Blue Zones: Longevity Oasis!

İrem Ergün, MD

İrem Ergün, MD

IFM Certified Functional Medicine Doctor

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Can we live healthy up to 100 years without spending millions of dollars by optimizing our lives, improving and sustaining our culture and habits? The answer is in Blue Zones!

By maintaining our lifestyle and environmental factors at their best, can we enjoy graceful aging with less effort and more awareness, surrounded by our loved ones? Actually, we can find the answers to these questions in the Blue Zones…

How was it discovered?

The term “blue zones” was first coined by National Geographic explorer Dan Buettner during a project he conducted in 2004. Buettner made an expedition to Okinawa, Japan, in 2000 to investigate longevity, and after his experience there, he set out to discover other parts of the world where longevity was reported to be high. As Buettner and a team of scientists and demographers, with support from National Geographic, began studying these regions around the world, they found that people not only lived longer but also had a high quality of life into their old age. So after analyzing demographic data and interviewing large numbers of centenarians, they identified five regions that stand out for longevity and healthy aging.

Bluezones: Consists of Okinawa, Sardinia, Ikaria, Costa Rica and the Linda region, and last year Singapore. At the end of this discovery and research, which has been going on for about 20 years, nine main features, in other words strong points, were identified. Using the secrets discovered in these blue zones – which are the most special places around the world where people live healthy lives until the age of 100 – it has become a project to transform the communities where people live by continuing their productivity, entertainment and activity with lower healthcare costs.

Bluezones; In today’s reality, where unhealthy life continues persistently and stubbornly despite all the discoveries, technology and developments, I think it is a very hopeful project to develop alternatives instead of surrendering to this as a community and to demonstrate the power of people to share again. 

Power 9: What are the nine secrets these regions share?

1. Natural movement: The longest-living people in the world are not those who stay in the gym for hours, drink protein drinks and run marathons! Those who design their jobs, homes, environments and lifestyles to be in constant motion. Of course, the most important thing is that many studies clearly show how positively walking affects our health. Walking is healthy for elderly people, reducing the risk of several health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia, according to a 2023 GeroScience study. In addition, this study supports positive effects on sleep, mental calmness and inflammation. We see that a brisk 30-minute walk a day reduces the risk of many age-related diseases, positively affects our mood, improves sleep quality and reduces the risk of bone fractures.

Among the most important characteristics of people who have reached the age of 100, whom we call centenarians living in the blue zones; They are constantly active, meet many of their own needs, do their own work on their homes and gardens, and prefer cycling and walking instead of driving.

People living in the blue zone on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula are very accustomed to walking to see their loved ones and neighbours, or to exercise without tiring their minds by gardening and doing housework.

2. Having a purpose in life: Okinawans call this “ikigai” and Nicoyans call it “plan de vida”. We can also add this to the meaning of life. When we remember that this system, the universe, and life are composed of composite containers, even helping and sharing each other can be an important life purpose. Demographic studies show that life purpose can add an average of seven years to our lives.

3. Slowing down, downshifting: Stress is present even in people in blue zones. But the most important difference is their stress relief routines, their perception of stress and their reactions. While we develop methods to minimize the negative effects of stress on us, Okinawans pray, Ikarians take afternoon naps, Sardinians have happy hours. Slowing down, one of the most important secrets, goes in the opposite direction between not having time for anything in modern life and not having any time for yourself.

4. 80% rule: “Hara hachi bu” 2500-year-old Confucian mantra: Remembering to stop eating when the stomach is 80% full. The twenty percent difference between not being hungry and feeling full can be the difference between losing or gaining weight. People living in blue zones eat their smallest meal of the day late in the afternoon or very early in the evening, and the amount is always sufficient for themselves.

5. Plant-Based Diet and vegetable protein: In blue zones, beans are one of the cornerstones of the centuries-old diet. Depending on the region, fava, beans, soy, and lentils are foods that the residents of these regions cannot give up and that extend their lifespan. Meat is eaten four or five times a month.

6. Belonging: It is observed that 95% of centenarians living in blue zones belong to a faith-based community. People’s beliefs and sects are not a matter of discussion. Studies show that attending faith-based spiritual services once a week can increase life expectancy by 4 to 14 years.

7. Wine: Although I may not enthusiastically include it in my own approach as a functional medicine practitioner; people in blue zones consume alcohol moderately and at certain intervals. The key is to have one to two glasses, preferably of homemade good wine, earlier in the day, with friends, or with a meal.

8. Family and friends: Strong connections between family and across generations not only add to our lifespan but also to our quality of life. The International Federation on Ageing (IFA) conducts studies on the importance of these connections and intergenerational sharing and experiences in health and enjoyable aging. In blue zones, we also see that healthy centenarians prioritize their families. This actually reflects a value we hold dear in our culture, which is keeping aging parents, grandparents, close. Studies also associate this with a decrease in disease and mortality rates in children. Strong bonds with your family or those you consider as family are indeed one of the secrets of longevity.

9. Right community: This point is akin to the saying, “Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are.” The world’s longest-lived individuals live within a social environment that supports healthy behaviors; they either choose this environment or are born into it. Looking at it from another perspective, the Framingham studies show that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. The social networks of those living in blue zones and the healthy behaviors within friend groups, such as the “moais” of the Okinawans, have shaped in a way that positively influences each other.

Functional wellness…

All these investigations and studies are continuing at full speed to extend what we call Lifespan and, more importantly, to maximize what we refer to as Healthspan. While the presence of two or more chronic health conditions simultaneously, known as Multi-morbidity, is quite high in the United States, it’s also significant for Turkey. A meta-analysis evaluating 126 studies conducted in 2023 found that multi-morbidity exists in 51% of the population aged 60 and over worldwide. Studies indicate that within the 30 years between 2020 and 2050, if current lifestyles and environmental factors persist, the prevalence of multi-morbidity in individuals aged 50 and over will increase by as much as 90%. Healthspan, which we say is as important as lifespan – if not more important, has been found to be associated with quality of life, i.e., physical, social, emotional, and functional well-being, and notably, loneliness, after numerous studies.

Blue Zones project does not propose a definite and singular path for a longer and healthier life. Indeed, all scientific studies and experiments repeatedly demonstrate that in the transformation we call aging, genetics, biology, biochemistry, social, mental, environmental, and many other factors are all intertwined. Scientifically based medicine, technology, new molecules, biohacking, detoxes, next-generation devices, supplements—all seem ready to serve anyone desiring health and longevity within modern life.

Blue Zones, in its most natural and sustainable form, shares all its behaviors and understandings for the benefit of all of us. I recommend everyone seeking inspiration and aiming to transform their lives into healthier ones to take a look. With love… 

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The information and statements on our website are not intended to guide individuals towards medical diagnosis and treatment. Please consult with your doctor for medical diagnostic and treatment procedures. The contents are shared for informational purposes only, derived from scientific studies prepared by EMC Medya Yayıncılık Ticaret Ltd. Şti.’s researchers, consultants, and authors/scientists, as well as compilations from publicly available publications. Our texts do not contain health statements related to medical diagnosis or treatment

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