Blue Zones: the secrets of the world’s longest living places

by | Sep 8, 2023

At Life Plan Resorts, the ultimate retirement destination in Portugal dedicated to healthy ageing and fulfilling living, we strive to embrace all facets of well-being and ageing gracefully. The wealth of knowledge and information on these topics allows one to learn and grow every day. Speaking of which, are you familiar with the term “Blue Zones”?

Blue Zones are regions around the world where people have been found to live longer, healthier lives compared to the global average. These areas have attracted significant attention from researchers and health enthusiasts seeking to uncover the secrets to longevity and well-being.

The term “Blue Zones” was first introduced by US author Dan Buettner under the title “The Secrets of Long Life” in National Geographic magazine. Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow, and multiple New York Times bestselling author, travelled the world for over ten years to explore the secrets of longevity. He called a longevity village with low incidence of cancer and dementia and high quality of life a “blue zone”. And he discovered common characteristics of people living in blue zones.

Where the World’s Healthiest People Live

Dan Buettner has discovered five places in the world – dubbed blue zones – where people live the longest, and are healthiest: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California.

Okinawa, Japan: This Japanese island is known for having a high number of centenarians and low rates of age-related diseases. The Okinawan diet, which is plant-based and low in calories, is often credited for contributing to their long and healthy lives.

Sardinia, Italy: The mountainous regions of Sardinia have a relatively high number of centenarians. The traditional Sardinian diet consists of whole foods, including goat’s milk, whole grains, beans, and locally
grown vegetables.

Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica* The Nicoya Peninsula is a region in Costa Rica where residents experience lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. The local lifestyle incorporates regular
physical activity and a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, and beans.

Ikaria, Greece: The island of Ikaria has a significantly higher number of people living into their 90s and 100s compared to other parts of the world. The inhabitants follow a Mediterranean diet and lead active
lives, often working in agriculture and walking long distances.

Loma Linda, California, USA: Loma Linda is a city with a higher-than-average concentration of Seventh-day Adventists, a religious community known for promoting healthy lifestyles. Their vegetarian
diets, strong social support systems, and emphasis on rest and relaxation contribute to their longevity.

Nine general longevity factors
A team composed of several specialists (doctors, anthropologists, demographers, nutritionists, epidemiologists) – and led by Dan Buettner himself – travelled many times to the different blue zones.
They identified the following nine general longevity factors, which are related to diet and lifestyle:

1. Engaging in social groups and relationships. In all the blue zones there is a strong sense of community that contributes to mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. The human brain is a
social organ that needs continuous nourishment from relationships The wellness world is so focused on nutrition and exercise that it’s easy to lose sight of our mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Humans are social beings.

2. Regular physical activity in the performance of daily duties. The concept of a sedentary lifestyle is unknown to the people living in these regions

3. Having an “ikigai” – a Japanese word (Okinawa) which is used to define our own “reasons for being”, a sense of purpose, or, more precisely, the reasons why we wake up every morning

4. Reduction of stress, a factor which is closely linked to almost all ageing-related diseases. Stress reduction means interrupting the normal pace of our daily lives to allow time for other activities
which are part of normal social habits. For example, taking a nap in Mediterranean societies, praying in the case of Adventists, the tea ceremony of women in Okinawa, and so on

5. “Hara hachi bu” – a Confucian teaching that means we should not continue to eat until we are full, but only until 80% of our eating capacity

6. Prioritising a diet that is rich in plant-based products. Meat, fish and dairy products may be consumed, but in lower amounts

7. A moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages, which confirms the belief that moderate drinkers live longer lives than non-drinkers

8. Engaging in religious communities with common religious practices

9. Building and maintaining solid relationships between family members: parents, siblings, grandparents, and others.

Examining the Nine general factors that contribute to longevity closely, Life Plan Resorts incorporates the wisdom derived from the Blue Zones into every facet of their Retirement Resort.

At Life Plan Resorts, each element, service, and amenity are meticulously designed to support a wholesome and enriching ageing journey. With the presence of nutritionists ready to assist you, an exclusive selection of the finest natural and organic produce stocked in our Grocery Stores, a comprehensive fitness and activity itinerary, a cultural and learning centre, and the serene surroundings of cork and oak forests just a stone’s throw away from your residence, every detail is tailored to enhance your well-being. Notably, the peace of mind that stems from the assurance that every aspect of a carefree life is attentively managed is also a key feature.

Many believe that the nine factors that contribute to longevity can be reduced to two most essential ones – “belonging to a community” and “a healthy lifestyle”, and we strongly believe that Life Plan Resorts embodies the perfect combination of both. This extraordinary haven not only incorporates a wide array of features and amenities promoting a healthy lifestyle, but also fosters an ideal community for seniors and their families.

Science is just beginning to understand how critical these relationships are to our gene expression, stress response, immune system, microbiome, and even sleep. More studies are emerging that demonstrate that social connection (positive relationships) has the greatest impact on reducing mortality risk, followed by exercise and healthy eating. The bottom line of social connection is that good relationships are an essential part of what will help you be happy and healthy, throughout your life.

What truly sets Life Plan Resorts apart is its vision of creating a purposeful senior community, where residents, friends, and family come together with their individual “ikigai” or “reason to live.” This shared
sense of purpose forms a collective “ikigai” that guides each community’s goals and inspires them to overcome challenges as a united force. Life Plan Resorts provides an unparalleled opportunity to embrace a healthier ageing plan and more extended life surrounded by a meaningful and supportive community.

Humans are social beings. —@JasonWachob @ColleenWachob Co-CEOs @mindbodygreen
Buettner, D,

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