What is a Blue Zone?

A Blue Zone is an anthropological idea and term that describes the environments and lifestyles of the world’s longest-lived people. First appearing in a November 2005 issue of National Graphic Magazine’s cover story, “The Secrets of a Long Life,” written by Dan Buettner, Blue Zones appear all over the world. Buettner identified five specific geographic areas where people are more statistically likely to live longer:

  • the Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, California
  • Icaria, Greece
  • Nicoya, Costa Rica
  • Sardinia, Italy
  • Okinawa, Japan

Buettner offers an explanation, based on first-hand observations and empirical data, as to why these populations live longer, healthier lives.

Background of the Term “Blue Zones”

The concept of blue zones was born out of demographic work accomplished by Michael Poulain and Gianni Pes.  It was outlined in the Journal of Experimental Gerontology. The two men identified Sardinia, Italy’s Nuoro province, as the area in which the highest concentration of male centenarians lived. As the two men further developed their research, zoning in on several villages in which people lived the longest, they drew concentric blue circles on the map and referred to the area within the circles as “Blue Zones.” Buettner, with demographers Poulain and Pes, applied the term to validity longevity areas in Loma Linda, California, among the Seventh-day Adventists, and Okinawa, Japan. Poulain and Buettner then identified and validated these areas in Ikaria, Greece and Nicoya, Costa Rica.

What Do Blue Zones Have in Common?

According to Poulain, Pes and Buettner, the people inhabiting Blue Zones have several things in common that result in their longevity. For instance, the people of Loma Linda, California, Sardinia, Italy and Okinawa, Japan share six specific characteristics, including putting family ahead of other concerns and smoking less. In addition, these regions are semi-vegetarianism, and the majority of food is derived from plants. Legumes are commonly consumed, and the people in these villages engage in constant moderate physical activity. In other words, exercise, in some form or another, is an inseparable part of life. Finally, people of all ages are integrated into their communities. Social activity and engagement are important in these regions.

Characteristics of Blue Zones

In his book, Buettner offers a similar list of nine lessons that cover the lifestyle of those living in Blue Zones. He recognizes a common thread among these communitie:

  • engagement in social life
  • engagement in family life
  • engagement in religion or spirituality

Additionally, the people in these regions live on a plant-based diet and consume moderate calories while engaging in regular, moderate physical activity. Finally, the communities put an emphasis on reducing stress and on finding purpose in their lives, which ultimately contributes to a feeling of happiness and self-worth. To put it simply, those living in Blue Zones live a lifestyle of:

  • daily exercise
  • a healthy diet
  • a low-stress life that incorporates religion, purpose, family and meaning.

They are called Blue Zones, and they are places around the globe where people live healthier and longer than anywhere else on earth. There are several Blue Zones, and in each of these regions, it is common for people to live to 90 or 100 years of age. In addition, people who live in a Blue Zone aren’t simply living longer. They’re also living healthier and without disability or medication.