Did you know that there are five locations in the world where people are measurably happier, healthier, and live longer?
Dubbed blue zones, Okinawa (Japan), Nicoya (Costa Rica), Sardinia (Italy), Loma Linda (USA), and Ikaria (Greece) have the highest number of people who live past 100. Research has also shown these people are healthier and happier than the average citizen.
Short of moving to a brand-new country, there are ways you can incorporate blue-zoning into your life to reap the mood and health-boosting benefits of these long-living communities.
National Geographic Fellow Dan Buetter discovered that these five locations have the longest life expectancy, and there are a lot of factors they have in common. Despite being spread across the globe, these locations all follow similar diets that are heavily plant-based and feature pulses, beans, and nuts.
The residents of these nations are also more physically active and get better rest – two activities that are becoming scarce in the UK. But if you think you need a gym membership to replicate the blue zone life, don’t worry – this exercise comes in the form of healthy daily habits including walking, gardening, farming, and chores.
Blue zoners tend to have a strong purpose in life, which has in part been attributed to the spirituality and religious roots of these locations, as well as their deep connections with friends, family, and their communities.
Now, we’ll cover some of the ways you can incorporate the blue zone lifestyle into your own life.
Our homes are supposed to be restful environments, but they don’t always end up that way. Chores, family responsibilities and even work can impact our ability to rest and recharge at home. Creating a homely space where you can get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life can help you to reset.
Spirituality and looking after your mental well-being are core to the blue zone lifestyle, so having a safe haven in your home where you can practice mindfulness and switch off is important. This could be a spare room, your bedroom, or even a little nook in your living or dining room that is designated for recuperation.
Making the time and space for meditation has been linked to improved sleep, which is another feature of blue zone living. So, curl up in your cosy spot, tea in your favourite floral mug in hand, and let your mind relax.
A diet filled with fish, fruits and vegetables, beans, pulses, and nuts is core to the blue zone way of life. While the meals of an Ikaria resident won’t be exactly the same as Okinawa, the same building blocks are there. Blue zoners limit red meat and processed foods, opting for fresh harvests and leaner cuts of meat.
You don’t need to overhaul your entire diet to make it more blue zone – and we’d encourage you to add to it rather than taking away from it. Instead of trying to cut out entire food groups, why not add more variety to your dinner plate? Adding additional vegetables to your meals and snacking on nuts is a great way to incorporate these nutrient-dense foods. Then you can look at swapping red meats for seafood or poultry to make your meals even more nutritious.
Blue zoners aren’t gym bunnies, but they do get a lot of exercise. That’s because physical activity is built into their everyday habits. Whether they go on walks in their beautiful surroundings daily, own a farm that they tend to, or keep on top of their chores, they’re active groups of people.
Walking is a big part of life in these areas, and because the locations feature beautifully rolling hills and breathtaking mountain scenes, they’re naturally going to work inhabitants’ bodies harder, so people are reaping the health rewards. Walking more can increase cardiovascular health, muscle strength, and lung capacity, as well as reduce symptoms of mental health conditions such as depression, so it’s definitely worth fitting more steps into your day.
If you’re constantly busy, you could choose to walk to the local shops instead of driving, or add more walking on your way to work if you use public transport – try jumping off a couple of stops early. Don’t forget that all your chores add up too – even pottering around hoovering will contribute to keeping you healthy.
Gardening is central to many blue zone communities and is another great way to make sure we’re building physical activity into our everyday habits. But there are plenty of other benefits to it. Gardening is great for our mental health for a number of reasons. Immersing ourselves in nature is one of the most powerful ways to boost mental well-being because it can “rest and recharge our brains”, according to Professor Alistair Griffiths.
Cultivating your crops of flowers, fruits, and vegetables gives your mind something to focus on, meaning there’s less mental space for negative thoughts and feelings. What’s more, as you see the literal fruits of your labour grow and develop, you’ll get a self-esteem boost. It’s rewarding to see your hard work flourish into something beautiful (and sometimes edible!).
Our lives are hectic, and that can sometimes leave us feeling like we don’t have the time to practise healthy habits. But by taking a leaf out of blue zoners’ books and building health into our everyday activities, we can boost our mental and physical well-being. Will you be adopting these blue zone habits?