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Secrets to long life in the ’Blue Zones’

What do Ikaria (Greece), Sardinia (Italy), Okinawa (Japan), Loma Linda (California, USA) and Nicoya (Costa Rica) have in common? These locations have all been termed ‘Blue Zones’, pockets around the world where people live longer and better.

People who live in these five locations are 10 times more likely to reach 100 years old than the general population of the United States.

It all started in 2004, when National Geographic teamed up with some leading longevity researchers to identify places in the world where people have the longest life span. They eventually identified five places where the people lived measurably longer than almost everywhere else on Earth.

The next task was to identify which lifestyle characteristics set these people apart from the rest of us. What was their secret to their longer, happier lives? Six shared characteristics were found:

  • families are put ahead of other concerns
  • they are all semi-vegetarian, with the exception of Sardinians
  • the inhabitants are moderately physically active throughout their day
  • smoking rates are low
  • people of all ages are socially active
  • legumes are commonly consumed

And here are some key features of their healthy diets:

  • high in fruits and vegetables that are fresh, seasonal and locally-sourced, which ensures a high nutritional quality 
  • legumes and beans are also consumed regularly, as are nuts and seeds 
  • alcohol is consumed in moderate quantities of one to two drinks per day 
  • meat makes up a small part of the diets in some of these areas, but is absent in others 
  • diets were simple and consisted of ‘natural unprocessed foods’

Unfortunately, some of the Blue Zone locations, such as Okinawa, are seeing a fall in life expectancy as their traditional lifestyles are threatened by the mass of packaged and manufactured foods, and other modern conveniences.

The Blue Zone dietary patterns align remarkably well with the Heart Foundation’s dietary advice, which can be seen in the Visual Food Guide.

So eat well with your family and friends, drink just a little if you’re going to, be active daily and don’t smoke.  Do these things and you may very well be receiving your letter from the Queen (or King) when you turn 100.