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The Blue Zones of the World: where are they, and what are they?

The hotspots of longevity, ‘Blue Zones’ are unique places around the world where you can find the highest concentrations of people who are over 100 years old, and not only that, they’re growing old without health problems like heart disease, obesity, cancer, or diabetes. 

These destinations are not only beautiful but are also home to some incredible communities. So what’s their secret?

As you plan out your sabbatical, especially if you’re aiming to focus on your health and wellbeing, consider traveling to one of the five Blue Zones. Soak up the wisdom of the locals and experience the magic for yourself. 

The five Blue Zones were discovered by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and multiple New York Times bestselling author. The five spots include:

  1. Okinawa, Japan
  2. Sardinia, Italy
  3. Nicoya, Costa Rica
  4. Ikaria, Greece
  5. Loma Linda, California

Each place holds its own unique way of life, but what is it about these places that makes them so special? 

The 9 unique lifestyle habits + ways to include them in your daily life

 

  • #1 Move Naturally

What does this mean? No gyms, exercise classes, or specific exercise-based regimes. Instead, movement happens naturally, meaning lots of walking! It’s more like unconscious exercise. 

Think gardening, biking, swimming, and playing in the park.

YOUR CHALLENGE: How can you move more naturally? Can you walk or take your bike instead of driving? Can you take the stairs instead of the elevator? Can you swap a gym class with a hike in the forest? Think of ways you can implement this habit into your daily routine – even schedule it in your calendar if you have to! You might also keep a journal to see how that change makes you feel over time.

 

  • #2 Purpose

The Okinawans call it “Ikigai” and the Nicoyans call it “plan de vida;” both roughly translate to “why I wake up in the morning.” 

Knowing your sense of purpose is worth a lot of life! Living with intention and feeling confident in your self-worth is a powerful trait to have.

We love this! (Re)discovering purpose is often why people choose to take a sabbatical! So what’s your purpose?

YOUR CHALLENGE: Do you know ‘your why’? Can you explain it clearly? Or do you feel lost and confused when thinking about why you wake up in the morning? If that’s the case, fear not! You’re not alone! Taking the time to dive into your purpose to find something that really lights you up can be really beneficial!

This is something we discuss during our sabbatical planning sessions. What will be the purpose of your time away and how will you reach it? How can your sabbatical align with your core values and goals?

 

  • #3 Down Shift

Everyone experiences stress to some degree. Chances are stress may even be a reason you’re considering taking a sabbatical.

The people living in the Blue Zones may have a few lessons for us to learn. They practice daily rituals that have proven to reduce stress, like remembering their ancestors, praying, napping, and even enjoying happy hour!

YOUR CHALLENGE: What practice(s) can you include in your daily life to help reduce stress, pressure, and anxiety? Maybe it’s a 15-minute yoga practice before bed? Or a 5-minute meditation at the beginning of your day? Or maybe it’s reading a book instead of watching TV? 

Learn more about how we are keeping sane these days.

 

  • #4 80% rule

This rule of thumb relates to dietary lifestyle and the concept of stopping eating when you feel about 80% full. It is said that the 20% gap could be the difference between losing weight and gaining it. 

People in the Blue Zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then they don’t eat anymore for the rest of the day. They also eat slower, enjoying their meals (rather than eating on the go), so their bodies have time to tell them when they’re full.

YOUR CHALLENGE: Consider eating your meals on a smaller plate! Or try out turning off the cell phone and TV while you eat, and take the time to enjoy the flavors of the food you’re eating and the company you are with at the table.

  • #5 Plant Slant

It turns out that one of the things that the people in the Blue Zones have in common is beans being the cornerstone of their diets. Meat is eaten in these regions, but roughly about once a week, rather than daily. 

So who knows, maybe swapping a black bean burger for a beef patty might be a fun experiment to try? 

YOUR CHALLENGE: Maybe search “Beans recipes” on Pinterest and see what new dishes you could try this week!

