What are 'Blue Zones,' and do they really hold the secrets to a longer life? (2024)

What are 'Blue Zones,' and do they really hold the secrets to a longer life? (1)

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  • Where are the Blue Zones?
  • What do the Blue Zones have in common?
  • What science says about the Blue Zones

Is there a key to living a long and healthy life?

A popular answer to this question has looked to so-called Blue Zones, a nonscientific term given to geographic regions where people supposedly have higher longevity, according to a 2016 review published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.

The longevity hotspot concept was first outlined in a 2004 study published in the journal Experimental Gerontology. Researchers identified the Italian island of Sardinia as the region with the highest concentration of male centenarians, or people who live to be 100 or older.

Building on this work, National Geographic fellow Dan Buettner and other researchers identified four more longevity hotspots. Although the regions are geographically and culturally distant from one another, these Blue Zones share a lot of characteristics, which may be the key to understanding why their inhabitants tend to live longer, Buettner proposed in his 2008 book "The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest."

However, the idea of Blue Zones has been called into question. A 2019 preprint study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, suggested that people in the Blue Zones may not live longer than their counterparts after all. Instead, the high number of recorded supercentenarians, or those older than 110, in these regions might be due to poor record keeping or even pension fraud.

If the notion of Blue Zones is iffy, do any of the factors Buettner identified hold up? Some, it turns out, are based on solid science, while others have much less scientific backing. And much of the research suggesting health or longevity benefits from certain lifestyle factors is based on observational evidence, so it's not possible to prove that these lifestyle factors are truly what cause people in these regions to live longer.

Where are the Blue Zones?

In his book, Buettner described five known Blue Zones:

  • Icaria: A small Greek island in the Aegean sea
  • Ogliastra, Sardinia: A region of an Italian island in the Mediterranean
  • Okinawa: An island off the coast of Japan
  • Nicoya Peninsula: A peninsula in eastern Costa Rica
  • The Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda: A community in the hilly valleys of California

What are 'Blue Zones,' and do they really hold the secrets to a longer life? (2)

What do the Blue Zones have in common?

According to Buettner, there are nine common features of Blue Zones:

Physical activity: Blue Zone centenarians maintain high levels of physical activity and frequently engage in manual labor. For example, Sardinia's community of shepherds is known to walk more than 5 miles (8 kilometers) a day.

Purpose: Okinawans call it "ikigai," and Nicoyans call it "plan de vida," both of which convey the idea "why I wake up in the morning." This sense of purpose is deemed to be the source of life satisfaction, which contributes to a longer and happier life.

Sleep: Blue Zones centenarians prioritize rest and sleep. For example, Ikarians are known to take midafternoon naps, while the Loma Linda community recognizes the Sabbath, or a day of rest and worship, once a week.

The 80% rule: People living in Blue Zones do not tend to overeat. The name of the rule stems from an old Okinawan mantra spoken before meals, which reminds people to stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full.

Plant-based diet: The diet of Blue Zone centenarians is based largely on plants.

Moderate alcohol consumption: Buettner believed that moderate alcohol consumption of some Blue Zone centenarians contributed to their long life span.

Sense of community: Strong community ties promote longevity, according to Buettner. For example, Okinawans are known to create secure social networks that provide financial and emotional support to the community members.

Loved ones first: Strong family ties are the cornerstone of Blue Zones communities. For example, the Seventh Day Adventists live in tight-knit communities where children take care of their aging parents.

Social encouragement: Blue Zones centenarians live in social networks that promote healthy behaviors, thus making it easier to stick to a healthy lifestyle, Buettner suggested.

What science says about the Blue Zones

The science suggests people in the Blue Zones don't necessarily live longer. For instance, while people in Japan have the highest longevity of any country in the world, men in Okinawa don't live as long as their counterparts elsewhere in the country, on average, according to a 2012 study in the journal Gerontology.

However, some of Buettner's overall conclusions about what factors may increase longevity still hold up. For instance, he argued that lifestyle factors are more important for human longevity than genetics are — a statement largely supported by evidence. According to a 2018 article published in the journal Genetics, the heritability of human longevity may be as low as 10%, while the National Library of Medicine website MedlinePlus suggests that genes contribute about 25% to differences in lifespan between people.

Physical activity

When it comes to physical activity and risk of mortality, the evidence is fairly unanimous: Highly active people are less likely to die prematurely, according to a 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis published in the journal Preventive Medicine.


Nutrition has the potential to support healthy longevity, said Annette Creedon, a registered nutritionist and nutrition manager at the British Nutrition Foundation.

"It is estimated that one in five deaths globally is linked to having a poor diet, and an unhealthy dietary pattern is associated with several chronic conditions, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and certain cancers," she told Live Science in an email.

