they get exercise in
  • follow a Mediterranean diet with lots of vegetables and fruit

Nicoya, Costa Rica

  • splitting logs helps elder stay mobile -walk regularly
  • Meso-american diet-corn, beans, squash
  • spend 1/5th amount on healthcare than the US does

Loma Linda, California

  • live an average of 10 years more than average Americans
  • eat healthy whole foods like nuts, vegetables and beans which is a diet per the faith they practice as this community has the highest concentration of Seventh-day Adventists. Adventists also do not smoke or drink alcohol.


  • In addition, Mr. Buettner has proposed Singapore as a new blue zone.
  • now has the longest, healthiest life expectancy in the world
  • promote healthy food-junk food is taxed, healthy food is subsidized
  • promote mobility-driving is taxed, walking is subsidized
  • if your aging parent lives within 500 yards of you, you get a tax break(which helps older people get the care they need in times of need)
  • National Steps Challenge encourages residents to move more and incentivizes by letting them redeem points to use to shop or eat at restaurants.

So, what is the secret to a long, healthy life? It’s not a vigorous exercise routine or supplements. It comes down to eating good food, getting a good night’s sleep, having good friends, and moving around naturally throughout the day.

Here are some of the what stands out in all of the blue zones:

  • Eating good food: Cook yourself! Don’t order out. Focus on a plant-based diet-simple foods containing whole grains, vegetables, greens, beans, and tubers, such as sweet potatoes. Use herbs. Eating a cup of beans a day not only gets you protein and fiber, but associated with living an extra 4 years. Don’t overeat.
  • Don’t shy away from social interactions
  • Move around-you don’t have to necessarily go to the gym, any activity is helpful…gardening, walking
  • Get a good night’s sleep