Blue Zones were made popular by Dan Buettner's book The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest. This book looks at characteristics of communities with a higher than average number of centenarians (people 100 years old or above) and overall strong sense of both physical health and emotional well-being.
Where are Blue Zones? There are five identified Blue Zones in the world. The name came from the original study, done by two demographers who had drawn increasingly smaller blue circles as they identified areas of interest. As their research narrowed done, they began referring to these areas as "blue zones." The five zones are Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Icaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California.
One notable feature of Blue Zones is diet. Okinawans, for example, follow a plant-based diet includes soy in various forms (soy is a member of the legume family), and includes grains, vegetables, fish, and limited meats. They also practice eating until only feeling about 80% full, knowing that it takes time for the stomach to signal to the brain to stop eating. This is a good way to address portion control as it keeps it simple while asking us to pay attention to the messages our bodies send us throughout the day. This population has a notably low rate of heart disease, stroke, and cancers.
Another key piece of Blue Zone living is to incorporate movement into your daily routine. People in good health well into later years tend to be active by walking or biking to where they need to go, gardening, carrying groceries, chores, and taking stairs when possible, even more so than the formal "exercise" or "going to the gym" with which many of us are familiar.
Living well goes beyond our physical habits and practices: community and purpose are key to living long and satisfying lives. People who identify with a particular religious group or support community tend to have more resilience in times of need; likewise, people who view themselves as having a strong sense of purpose, or sense of altruism, tend to be more resilient over time. Dan Buettner notes: “People who pay attention to their spiritual side have lower rates of cardiovascular disease, depression, stress, and suicide, and their immune systems seem to work better … To a certain extent, adherence to a religion allows them to relinquish the stresses of everyday life to a higher power.”
Most importantly, the various elements of Blue Zone living emerge from a holistic system: walking to meet a friend for lunch includes exercise, socialization, and eating well. They are not isolated "magic" answers to our societal ills, but a thoughtful way of being that brings together necessary elements for long, healthy lives.