As a health and wellness expert with decades of experience in the industry, I’ve spent countless hours poring over research papers, the latest scientific data, and interviews with experts in every field.
But some of the most valuable insights I’ve gained have come from learning about the ways other communities around the world live their daily lives—especially when those communities are outliving us all.
These regions are what one National Geographic explorer and author, Dan Buettner, has deemed the blue zones. In the blue zones, vibrant living seems to be effortlessly woven into the fabric of daily life.
So what are the blue zones, and what secrets about longevity and happiness can we all learn from them? Let’s dive in.
What Are the Blue Zones?
The original blue zones identified by Buettner are five communities across the globe where residents live longer, healthier lives than the rest of the average population:
- Ikaria, Greece: A tiny island where residents live an average of eight years longer than Americans, have half the rate of heart disease, and almost no dementia.
- Loma Linda, California: A tight-knit community where spirituality and strict diet rules may play a role in residents' longevity.
- Sardinia, Italy: There are nearly 10 times more centenarians per capita here than in the US, thanks in part to an emphasis on community and Sardinian practices of hunting, fishing, and harvesting the food they eat.
- Okinawa, Japan: So well-known for longevity that it was once called “the land of the immortals,” Okinawa residents rely on an antioxidant-rich diet, sunshine, and a strong social network to outlive the rest of the world.
- Nicoya, Costa Rica: A love of life, close-knit family structures, and high-calcium water content that leads to stronger bones are just a few of the things keeping these Costa Ricans vibrant well into their 90s and 100s.
I know what you might be thinking—this is all just genetics! After all, if your grandma and her grandma lived to be a hearty 100, there’s a good chance your DNA will help you do the same.
There is some truth to this; genes do play about a 25% role in determining your longevity. For the rest of it, though, tons of lifestyle factors like diet, exercise, and your environment all greatly contribute to your chance of living a long and full life.1
What lifestyle habits and decisions are people in the blue zones making to ensure that longevity? Let’s take a look:
The Blue Zone Diet
While the five regions have varying food preferences and native ingredients, there are a few common factors that unite their diet and nutrition practices:
Low in Processed Ingredients
Many blue-zone residents grow and harvest much of the food they eat, or shop primarily from locally grown sources. This is much different than the Standard American Diet. Thanks in part to availability and convenience, Americans may consume nearly 60% of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods.2
That processed diet is linked not only to a higher rate of cardiovascular disease3 and weight gain,4 but also to all-cause mortality.5 Put simply, the more ultra-processed junk you eat, the more likely you’re going to live a shorter life. Local, whole ingredients could be one of the many factors contributing to the lower rate of heart issues and longer lifespans among the blue zones.
Heavy in Whole Grains, Legumes, Vegetables, and Nuts
Blue-zone diners understand the importance of the nutrients, vitamins, and healthy fats found in ingredients like whole grains, lentils, non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens and mushrooms, and nuts. Unlike other carb or fat sources like white bread and conventional butter, which are high in sugars or unhealthy fats, these grains and veggies keep blood-sugar levels at bay. And when your blood sugar is managed, you won’t be at as high of a risk for chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes or beholden to nagging cravings that are impossible to avoid.
Rich in Omega-3s
As a whole, blue-zone residents don’t eat a ton of meat. But when they do, they eat clean sources of protein with ingredients rich in omega 3s, like salmon and other fatty fish. (Sardinians also eat plenty of grass-fed Pecorino cheese made from sheep’s milk, which is another great source of omega-3s for those who can tolerate dairy.)
Omega 3s could be behind the lower rate of dementia in the blue zones—along with fighting inflammation,6 they’re excellent at improving learning, memory, cognitive well-being, and brain blood flow as you age.7
Moderate Alcohol Intake
Aside from Loma Linda, where alcohol is prohibited by religious practices, the blue zones practice moderate alcohol intake. In the Mediterranean regions in particular, it’s normal to consume one to two glasses of red wine per day. It’s important to remember that these are typically not overly processed, sugar-laden wines, but rather natural ones grown in healthy soils.
Context matters, too. These communities also often drink in positive social settings, as opposed to using alcohol for self-medication.
