The Blue Zones
Read in 22 min.
Listen in 27 min.
Learn the key ideas of the book by Dan Buettner

The Blue Zones

A study on the world’s longest-living people

There are some small areas of the world in which people seem to live longer, healthier lives, sometimes reaching the age of 100 or even older. They are called ‘blue zones’, and include Barbagia in Sardinia, the Okinawa archipelago in Japan, Loma Linda in California, and the Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica. Together with several teams of doctors, scientists, and experts, journalist Dan Buettner visited these areas to speak to many of the centenarians living there, and has identified a common pattern in their lifestyles. The Blue Zones provides 9 important tips, which we can all implement, in order to change our lifestyle and live longer, better.

The Blue Zones
Read in 22 min.
Listen in 27 min.

How the ‘Blue Zones’ first came about: exploring Barbagia, Sardinia

At the turn of the late 2000s, Belgian demographer Michel Poulain was studying longevity patterns in several areas of Sardinia, including Barbagia, in the province of Nuoro: Poulain circled the area on a map with blue ink, giving rise to the term Blue Zones. Shortly afterwards, Dan Buettner also became interested in the subject, and decided to visit Barbagia to interview a few centenarians living in the area, in order to identify models of longevity based on culture or lifestyle.

Sardinia is a unique island: being isolated from Italy’s mainland, and has always been somewhat distrusting of visitors, to such an extent that the people living there not only actively pursue a different lifestyle, but have also developed different genetic characteristics from those seen in the rest of Europe. Sardinians, for example, are more at risk of contracting multiple sclerosis, and have higher average longevity rates.

The Sardinian lifestyle, especially in Barbagia, has not changed much over the centuries. The people living here have maintained their unique genetic traits, their economic isolation, and their attachment to traditional social values. Elders are respected, and seen as an invaluable source of experience; the family unit is crucial, and unwritten laws govern the community.

The heart of Sardinia’s Blue Zone, Barbagia, incorporates villages such as Fonni, Gavoi, Villagrande Strisaili, Talana, and Arzana. While exploring these villages, Buettner had the opportunity to talk to several centenarians, both men and women, and found that most of them eat their meals with family members, and spend time with friends. He also discovered that they worked hard for their entire lives, with the women taking care of the house and the men looking after the animals. Their lives centre around simple and unvarying daily and seasonal routines; they married and had children, who typically look after them now they are in their old age.

After spending a few days with the people of Barbagia, such as Tonino Tola, Buettner discovered that the typical Sardinian diet is often lower in fat than elsewhere in Europe, and is based on simple ingredients, such as pecorino cheese, which is rich in omega-3. Sardinians consume a great deal of goat’s milk, which could partly explain why Barbagia is a blue zone, because the goats in the area feed on an endemic plant, which has been shown to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Lentisk oil, which is widely used in the area, also boasts antibacterial and anti-mutagenic properties.

The type of farming practised in Barbagia is not particularly strenuous or stressful, but it does require the farmers to walk several kilometres every day in the rugged Sardinian countryside. This kind of regular, low-impact activity strengthens bones and muscles without putting excessive pressure on the joints. It is generally a quiet, stress-free life, although it tends to put greater pressure on the women, as they typically stay at home and take care of the finances and family; this might be why, unlike elsewhere in the world, there are as many centenarian men in Barbagia as there are very elderly women.

There are a further two factors that affect longevity in Barbagia: the first is the family bond, whereby the elderly almost always live at home with their children, so they are able to participate in family life, they are involved in raising their grandchildren, they love and feel loved, and they have a purpose. According to the author, the Sardinians of Barbagia also appear to be somewhat strong-willed and stubborn, which makes them less susceptible to stress, while their unique brand of wit and sense of humour helps them to nip arguments in the bud and appreciate what they have.


The key ideas of "The Blue Zones"

How the ‘Blue Zones’ first came about: exploring Barbagia, Sardinia
In the Japanese Blue Zone of Okinawa, ikigai is essential
Religion and community are the driving forces for centenarians in Loma Linda, California
Maize, family, and plan de vida are the secrets of the Blue Zone in Nicoya, Costa Rica
How to create our own personal Blue Zone and prolong our life
Lesson 1: practising low-intensity exercise
Lesson 2: hara hachi bu and eating just the right amount
Lesson 3: choosing plant-based products
Lesson 4: Drinking wine to live longer
Lesson 5: Identifying our life’s purpose
Lesson 6: slowing down to find our place in life
Lesson 7: cultivating faith in something bigger than us
Lesson 8: Making family a priority
Lesson 9: Maintaining positive social connections
Take-home message
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