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30 Apr 2024

The wonderful world of Blue Zones

Ageing Well

Blue Zones are longevity ‘hotspots’ that have a few things in common. Including being locations where people age really well.  Clearly living longer involves more than just munching on mung beans. 

There are the five Blue Zones, the mysterious regions where people statistically live the longest. These five locales, Sardinia, Italy; the islands of Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California; don't appear to have too much in common at first glance. But a lot of it boils down to diet. 

For one, the residents’ diets are primarily made up of plants and are especially heavy on vegetables, beans, whole grains, and nuts.

Most people in these locations are not strict vegetarians, but they tend to eat meat around five times per month. Fish, which is associated with slower brain decline in old age and reduced risk of heart disease, is also a staple. These regions tend to eat smaller fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring, abbreviated as SMASH fish. All these fish provide a powerful boost of essential nutrients (e.g. iodine, selenium), heart healthy fats (e.g. omega 3 fatty acids), and protection against inflammation.

Another dietary factor: In these areas, people tend to eat fewer calories overall. But unlike some other cultures, which treat food as an adversary to be managed through dieting, Blue Zone communities tend to hold food in high regard. Eating is seen as a central aspect of community.

For more information about healthy eating for older adults go to www.nutritionfoundation.org.nz/healthy-eating/older-adults/

Other commonalities among Blue Zones include

  • Physical activity. Exercise is built into their daily lives through gardening, walking, cooking, and other daily chores
  • Sleep. Aside from getting a good night’s rest, daytime napping is very common in these areas.
  • Community. Whether it’s through a religious group, a multigenerational household living together, or an active social circle, being surrounded by friends, family, and loved ones seems to help people’s mental and physical health
  • Drinking alcohol in moderation. While the existing research on moderate alcohol drinking is a mixed bag, it is true that people who live in Blue Zones tend to enjoy having a few drinks here and there.

There are a lot of useful lessons to take away from Blue Zones. Add SMASH fishes to your grocery list! Snack on some almonds between meals! Load up on your leafy greens! But remember: The secret(s) to longevity can’t be bottled — or served in a green juice.


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Date Published.  February 2024  

To be reviewed: February 2027