Blue zones are five areas around the world that are noted for having longer life expectancies and lower rates of chronic disease.
National Geographic explorer and writer Dan Buettner used demographics and built upon the research of other scientists to define the ideas of blue zones, in an attempt “to reverse engineer longevity.”
In these blue zones, people have healthy habits like plant-based diets, exercise, fasting, good relationships, and a strong sense of purpose in life. In return, they tend to live longer than the current U.S. life expectancy, which is 77.
People in blue zones eat eggs, go light on cow dairy, and eat tons of vegetables (especially leafy greens) and whole grains. Olive oil subs in for butter, and fish is favored over beef.
Though a short vacation to a blue zone probably won’t lengthen your life, it can inspire healthier habits and show you the pleasure of living life like the blue zoners do. Check out the five locations and what each has to offer for healthy travel.
2. Ikaria, Greece
This tiny island is isolated by both geography and history.
Its residents rarely suffer from dementia and two-thirds live to be 90. Diets
here are rich in wild greens, homemade, sulfate-free red wine and herbal
infusions. The land is a combination of turquoise blue beaches and mountainous terrain
– hiking uphill to get home is a must.
There isn’t a booming travel industry on this small island, so plan on renting an Airbnb and spending the days swimming, hiking and soaking
in natural thermal baths. Life here is slow but very full.
3. Loma Linda, California
This small California town is significant because of its
population of Seventh-Day Adventists – the highest concentration in the U.S. of this religious group. Adventists eat a vegetarian diet, regularly exercise and don’t smoke or drink
Come to Loma Linda for vegetarian cuisine; Hulda
Crooks Park for hiking and biking; and a visit to Loma Linda Community
Garden, where you can relax amongst the organic produce.
4. Sardinia, Italy
The island of Sardinia was the first blue zone identified.
Good genes are part of it as Sardinians carry a unique genetic marker linked to
long life, but they also work on and eat from the land in a tight-knit
community. Pecorino cheese, red wine and goat’s milk are also thought to be the secrets of their success.
For tourists, Sardinia has both affordable and upscale
resorts, fantastic restaurants and crystal-blue beaches. Explore archaeological
wonders like the giant statues in Cabras and natural treasures like massive
white limestone gorges. Go to the Gulf of Orosei in central-eastern Sardinia to
trek through the Bue Marino Caves and just take in the beauty of this gem of the Mediterranean.
5. Okinawa, Japan
The women of Okinawa live longer than anywhere else on
Earth. They are known for both their solid social networks of friends and sense
of purpose in life, called “ikigai.”
Okinawans eat a plant-based diet with three-quarters dedicated to purple sweet potatoes.
They are gardeners, eat lots of soy (like tofu and miso soup) and keep vitamin
D high year-round with walks in the sunshine.
Far removed from the mainland of Japan, this island chain (160 islands actually) is a trip unto itself with 2,000 square kilometers to
explore. The snorkeling and diving are world class. There are castles, unique
animals on land and in the sea and a fantastic dining scene. Don’t forget to
check out a karate match (or even a lesson) as the sport was born here.
6. Nicoya, Costa Rica
Costa Ricans celebrate having a “plan de vida,” or a reason to live as one of the keys to their
longevity. They enjoy their close and extended families, drink hard, calcium-rich
water and eat a small plant-based dinner, including squash, corn and beans.
The Nicoya peninsula is a large tourist hub, set off to the
west of the mainland and separated by the Gulf of Nicoya. Nicoya’s beaches are
vast and pristine, a magnet for surfers. For eco-tourists, there are turtle
beaches, underground caves and lots of nature reserves. There’s also a vibrant
street scene in some villages, scenic waterfalls and luxury resorts.