The 5 Lifestyle Habits All Blue Zone Cultures Have in Common
Experts agree that there are many differences between the Blue Zone lifestyle compared to the westernized lifestyle that make them the healthiest places on earth. Typically these areas of the world focus on a slower pace of life, with particular health habits that help Blue Zone residents reach that coveted three-digit birthday.
The Blue Zones are located in Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California. On the map, these geographical areas seemingly have nothing in common. However, when you study their culture, they all have similar healthy habits that set them apart.
“The Blue Zones are one of my favorite topics and I dream of living in one someday,” says Dr. Deepti Agarwal, MD, of Case Integrative Health. “Individuals who live in a Blue Zone prioritize the quality of life metrics without even realizing it! Blue Zone residents seem to have a much lower rate of disease than the rest of the world population, and on average, live a much longer life than your average individual.”
The Blue Zones hold a record number of centenarians—aka folks who live to be 100 years or older. Not only do people in the Blue Zones live longer than in other parts of the world, but they are also healthier at an older age. They don’t seem to experience the same chronic health conditions as the westernized world.
Thankfully, you don’t have to move to Italy or Japan for better health. These Blue Zone habits are easy to achieve at home!
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1. They value community.
Cultures in the Blue Zones are centered around community, strong relationships, and social support. They often cook together, go to the market together, garden together, spend hours with friends and family every day, and move at a slower pace of life even when working. This social time turns into hours and hours of spending time in their communities every day.
“Staying socially connected is one of the most consistent habits seen across the board in Blue Zones,” says Melissa Mitri, MS, RD. “Studies show maintaining strong friendships and social connections are linked to improved quality of life and longevity,” she says.
“Humans are beings who cannot live in isolation and having a strong sense of community is important for our wellbeing,” says Dr. Casey Kelley, MD, ABoIM, founder and medical director of Case Integrative Health. “Studies have shown that isolation is bad for our immune system among other things. Those who live in blue zone cultures who emphasize how important community is, are likely healthier from this alone.”
Researchers agree that feeling lonely is harmful to our mental health. A review in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that feeling lonely correlated with impairments in brain function, mood, and other health behaviors. They concluded that strong social support offers benefits to both mental and physical health.
“Social media and internet connectivity can be fantastic, but it can actually lead to more isolation and loneliness — those who live in blue zones and practice physical, in-person community connection tend to live healthier, happier lives,” says Dr. Kelley.
2. They cook wholesome meals.
“Those who live in Blue Zones tend to live life in moderation and enjoy it,” says Dr. Agarwal. “They cook wholesome foods and incorporate daily exercise, both key components to living a healthy, happy, long life. They tend to be richer in consumption of vitamins and minerals due to a consistent habit of eating heavily plant-based, vibrant fruits and vegetables with every meal that they mostly garden themselves, or pick from a community garden. Blue Zone natives also tend to enjoy a heart-healthy glass of red wine — a treat that I approve of.”
Related: 9 Longevity-Promoting Recipes from Italy’s “Blue Zone”
3. They’re always moving.
Patricia Kolesa MS, RDN says being active is a natural part of life in the Blue Zones.
“They move without having to think about it,” she says. “Those in the Blue Zones don’t have to go to the gym in order to reap the benefits from exercise. They hang their clothes outside, clean with conventional tools, and garden — all activities that encourage unintentional movement. Increased movement improves heart rate, reduces stress levels, and stabilizes blood sugars.”
“They include regular low-intensity activity, like walking and swimming, as part of their normal everyday lives which helps to lower their overall body fat, and improve cardiovascular function long term and reduce the potential for conditions like chronic diseases and high blood pressure,” says Dr. Agarwal.
4. They eat a plant-forward diet.
All communities in the Blue Zones follow a largely plant-forward diet.
“People who live in the Blue Zones are also known to have higher longevity than others, and studies have reported it could be due to the plant-based dietary pattern they follow,” says Andrew Akhaphong, MS, RD, LD, with Mackenthun’s Fine Foods.
The Blue Zones research shows that their members follow a nearly 95% plant-based diet. This means they are conscious of how much meat, eggs, dairy, and fish they consume. Depending on their geography, some Blue Zone communities will do more of one of the other. For example, in Sardinia, Italy, they naturally consume more fish from the Mediterranean.
Find out what people in the Blue Zones eat such as These 7 Foods that Increase Longevity.
5. They sleep.
Another big part of the Blue Zone way of life is rest. Rest and sleep are naturally prioritized and built into their lifestyle. They often sleep 8 to 10 hours a night and sometimes break in the afternoon for a nap.
“Getting adequate sleep is a key component of the health outcomes we see in the Blue Zones,” says Sharon Puello, MA, RD, CDN, CDCES. “High-quality sleep is a byproduct of multiple factors. All the components seen in the Blue Zone lifestyle play a role in this one key behavior: a plant-based approach to eating provides sufficient nutrients to foster restful sleep, regular movement burns off extra energy, and social support eases the mind.”
“In other parts of the world productivity is favored over rest, much to our detriment, and there is less of an emphasis on diet and exercise, resulting in widespread insomnia we see in the population,” Puello continues.
Read next: 3 Ways to Get Better Sleep, According to a Sleep Medicine Physician.
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