Create Your Own Blue Zone
The secrets of longevity and brain health lie in 5 main Blue Zone regions across the world: Sardinia, Ikaria, Loma Linda, Nicoya Peninsula, and Okinawa, each with a unique spin on lifestyle, diet, and way of life that contribute to remarkable health, wellness, and lack of disease for many centenarians who inhabit them.
Despite the diverse cultures of the Blue Zones across the world, there are many similarities that lead to long, healthy lives. With the lowest rates of chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and dementia, it’s a no-brainer to borrow some of their longevity habits. As part of a brain protective lifestyle, the Blue Zones show us there’s more than one way to bring these practices into our lives. Most importantly, longevity factors like a plant-heavy Mediterranean-style diet, sense of purpose, connection, stress reduction, and regular physical activity seem to be the key to the long-lived health they experience. Let’s look at the similarities so you can put it into action for yourself!
Each location has their own traditional takes on ingredients and recipes, but they all have parallels at their core. The majority of their diets come from nutrient-dense plant foods. This includes whole grains, legumes, root vegetables, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. In fact, many of these cultures have relied heavily on complex carbohydrate heavy grains, legumes, and root vegetables (think Okinawa’s sweet potatoes or Nicoya’s corn tortillas). Meat is reserved for special occasions in most of these areas, with the exception being the Adventists of Loma Linda who are generally vegetarian. Plant protein then makes up the bulk of the protein intake, with minimum dairy and some tofu sprinkled throughout.
Many grow their own herbs which they make into teas with traditional medicinal properties. The antioxidants and anti-inflammatory boost that these herbs provide (like wild rosemary, turmeric, and mugwort) are considered an important part of diets that is missing in the Western world.
Beyond the basics of “what” they eat, equally important is “how” they eat. Okinawans remind themselves to eat just enough by reciting the line, “hara hachi bu,” before each meal. Food serves to provide nourishment for and connection to family and friends. Bigger meals are generally eaten earlier in the day, with the smallest and last meal of the day being eaten in early evening. This lower caloric intake with high nutritional value is thought to be a key to how diet plays a role in longevity, brain, and cardiovascular health in these regions.
Create your own Blue Zone Diet Strategy:
- Limit eating up to when you’re 80% full
- Make your last meal of the day a little lighter and your breakfast or lunch a little bigger.
- Add in more anti-inflammatory and nutrient rich plant foods - use meat as a condiment
- Grow an herb garden on your windowsill for year-round flavor
- Drink plenty of water and include some anti-inflammatory herbal teas
Stress increases cortisol levels, which is linked to accelerated progression in neurodegenerative diseases. 1 It’s also a driver of inflammation, which is at the core of age-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s and other dementias. This highlights the importance of getting enough rest and finding regular downtime to decompress as a way of life in the Blue Zones. From mid-afternoon naps on Ikaria, to the Sabbath day of rest for Adventists, or Sardinians practicing their sardonic sense of humor during daily happy hour, inhabitants of the Blue Zones know how to wind down.
Create Your Blue Zone Stress Management Strategy:
- Actually take a break from work on your lunch break
- Get outside in nature and be present – listen to the sounds around you like the wind rustling leaves, birds chirping, or kids laughing
- Take some time each day to relax – this can look different for everyone, but some ideas include deep breathing, talking to your best friend, spending 10 minutes with a guided meditation, praying, and taking a nap
- Schedule a happy hour with friends
Sense of Purpose and Connection
Each region’s centenarians maintain social connections throughout their lifetime. This connectedness to others provides a sense of belonging and a social safety net that wards off loneliness with age. Loneliness is associated with increased risks of age-associated disease like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and dementia, so the strong social connections are thought to be an important piece of the longevity puzzle. In Okinawa the moai provides a sense of safety and support, while neighbors stopping by in Ikaria keep an eye on each other. Prioritizing family is important in every Blue Zone, and many generations gather together frequently.
Beyond getting support from others, providing support in return is the flip side of these strong connections that is equally as impactful on longevity and health. A sense of purpose is a commonality among every culture living in a Blue Zone. It’s called plan de vida in Nicoya and ikigai in Okinawa. Whatever you call it, that feeling of caring for and providing for others keeps Blue Zone centenarians going.
Create Your Blue Zone Purpose and Connection Strategy:
- Reach out to your family to check in and let them know you’re thinking of them (through text or phone)
- Connect with like-minded people if you’re feeling lonely. Consider joining a faith-based or civic-focused group.
- Volunteer for a cause you believe in
- Get curious about your purpose. Journal about your values, talent, skills, and passions. Brainstorm how to take action to use your gifts to fulfill that purpose.
- Find friends who will support you in making changes for your health.
Without the need for intense gym sessions, Blue Zones residents are regularly engaging in moderate physical activity that keeps them strong throughout life. Their environments encourage this activity, removing the need to put a concerted effort into exercise. They work regularly in gardens, growing their own food. Working in the fields or as shepherds requires long days of movement, for some in mountainous regions. Just walking to see neighbors is sometimes a trek of an hour or more. Being active outside helps maintain bone health and strength, reducing the risk of frailty and falls in later years. Physical activity is also an important protective factor for cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases.
Create Your Blue Zone Physical Activity Strategy:
- Get outside and take a walk with a neighbor
- Play in your backyard with the kids
- Take a hike in the woods
- Do some yardwork and/or gardening
- Walk or ride a bike to your destination whenever possible
Try it for yourself!
Use these ideas as inspiration to create your own brain health and longevity supportive Blue Zone where you live. Living in a different environment than some of these more traditional cultures doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them and make it work for you. Just look at Loma Linda, a community just outside of Los Angeles – a picture for modern American life. It just takes some mindset shifts, small steps, and consistency!
Transforming your lifestyle to create your own Blue Zone is within reach, and one of the most powerful factors is your diet. RELEVATE is specifically designed to support your cognitive well-being with key nutrients from the renowned Mediterranean diet. Learn more about RELEVATE here.
1. Ouanes, S. & Popp, J. High Cortisol and the Risk of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease: A Review of the Literature. Front. Aging Neurosci. 11, (2019).