 

  • #6 Wine at 5:00

People in Blue Zones (except those in California) tend to drink about 1-2 drinks with loved ones each day (this is most common in Sardinia).

YOUR CHALLENGE: Whether you like to drink or not, is there a way you include some quality social time at the end of your day to unwind?

 

  • #7 Belonging

Many people in the Blue Zones are also part of a faith-based community. Having a sense of belonging to something greater than oneself has been shown to improve overall well-being quite significantly. 

YOUR CHALLENGE: Whether you’re religious or not, there are many ways to gather with others to be part of something bigger. Meditation and yoga can be a great alternative, as is volunteering or team/group sports. 

 

  • #8 Putting Loved One’s First

It’s said that some of the happiest centenarians (people who live to 100 and over) prioritize their families and loved ones above all else.

YOUR CHALLENGE: How can you spend more QUALITY time with your loved ones? Do you find yourself running from one thing to the next? Do you often have your phone with you? Maybe try reducing the number of activities in your calendar and see if it helps to be fully present when you’re with the people you care about!

 

Another idea? Check out the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKoewn. 

 

  • #9 The Right Tribe

Finding the right social circles is an important aspect of Blue Zone living. Habits are contagious, so it’s important to surround yourself with like-minded people! 

Have you ever heard the saying, “you are the sum of the five people closest to you?” – well it’s true!  

Taking a sabbatical can be a wonderful way to truly assess many factors of your life, including who you choose to spend your time with, and whether your relationships are filling you up or draining you.  

YOUR CHALLENGE:  Make a list of the 5 people you hang out with the most. What do you like about them? What do you dislike about them? What kind of energy do they bring to the table? Now make a list of qualities you want to be known for. And keep an eye out for people matching these qualities.

The Blue Zones

 

Want to explore these 5 places yourself? Thinking one of them might be on your potential sabbatical destinations list? Let’s learn more about each of them:

 

  • Ikaria, Greece

An island off the coast of Turkey that, according to studies, has some of the world’s lowest rates of middle-age mortality and dementia. It is thought that their increased longevity may be connected with their traditional Mediterranean diet. 

  • Okinawa, Japan

 

The largest island in a subtropical archipelago controlled by Japan, Okinawa is home to the world’s longest-lived women. Their diet may be the reason! Food staples like Okinawan sweet potatoes, soybeans, mugwort, turmeric, and goya (bitter melon) keep Okinawans living long and healthy lives. If you’re a foodie, then visiting some of these Blue Zones will benefit not just your mental well-being, but your body too!

  • Ogliastra Region, Sardinia

 

The mountainous parts of this Italian island host the world’s highest concentration of centenarian men. Once again their long life is attributed to, you guessed it, their diet! Its population consumes a low-protein diet associated with lower rates of diabetes, cancer, and death for people under age 65. They also highly advocate for number 6 of the 9 Main Blue Zone Characteristics – wine at 5:00!

  • Loma Linda, California

 

Spanish for “Beautiful Hill”, Loma Linda is a city in San Bernardino County. The community here has the highest concentration of Seventh-day Adventists in the United States. Some residents live 10 more healthy years than the average American by following a biblical diet of grains, fruits, nuts, and vegetables. The tagline for this city is “A city focused on health and prosperity!”

  • Nicoya Penninsula, Costa Rica

 

Costa Rica is probably one of the most popular sabbatical destinations of the five Blue Zones. Residents here have the world’s lowest rate of middle-age mortality and the second-highest concentration of male centenarians. The secret to their long lives lies partly in their deep-connected community, and their habits of regular, low-intensity physical activity.

Whether you choose to visit one (or all!) of these spots during your sabbatical, or you feel inspired to travel somewhere else, keep the list of the 9 unique lifestyle habits close by and test some of them out while you’re on your sabbatical or at home!

 

If you’re ready to stop dreaming about your sabbatical and get started planning it, allow us to help you every step of the way. 

 

Click here to start planning now!

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