veritas exquirere

Talon

veritas exquirere

Talon

veritas exquirere

Talon

Blue Zones: home to the world’s largest centenarian populations

Blue+Zones%3A+home+to+the+world%E2%80%99s+largest+centenarian+populations

There are five spots in the world across three continents where people live longer, healthier lives. In these regions known as “blue zones,” research shows that residents reach age 100 at a ten times greater rate than in the United States. 

Following journalist Dan Buettner’s investigation of longevity in Okinawa, Japan, in 2000, the term “blue zones” was born. In 2004, Buettner set out to find more communities highlighted by their longevity. After collecting years of data, five “blue zones” emerged: Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece and Sardinia, Italy. 

While many credit genetics for these zones, only 20% to 30% of longevity is influenced by genetics – meaning diet, lifestyle and environmental influences contribute to one’s life expectancy. 

In August 2023, “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones,” a documentary by Buettner, was released on Netflix, claiming that “what most people think leads to a long, healthy life is misguided or just plainly wrong.” With help from Blue Zone residents, Buettner uncovered their area-specific “secrets” to health and longevity. 

The first zone recognized is Okinawa, an area once dubbed the “Land of Immortals,” which provides a 40% higher chance of surpassing 100 compared to the rest of Japan’s population. 

On average, Okinawans eat 1,500 fewer calories daily than Americans by following “hara hachi bun me,” which roughly translates to “eat until you’re 80% full.” Most indulge in plant-heavy, nutrient-rich diets featuring traditional foods that provide prevention from common health issues. 

Through unique support groups called “moais,” the Okinawans tackle loneliness, which can decrease life expectancy by 30%. More than half are placed into “moais” during childhood; some stay together for over 90 years. 

“Each member knows that her friends count on her as much as she counts on her friends,” 77-year-old Klazuko Manna said. “It’s much easier to go through life knowing there is a safety net.” 

Another blue zone is just two hours from Oak Park in Loma Linda, California. The average resident lives up to ten years longer than most Americans and is home to the largest Seventh-day Adventist population in the U.S. – about 9,000 people.

“If you went through [Loma Linda], you’d say, ‘Oh this is a blue zone?’ I mean, there’s nothing super special about it,” Loma Linda resident Ernie Medina Jr. said.      

In this faith-based community, residents follow a plant-based diet and practice Sabbath day to relax and take time away from work. 

“The Adventist experience is only 20% or 30% healthier than the average American,” Buettner said

With Loma Linda being the youngest blue zone and the only one in the United States, the community relies on its beliefs and values to thrive. 

Next is the only Latin American blue zone – Nicoya, Costa Rica – with one of the highest life expectancy rates worldwide at 85 years. Residents are three-and-a-half times more likely to live past 100 than the global average. 

Nicoyans adopted “plan de vida,” or “life plan,” to give their elders a sense of purpose. While a term predominantly used by researchers, this ideology is embedded in Nicoyan culture. 

“The concept of ‘plan de vida’ is a little romantic and not necessarily a term the centenarians use,” Nicoya Blue Zone Association Founder Jorge Vindas said. “They don’t think about dying – they think about what things they’re going to do tomorrow. That’s their plan de vida.” 

Nicoyans follow a plant-based diet that features Latin American ingredients. 

“Here in the United States, you may find some of these treasures in your ethnic markets and in regions with more Hispanic people,” founder of Hispanic Food Communications Sylvia Klinger said.

A blue zone nicknamed “the island where people forget to die” is located 30 miles from the Turkish coast in Ikaria, Greece. This island has some of the lowest dementia, cancer and depression rates, with residents reaching 90 years old at two and a half times the rate Americans do. 

Ikaria’s secrets to longevity lie in its unique herbal teas, daily naps and natural honey. They follow a Mediterranean diet, known to decrease chronic disease risks.

Ikarians lead a unique life compared to its neighboring islands, prioritizing family and friends over money. Older residents commonly live with their children or grandchildren instead of in assisted living. 

“Just 15 kilometers over there is a completely different world,” Ikarian Physician Dr. Ilias Leriadis said.  “In Samos, they care about money. Here we don’t. If there is money left over, they give it to the poor. It’s not a ‘me’ place. It’s an ‘us’ place.” 

Sardinia, an island in Italy known for its stunning beaches and rich history, is the final “blue zone.” This region is home to the world’s largest cluster of centenarian men. 

Buettner says, “only twenty-five percent” of residents’ diets account for their longevity. With the help of Sardinia’s mountainous terrain, walking is promoted and car use is limited. Walking keeps older Sardinians in shape and prevents cardiovascular diseases. 

Like Ikaria, Sardinia has a notable sense of community where elders are celebrated and family connections are valued. A 2017 study shows how older generations can promote one’s longevity through caretaking, something Sardinians partake in. 

“It would shame the family to put aging parents in a retirement home, so when older people are at home they’re put to work tending the garden, cooking or watching the kids,” Buettner said

In 2009, the Blue Zone Project was founded in Albert Lea, Minnesota, and in one year, residents’ average lifespan increased by 2.9 years. Today, the project has expanded, impacting over 4.3 million people in 70 communities across North America. These communities have seen significant drops in smoking body mass index and obesity rates, leading to further health improvements. 

The project’s mission is to “empower everyone, everywhere to live better, longer” through inspiration from the five blue zones. The project partners with private and public sectors while reaching out to organizations that help make sustainable impacts. 

Experienced speakers are invited to communities to educate them on the importance of diet, exercise and outlook on life. As food choice plays a prominent role in longevity, a Blue Zones cooking course was created to support residents in improving their eating habits. 

Just an hour down our coast is home to one of the project’s successes, the Beach Cities. Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach became a nationally certified Blue Zones Community after local officials raised concerns about their youth’s inflated stress and obesity rates. 

Three years later, Redondo Beach K-5 schools achieved a 68% reduction in child obesity earning the Beach Cities the highest 2015 Well-Being Index score out of 190 metropolitan areas in the United States. 

In 2023, the Beach Cities Health District continues to work with the Blue Zones Project to update its goals according to community needs. 

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David Ross, Senior Staff Writer

Class of 2025

David has been part of the Talon staff for 2 years. He has previously served as a Staff Writer and enjoys writing opinion pieces.

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