Blues Zones - Live Better, Longer

Five secrets to borrow from people who not only live the longest but live well!

You may have heard of Dan Buettner, author of Blue Zones. He discovered five places in the world - dubbed the blue zones hotspots - where people live the longest, healthiest lives. 

“If you want to live to a healthy 100, eat like healthy people who’ve lived to 100”, explains Buettner. He spent years reverse engineering a formula for longevity. He, together with a team of doctors and experts identified places around the world where people live the longest and drew a line around each in blue ink. The concept of the 'Blue Zones' was created.

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. They’re all relatively warm year-round, fairly small, remote and close to the ocean. 

So what’s the secret? Why do people in these places, despite their striking cultural differences, share the likelihood of sailing into their 90s and beyond, often eluding heart disease and even cancer?

What did an ordinary day look like, how did the community live, what did they eat?  

After a little of our own research we are sharing how to bring some Blue Zone magic into your life. And, it's not all about diet, not surprisingly, it's a way of life. 

Community and purpose are paramount

Buettner stresses that the beauty of the Blue Zones is not one or two big things, but a “constellation of little things that add up.” "Diet is just one part of the picture, while social activity, community and a strong sense of one’s purpose are other integral factors.

The option to be lonely shaves eight years off life expectancy here [in the US], but that does not exist in Blue Zones.

People [in Blue Zones] aren't waking up in the morning rudderless. They're driven by life meaning and purpose,” Buettner says. “They’re investing in family, keeping their minds engaged and there’s no existential stress of being worthless in life. You can't walk outside your front door in these regions without bumping into somebody you know, and this is all so much more powerful than we think."

“We're genetically hardwired to crave social interaction and when you don't have it, there’s a level of subconscious stress that grates away at you,” he adds.

Walk everyday

Three of the five Blue Zones (Okinawa, Ikaria and Sardinia) are located in very narrow, steep regions that didn’t always have access to industrial roads. This element of being tucked away in remote hilltop isolation not only “protected these zones from the corrosive effects of globalization, Buettner says, it forces people to form tight social connections with one another, and to incorporate a lot of up and downhill walking into their daily routines. 

There are no gym memberships, people in these zones naturally move every 20 minutes or so. This movement is not for the sake of moving, it is inherent in the way they live their life – walking to the store, doing the gardening or picking fruit. 

"Walking is one of the best forms of exercise and you can do it without thinking about it,” says Buettner, who encourages people to rely less on cars and more on public transportation so that they have to walk more. He also recommends bringing a dog into your life if you’re struggling to get outdoors much.

"Adopting a dog is really the best Blue Zone strategies there is,” he says. “It’s that perfect nudge to get you walking everyday.”

A plant-based diet that incorporates beans is essential

The average menu in Okinawa may not have feature the same dishes as that from an eatery in a Sardinian village, but there are some parallels among core ingredients.

“In all five places, the common denominators include mostly a plant-based diet," says Beuttner. “There’s five pillars to every Blue Zone diet: whole grains, greens, tuberous (sweet potatoes or potatoes), nuts and beans. The most important one is beans. A cup of beans a day could add two to three years to your life.”

As for what type of bean to consume, you really can’t go wrong with any, but for your own palette (and to get a full variety of nutrients) you should mix up the types of beans you consume, and though canned beans are okay, Buettner recommends using dried beans when possible, if only “to not toss another can into the world.”

Low on beef and dairy, big on tea and red wine

Beef and cow dairy are “not significant” in these Blue Zone diets, Buettner notes, though you’ll find some sheep and goat’s milk. Additionally, “no more than three eggs are consumed per week.”

As for beverages, Blue Zones are heavy on water and tea. “They’re drinking herbal tea all day long,” says Buettner. “In Okinawa it’s often green tea, while in Ikaria it’s usually a tea made with oregano, rosemary or mint. They drink no more than two glasses of wine a day." Coffee is also embraced in the morning. 

Meals are enjoyed with family and friends, the ingredients are simple and fresh and olive oil is used at room temperature over salads and vegetables.

There’s no magic Blue Zone potion — and that’s kind of the point

Ultimately, the secrets of the Blue Zone are not so secret after all. They each prioritize health and happiness in ways that we’re increasingly learning about and embracing.

“We're all looking for magic dietary pills or serums or supplements, but you see none of that in the Blue Zones,” says Buettner. “It's mostly small things driven by the right environment.” Again, it really is the simple things that contribute to a life well lived.

You can find out more at Blue Zones

From The Blue Zones Cookbook - here is a simple, yet delicious Veggie dish from Sardinia.

Veggie Cassola – Vegetables of the Sardinian Shepherd 

1 zucchini cut into 2cm pieces 

1 large onion 

2 carrots peeled and chopped 

1 eggplant 

½ cup virgin olive oil 

Salt and pepper 

1 bunch of parsley 

5 basil leave 

1 sprig of thyme and oregano stripped and minced 

3 bay leaves 


Preheat the oven to 160 Celsius 

In a large bowl, toss all vegetables with olive oil and add salt and pepper. 

Toss with herbs, then spread out on a baking try. Roast for 1 hour.  

Remove bay leaves and eat with crusty sourdough. 

Sardegna image @clara.fois