Blue Zones and Centenarians

What do 1) Ikaria, Greece; 2) Okinawa, Japan; 3) Ogliastra Region, Sardinia; 4) Loma Linda, Calif.; and 5) Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica all have in common? 

They are considered “Blue Zones” or areas around the world that have a higher-than-average number of centenarians (people reaching age 100+).

Blue Zones is now a trademark and reflects the lifestyle and environment of the world’s longest-lived people. It was born out of work done by Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain outlined in the Journal of Experimental Gerontology, identifying Sardinia as the region of the world with the highest concentration of male centenarians.

In 2000 Dan Buettner, a National Geographic explorer and author, struck out on a quest to find the lifestyle secrets to longevity, traveling around the world to study communities with surprisingly high percentages of centenarians. Dan and his team found that all blue zones areas share nine specific lifestyle habits that we call the Power 9®.

They have since taken these principles into communities across the United States working with policy makers, local businesses, schools and individuals to shape the environments of the Blue Zones Project Communities. Through policy and environmental changes, the Blue Zones Project Communities have been able to increase life expectancy, reduce obesity and make the healthy choice the easy choice for millions of Americans. The goal for Blue Zones is to not only make the healthy choice the easy choice, but also the unavoidable choice. Blue Zones uncovered 9 evidence-based common denominators among the world’s centenarians that are believed to slow this aging process.

  1. Located off the coast of Italy, Sardinia is home to the world’s longest-lived men. This community of shepherds walk 5 mountainous miles a day or more. 
  2. Home to the world’s longest-lived women, these South Pacific islands offer many secrets to longevity. The Okinawa tradition of forming a moai provides secure social networks. 
  3. Loma Linda, CA – This Adventist community in California outlives the average American by a decade. Taking their diet directly from the Bible they consume a vegan diet of leafy greens, nuts, and legumes. They recognize the Sabbath and downshift for 24 hours every week. 
  4. Nicoyans spend just 15% of what America does on health care and are more than twice as likely than Americans to reach a healthy age of 90 years. Faith and family play a strong role in Nicoyan culture. So does plan de vida, or reason to live, which helps Nicoyan elders maintain a positive outlook and active lifestyle. 
  5. People on this tiny Aegean island live 8 years longer than Americans do. They experience 20% less cancer, half the rate of heart disease, and almost no dementia. Ikarians eat a variation of the Mediterranean diet. Ikarians also downshift with a midafternoon break.

Brad Breeding, president and co-founder of myLifeSite, a North Carolina company that develops web-based resources designed to help families make better-informed decisions when considering a continuing care retirement community or lifecare community, suggests that as you explore where you will live as you grow older, it may be worth taking these factors into consideration as it could impact your likelihood of reaching centenarian status. 

Not everyone has bought in to this concept and research, however. Dr. Saul Newman, a researcher at the Australian National University, suggests the records in some of these places aren’t kept particularly well, and in some cases, people are simply fibbing about their age. Dr. Newman says the problem with claims of longevity in a particular region was leading to “wasted research” and he wonders whether these are just ways to sell diets. Fraud and data error are some of the reasons why Dr. Newman believes these regions have managed to claim higher longevity rates. 

My big takeaway from all this research – more naps! People who nap regularly have up to 35% lower chances of dying from heart disease. 

person napping on sofa

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