Each of the blue zones fasts a little differently. In some places, certain periods of fasting are done for religious reasons; in others it’s normal practice to eat a light meal for dinner. This style of eating isn’t for everyone, but researchers have found that when practiced in a smart and healthy way that works for you, intermittent fasting can lead to improved immune and heart health, reduced inflammation, and the ability for your cells to have a chance to recharge and repair—all of which can lead to a longer, healthier life.8
I love eating foods rich in omega-3s and the other vitamins and minerals that blue zone diets have in spades. But in the US, we can’t always rely on diet alone to get everything we need. To meet my daily goals, I supplement with Daily Essentials Multi + Omegas. It’s a curated, easily digestible collection of supplements organized in one easy-to-take packet. When I take them each morning, I can rest assured I’ll get the nutrients I need to keep my brain, bones, and heart healthy.
Staying Active in the Blue Zones
Staying active is an ingrained part of life in the blue zones.
In Sardinia, shepherds walk outdoors for five miles per day, and many of the blue-zone residents maintain their own gardens. Gardening is a double whammy of health—not only do residents get the cardiovascular and mental benefits of caring for crops, they also can enjoy heart-healthy meals made with vegetables and whole grains they grew themselves.
In Okinawa, like other parts of Japan, residents do many activities like sleeping and eating low to the ground as opposed to in chairs and other furniture. This consistent activity level with a wide range of movement builds lower body strength and balance, which helps to prevent the falls that become more common with age.9
You may not want to start taking your meals on the floor. But incorporating balance and strength-building exercises into your daily workouts is a smart way to counteract the muscle strength and density loss that comes with age.
There’s another great thing about the outdoor exercise that blue zone residents love—it helps them get their daily dose of vitamin D via the sunshine. It can be difficult to get enough vitamin D through diet alone (especially for vegans and vegetarians), except through fortified foods which are often highly processed. Most Americans who work in offices and don’t get much outdoor time are seriously lacking in the vitamin, and that deficiency is contributing to decreased bone health, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.10
I try to get plenty of sunshine here in Florida, but the truth is that almost all Americans, myself included, are in desperate need of a supplement to ensure they’re getting enough vitamin D. I use my own Vitamin D Plus, a powerful combo of D and vitamin K, plus geranylgeraniol (GG). The trio works together to enhance nutrient absorption and maximize each other's benefits for your mental health, bone strength, and more.
Maintaining Strong Social Networks in the Blue Zones
People in the blue zones are part of strong, supportive communities. In Okinawa, these communities are called moai, and they provide financial and emotional support in times of need. That security counteracts the isolation that can come with age.
In the Costa Rican community of Nicoya, it’s common for multi-generational families to live together or very near to each other, with grandparents playing a huge role in the upbringing of the younger generations. This sense of purpose and belonging helps negate the fears of uselessness that people can feel in communities where older people aren’t as valued.
Not everyone can join a moai or live in a multi-generational household. But researchers have found that it is absolutely critical to find your version of it as you age. There are true mental and physical risks to social isolation and loneliness, so much so that the World Health Organization equates it to well-known killers like smoking and obesity.11
You could join a fun group in your neighborhood that centers around an activity you love, like a conservation club that does trash clean-ups, or a dance group that performs at local parades.
Even just making frequent plans with friends is beneficial. Researchers found that getting together with pals helped keep the brain young and sharp, lowering the risk of dementia and improving cognition.12 The sense of joy, purpose, and community that comes with these gatherings won’t just make you feel great. It can also genuinely improve your health and help you live as long as people in the blue zones.
Loving Life in the Blue Zones
Another unifying factor within the blue zones is a sense of purpose and a positive outlook on life.
In Nicoya, residents have what they call a plan de vida, or a reason to live, amplifying their sense of purpose and ensuring they keep contributing to the greater good. In many of the blue zones, religion and spirituality are common denominators, also adding to the sense of belonging and greater calling that can help people embrace a serene, positive look on growing older.
In Sardinia, people are known for their sense of humor, and gather in the afternoons with no greater agenda than to laugh with each other. There might not be an easier or more fun way to reduce stress than that! Researchers have found that laughing increases your “happy” hormones and decreases the stress ones, giving your brain the positive outlook you need to keep enjoying life.13
That positive outlook is absolutely critical. A recent study found that people with positive perceptions on aging added an average of 7.5 years to their life, compared to people who dreaded everything that comes with growing older.14
Learn from the blue zones—love your life, and it will love you right back!