Blue Zones are very consistent in the types of foods they include, Creedon said. Common themes include a high intake of plant foods (including fruits, vegetables and whole grains), protein sources (including plant-based proteins, such as legumes, nuts and seeds), and some seafood, poultry, lean meat, low-fat dairy products and unsaturated oils (such as olive oil).

Studies have found that healthy plant-rich dietary patterns are associated with reductions in the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, as well as death from all causes," Creedon said.

Evidence also supports the claim that calorie restriction may promote longevity, according to a 2020 review published in the journal Ageing Research Reviews. The "80% rule" may improve risk factors involved in the development of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and neurological disorders, the review authors suggested.

What are 'Blue Zones,' and do they really hold the secrets to a longer life? (4)

Dr. Annette Creedon, BSc (Hons), PhD, RNutr

Annette Creedon has a BSc (Hons) Nutritional Sciences and a PhD in Food Technology from University College Cork, Ireland. Following several post-doctoral contracts where she worked on dietary factors influencing bone turnover, she joined the academic staff at Harper Adams University, Shropshire, U.K. She developed undergraduate programmes in food technology and nutrition and became Head of the Food Technology and Innovation Department in 2017.


Contrary to Buettner's claims, current research indicates that moderate alcohol consumption does not help people live longer. According to a 2016 systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, moderate drinking does not reduce mortality, and low-volume drinkers may appear healthy only because the "abstainers" tend to avoid alcohol because they have other health conditions.

Moreover, contrary to some popular claims, wine does not appear to produce a different mortality rate compared with other types of alcohol, according to a 2011 study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. And while scientists in the past argued that compounds in wine known as polyphenols may be beneficial for health, there is still a lack of solid evidence that wine polyphenols contribute to a longer life span, according to a 2020 review published in the journal Molecules.

What are 'Blue Zones,' and do they really hold the secrets to a longer life? (5)

Psychological well-being

Having a high sense of purpose may help extend a person's life span, according to a 2016 meta-analysis published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. Sense of purpose was related to a reduced risk of dying from any cause and a reduced risk of cardiovascular events. However, further research is needed on the mechanisms linking life purpose to health outcomes.

On the flip side, stress and stress-related disorders vastly increase the risk of all-cause mortality, according to a 2022 meta-analysis published in the journal The Lancet.

However, the notion that daytime napping promotes longevity may not be correct, according to a 2015 meta-analysis published in the journal Sleep. On the contrary, napping for more than an hour a day is linked to a higher risk of mortality, the researchers found.

Excessive daytime sleepiness could also be a sign of a condition known as hypersomnia. If someone is regularly napping throughout the day but still feeling tired, it is important to speak to a medical professional.

Social connections

Research largely supports Buettner's claim that strong social connections and close community ties promote longevity.

According to a 2010 meta-analysis published in the journal PLOS Medicine, individuals with stronger social relationships are 50% more likely to live longer than those who lack them. This was calculated as an odds ratio (OR) — the ratio of the chances of an event happening in one group to the chances of the same event happening in the second group. Put another way, an OR of 1.5 means that by the time half of a hypothetical sample of 100 people has died, there will be five more people alive with stronger social relationships than people with weaker social relationships.

The strongest association was found for social integration — a measure of one's engagement in their community. These results were consistent regardless of age, sex, health status or cause of death.

Editor's Note: This story was updated on Tuesday, Feb. 14 to correct the definition of supercentenarians. They are older than 110, not 1100.

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What are 'Blue Zones,' and do they really hold the secrets to a longer life? (6)

Anna Gora

Health Writer

Anna Gora is a health writer at Live Science, having previously worked across Coach, Fit&Well, T3, TechRadar and Tom's Guide. She is a certified personal trainer, nutritionist and health coach with nearly 10 years of professional experience. Anna holds a Bachelor's degree in Nutrition from the Warsaw University of Life Sciences, a Master’s degree in Nutrition, Physical Activity & Public Health from the University of Bristol, as well as various health coaching certificates. She is passionate about empowering people to live a healthy lifestyle and promoting the benefits of a plant-based diet.

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What are 'Blue Zones,' and do they really hold the secrets to a longer life? (2024)


What are 'Blue Zones,' and do they really hold the secrets to a longer life? ›

“Blue Zones” are geographic areas with lower rates of chronic diseases and a longer life expectancy. Diet, fasting, and exercise are factors associated with Blue Zones. Italy, Greece, Japan, Costa Rica, and the US have a Blue Zone. Chronic diseases are becoming more and more common in old age.

