Blue Zones: The Secret to Eating to Live Longer

Five specific regions around the world have been identified as having the highest concentrations of 100-year-old people. And a regional slow-food diet plays a big role in their longevity.

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Greece has a high concentration of centenarians among European countries, alongside Italy. Photo by: Tomas Tiras/Shutterstock

For well over a decade, longevity researcher Dan Buettner (also a National Geographic Fellow) has underscored the lifestyle of Blue Zones, a term he and his research team coined, referring to five specific areas across the globe where there are exceptionally high rates of centenarians. These areas are Icaria (Greece), Ogliastra, Barbagia, Seulo of Sardinia (Italy), Okinawa (Japan), the Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica), and the community of Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, California (U.S.A.). There are nine overarching factors, known as the ‘Power of Nine,’ Buettner’s team identified as evinced reasons for significantly increased longevity in these areas.

The common denominators include, ‘Moving Naturally’ (daily walking or gardening); ‘Purpose’ (motivation to get up in the morning); ‘Down Shift’ (activities like prayer, meditation, naps, and early evening tipples with friends are ways different Blue Zone communities shed stress); ‘The 80% Rule’(which means eat only until you are 80 per cent full); ‘Plant Slant’ ( significant portions of beans and greens in each region’s diet, and if meat is eaten, it is done in small, spaced out portions); ‘Wine @ 5’ (moderate drinking is common in four of the Blue Zones, the wines of Ikaria and Sardinia being particularly salubrious when portioned adequately); ‘Belong’ (the team’s research indicates that the vast majority of Blue Zone citizens are part of some form of faith-based community); ‘Loved Ones First’ (close family ties); ‘Right Tribe’ (strong social circles).

Three of these nine factors have to do with one’s diet, evidence of the Blue Zones’ plentiful organic and local fare. They also show that taste and wholesomeness can go hand in hand in these regions where bowlfuls of soba noodles, wedges of pecorino cheese, and platters of sizzling, Ikarian-style ratatouille are enjoyed on the supper table. We examine what mealtimes mean in these far-off corners of the world, where people are most likely to enjoy their favourite foods for 100 years.

 

Read the full feature in the print edition of National Geographic Traveller India January-February 2022.

To read more stories on travel, cities, food, nature, and adventure, head to our web forum here or our new National Geographic Traveller India app here.

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  • Julian Manning can usually be found eating a crisp ghee roast with extra podi. The rare times his hands aren’t busy with food, they are wrapped around a mystery novel or the handlebars of a motorcycle. He is Senior Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India.

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