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Body + Mind

Visiting These Five Countries Could Help You Live Longer

What is the secret to a longer life? If the idea of “Blue Zones” can be believed, a lot of it could come down to where you live.

As a Netflix documentary dives into the fascinating science behind how location and living longer are intertwined, CF investigates how our place on the world map can increase our chances of living to celebrate our one hundredth birthday.

Including Japan, Costa Rica and an island in Greece, discover where these “Blue Zones” are, the longevity secrets of the people who live in them, and how you can start planning your next travel adventure to see the benefits for yourself.

What is a Blue Zone?

Blue Zones are a concept popularised by the traveller and author Dan Buettner. They are regions in the world where, his research suggests, people live significantly longer than the global average. Most importantly, they also live healthier lives too, meaning there’s arguably much we can learn from them if we want to enjoy good health into old age.

What makes a Blue Zone ‘Blue’?

What’s the magic of these so-called ‘Blue Zones’? It’s actually got nothing to do with the colour blue (they simply got their name because a blue pen was used to circle them on a world map during research).

It’s also “not about preventing death. It is about learning how to live,” Buettner says in the dramatic opening of his documentary on the topic, Live to 100: Secrets Of The Blue Zones (Netflix). “I’ve found what most people think leads to a long and healthy life is misguided and or just plain wrong.”



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In the course of the series, Buettner explores the key factors that he’s identified as life-prolonging and, interestingly, there isn’t a gym membership, hardcore diet plan or supplement in sight.

Instead, here’s the broad cheat sheet:


As we probably all know, what you eat is important, but while a healthy balanced diet is firmly on the menu, carbs are not the enemy in Blue Zones, and it’s the diversity and nutrient richness of the food people eat in these longevity hotspots which is deemed most important. Meat is also less widely eaten, with predominantly plant-based diets favoured instead, including plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes as the common factor.


Think you need to be hitting the gym five days a week and emerging in a sweat to see true health-boosting results? Not so, according to the Blue Zones. The norm in these cultures is not to exercise intensely but regularly, which is achieved by incorporating moderate exercise into daily routines. For example, always walking when doing errands, rather than always jumping in the car.


What’s quite poignant about the Blue Zones research is that it’s not just physical health that’s emerged as being key for growing old healthily. Mental resilience has been shown to be incredibly important, something which is supported in these areas by strong family ties, social networks and a real sense of community. This is something that is often lost in busy, modern metropolises of the world.


Similarly, according to the research, a sense of purpose is really important too. This can be especially poignant to consider as we age, as key focuses such as our careers and family caring responsibilities shift, change or even disappear, which can leave older individuals feeling they cannot adequately contribute to society. In contrast, in some of the Blue Zones – such as the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica – there are even specific words for a person’s ‘life mission’ – which helps people engrain a deeper, long-lasting purpose in society throughout their whole life.


Finally, a life-prolonging attribute that will come as little surprise to most of us: stress reduction, which seems easier said than done, particularly in our busy world today. Yet, the way that Blue Zones succeed – even when their populations do have to manage high stress loads – is that stress management practices are not seen as something to ‘add’ into a person’s life when needed. Instead, they are cemented in the bedrock of the societies, with meditation, prayer, taking naps and other processes all the norm, not the exception.

Where are the Blue Zones?

Fancy visiting a Blue Zone to discover their health-prolonging benefits for yourself? These are the top five locations to book a trip to.

Sardinia, Italy

The Italian island of Sardinia – especially its mountainous regions – is home to the world’s highest concentration of male centenarians. But, what’s most fascinating about Sardinian culture is that plentitude, rather than restraint, is favoured when it comes to health-boosting principles. Laughter is seen as the best medicine in a close-knit society where family and friends are put first, and elders are celebrated. There’s no shortage of wine – a glass of red is commonly enjoyed with friends. It’s teamed with a vegetable-rich diet and physical activity engrained in day-to-day life, due to traditional jobs such as shepherding.

What to do on a visit: A trip to Sardinia is a chance to learn how to make traditional carby food healthier. Here, sourdough is enjoyed much more than white bread, as it contains an ingredient that actually lowers your blood sugar levels, helping tackle life-limiting conditions such as diabetes. Plus, it’s seriously delicious too.

Ikaria, Greece

The Mediterranean diet – which is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and olive oil – has long been celebrated for its life-extending nutritional value. In Ikaria in Greece, our next Blue Zone, it’s that diet – alongside societal norms such as religious fasting, fostering of social relationships, and a slower pace of life that includes mid-day naps – which have helped the area have one of the world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality and the lowest rates of dementia. In fact, one in three Ikarian individuals are said to make it to their 90s.

What to do when you visit: Remove your watch and swap out your caffeine. Ikarian living encourages mindless movement such as walking to see neighbours over hardcore timed exercise, and the area has not one but two favourite health-boosting drinks on offer: antioxidant-rich herbal teas and fresh lactose-free goat’s milk.

Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

We should all be inspired by the ‘plan de vida’, or life plan, that’s integral to life in the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, which sees this Blue Zone celebrated for giving its residents a strong sense of purpose. Still don’t believe having a ‘true purpose’ is enough to keep you alive for longer? Well, this area has the world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality and the second highest concentration of male centenarians. The life purpose here is highly connected to strong social networks and physical work outside, to keep people’s lives feeling full and necessary for longer.

What to do when you visit: Eat like a Nicoyan. The traditional Nicoyan low-calorie diet of squash, corn and beans, eaten as part of a light, early dinner, is said to be the best nutritional combination for longevity in the world, according to Buettner’s research.

Loma Linda, California

Loma Linda in California has much to thank its religious population for in terms of longevity (the community is predominately Seventh-Day Adventists). However, you don’t have to be religious to benefit from this Blue Zone, where residents tend to live 10 years longer than their North American counterparts. For example, eating the area’s ‘biblical diet’ of grains, fruits, nuts and vegetables (while forgoing alcohol and smoking) has been shown to reduce your risk of lung, colon and ovarian cancer, as well as decreasing rates of heart disease and diabetes. The area’s desire to ‘give back’ to others can also be mirrored by wider society for the benefit of both the individual undertaking the action, and those who they are helping.

What to do when you visit: “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” This approach was suggested by American nutritionist Adelle Davis and reflects Loma Linda society; a light dinner can promote better sleep and weight control.

Okinawa, Japan

Once called ‘the land of the immortals’ Okinawa in Japan has the highest number of centenarians in the world, with low levels of cancer, heart disease and dementia throughout the population. As for the wellness principles you can copy: there is the Okinawan tradition of ‘moai’ or ‘secure social networks’, which allow for emotional and financial support in times of need. Then, there’s the common plant-based diet, filled with stir-fried vegetables, sweet potatoes, and tofu that are high in nutrients and low in calories. Much of this food is homegrown in allotments, meaning it’s fresh and provides daily exercise for the potential centenarians, who also tend to relax not on chairs but on tatami mats on the floor – which builds lower body strength and balance.

What to do when you visit: Enjoy the medicinal fruits of an Okinawan garden, especially ingredients such as mugwort, ginger and turmeric. These are staples in an Okinawan diet and have been shown to help protect you against illnesses.

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