I know it’s not always easy to forget your troubles and embrace that positive outlook. When I’m feeling especially stressed, overwhelmed, and unequipped to deal with everything that life is throwing at me, I supplement with Take Ten Stress Support. It utilizes GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps relax your brain and allows you to respond to stress more calmly and efficiently.
Learning From the Blue Zones
Continuing to learn is another important element of aging powerfully—and there is clearly a ton of information to learn from the blue zones.
By taking their lessons to heart, strengthening your social network, staying active, and making smart nutrition choices, I bet you’ll have no problem embracing the positive outlook that keeps blue zone residents young in body and mind.
- Passarino, G., De Rango, F., & Montesanto, A. (2016). Human longevity: Genetics or Lifestyle? It takes two to tango. Immunity & ageing : I & A, 13, 12. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12979-016-0066-z
- Martínez Steele, E., Baraldi, L. G., Louzada, M. L., Moubarac, J. C., Mozaffarian, D., & Monteiro, C. A. (2016). Ultra-processed foods and added sugars in the US diet: evidence from a nationally representative cross-sectional study. BMJ open, 6(3), e009892. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2015-009892
- Juul, F., Vaidean, G., & Parekh, N. (2021). Ultra-processed Foods and Cardiovascular Diseases: Potential Mechanisms of Action. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 12(5), 1673–1680. https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmab049
- Hall, K. D., Ayuketah, A., Brychta, R., Cai, H., Cassimatis, T., Chen, K. Y., Chung, S. T., Costa, E., Courville, A., Darcey, V., Fletcher, L. A., Forde, C. G., Gharib, A. M., Guo, J., Howard, R., Joseph, P. V., McGehee, S., Ouwerkerk, R., Raisinger, K., Rozga, I., … Zhou, M. (2019). Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake. Cell metabolism, 30(1), 67–77.e3. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2019.05.008
- Rico-Campà, A., Martínez-González, M. A., Alvarez-Alvarez, I., Mendonça, R. D., de la Fuente-Arrillaga, C., Gómez-Donoso, C., & Bes-Rastrollo, M. (2019). Association between consumption of ultra-processed foods and all cause mortality: SUN prospective cohort study. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 365, l1949. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l1949
- Simopoulos A. P. (2002). Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 21(6), 495–505. https://doi.org/10.1080/07315724.2002.10719248
- Dighriri, I. M., Alsubaie, A. M., Hakami, F. M., Hamithi, D. M., Alshekh, M. M., Khobrani, F. A., Dalak, F. E., Hakami, A. A., Alsueaadi, E. H., Alsaawi, L. S., Alshammari, S. F., Alqahtani, A. S., Alawi, I. A., Aljuaid, A. A., & Tawhari, M. Q. (2022). Effects of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on Brain Functions: A Systematic Review. Cureus, 14(10), e30091. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.30091
- Hwangbo DS, Lee HY, Abozaid LS, Min KJ. Mechanisms of Lifespan Regulation by Calorie Restriction and Intermittent Fasting in Model Organisms. Nutrients. 2020;12(4):1194. Published 2020 Apr 24. doi:10.3390/nu12041194
- Thomas, E., Battaglia, G., Patti, A., Brusa, J., Leonardi, V., Palma, A., & Bellafiore, M. (2019). Physical activity programs for balance and fall prevention in elderly: A systematic review. Medicine, 98(27), e16218. https://doi.org/10.1097/MD.0000000000016218
- Ginde, A. A., Liu, M. C., & Camargo, C. A., Jr (2009). Demographic differences and trends of vitamin D insufficiency in the US population, 1988-2004. Archives of internal medicine, 169(6), 626–632. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinternmed.2008.604
- World Health Organization: Social Isolation and Loneliness
- Sommerlad, A., Sabia, S., Singh-Manoux, A., Lewis, G., & Livingston, G. (2019). Association of social contact with dementia and cognition: 28-year follow-up of the Whitehall II cohort study. PLoS medicine, 16(8), e1002862. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002862
- Yim J. (2016). Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review. The Tohoku journal of experimental medicine, 239(3), 243–249. https://doi.org/10.1620/tjem.239.243
- Levy, B. R., Slade, M. D., Kunkel, S. R., & Kasl, S. V. (2002). Longevity increased by positive self-perceptions of aging. Journal of personality and social psychology, 83(2), 261–270. https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-3522.214.171.1241