What is the purpose of the Blue Zones in life? ›

Purpose In the blue zones, people have vocabulary for purpose. Buettner described a recent study from Canada that followed 6,000 people for 14 years and found that those people who could articulate their sense of purpose had a 15 percent lower risk of dying.

Why do Blue Zone people live so long? ›

Many of the factors making up these blue zone diets – primarily plant-based and natural whole foods – are associated with lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

What are Blue Zones and how do they impact your health? ›

Blue zones are places where there are ten times as many centenarians as expected for a corresponding population size in the USA, most of them being unusually healthy. American researcher Dan Buettner first highlighted Blue Zones, identifying five worldwide, from California to Japan.

What is the meaning of Blue Zone? ›

The term 'Blue Zone' describes regions of the world where people live longer than average and maintain good health, and where there are particularly high numbers of centenarians.

Is Blue Zones legit? ›

So-called Blue Zones include Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy and Loma Linda in California. However, speaking exclusively to DailyMail.com, a leading data scientist based at the University of Oxford has claimed the idea is based on fraudulent birth certificates, bad data and unscientific measurements.

Do blue zones drink coffee? ›

In addition to a daily cup of coffee, blue zones centenarians drink water, tea and wine. While coffee is often a hotly-debated health topic, it's shown to carry many health benefits. Most centenarians in blue zones regions drink up to two or three cups of black coffee per day!

Do Blue Zones eat meat? ›

People in Blue Zones areas eat meat about once a week and typically their servings are no larger than a deck of cards.

What is the secret of longevity? ›

Wise Choices
  • Get moving.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Get tips at ChooseMyPlate.gov (USDA)
  • Pay attention to weight and shape.
  • Don't smoke or use tobacco.
  • Keep your brain active.
  • Be good to yourself.
  • Get regular medical checkups.
  • Drink only in moderation if you drink alcohol.

What are the secrets of Blue Zone longevity? ›

But I can tell you that the longest-lived are getting 95 percent of their calories from plants and only 5 percent from animal products. Contrary to what the paleo or Atkins diet says, these folks actually eat a high carb diet. About 65 percent of their diet is whole grains, beans, and starchy tubers.

Which race lives the longest in the world? ›

Asian people have the longest average life expectancy (83.5 years) and American Indian/Alaska Natives the shortest (65.2 years).

Do blue zones eat dairy? ›

People in most Blue Zones countries do not eat a lot of dairy products. Dairy is high in fat and sugar and is best avoided. Some Blue Zones countries do include sheep or goat dairy, but it is usually eaten in fermented products such as yogurt or cheese.

What foods should people in the Blue Zone avoid? ›

What foods should you limit on the Blue Zones diet?
  1. Sugar from foods like sweetened beverages, desserts, and packaged foods.
  2. Meat, especially red and processed meat.
  3. Highly processed foods, such as fast foods and ultra-processed foods.
  4. Butter.
  5. Refined carbohydrates, like white rice, white breads, and most breakfast cereals.
May 8, 2023

What group of people live the longest? ›

But in the Blue Zones, or regions of the world where people live exceptionally long lives, individuals are ten times more likely to live to 100. These places—specifically the Barbagia region of Sardinia, Italy, Okinawa, Japan, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; and Icaria, Greece—are packed with centenarians.

Where do the healthiest people live? ›

These are several regions in the world where people appear to live longer and healthier lives. These places, called Blue Zones, include parts of California, Japan, Greece, Costa Rica and Italy. These regions share several features including healthy diets, natural movement and a sense of community.

How to live longer than 100 years? ›

These include eating a plant based diet, quitting smoking, reducing stress, exercising, and getting enough sleep. Drinking coffee or tea, practicing conscientiousness, finding joy, and limiting your alcohol intake also benefit your long-term health and well-being.

What is the purpose of the blue zone project? ›

Blue Zones Project is a community-wide well-being improvement initiative designed to make healthy choices easier through changes to physical environment, policy, and social networks.

What is the rule for the blue zones? ›

Blue Zone folks eat most of their food when they are highly active, in the morning and early afternoon. Smaller meals are consumed later in the day, then they stop eating altogether. One aspect is not eating too much at one meal. Ancient Confucian teaching applies.

What is the summary of blue zones? ›

Blue Zones are the areas in the world where people get oldest and stay healthiest. The world is full of unique civilizations and cultures, each with its own unique habits and customs, all adding to our global health and wellness.

What are the four things all bluezone cultures have in common? ›

Despite these communities being scattered across the globe and representing a variety of different cultures, there are characteristics that all blue zones have in common, like minimizing stress, moving regularly throughout the day, having a clear sense of purpose, and sticking to a mostly plant-based diet.

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