Each blue zone is unique. In Loma Linda, Calif., there exists a large, tight-knit community of Seventh-day Adventists. This religious group follows a faith that promotes a vegetarian lifestyle and a weekly day of spiritual reflection, which translates into a day of rest that few other Americans get in their busy lives. Researchers have found that Loma Linda residents who follow these habits may add 10 to 11 years to their lives [source: Langreth].
In Sardinia, Italy, as with other blue zones in the Mediterranean, residents often consume a diet high in nuts, seafood and healthy fats from plant sources, such as olives. This, combined with a culture in which older residents are highly respected and frequently consulted for advice, promotes both the physical and mental health critical to healthy old age [source: Blue Zones].
But can simply living in one of these blue zones extend your life? It appears it's not that simple.
There are people who die before their time in Okinawa and Sardinia, and there are some in Loma Linda who suffer from heart disease or cancer. The blend of factors in a person living a long, healthy life goes far beyond just location.
That's not to say that the identified blue zones aren't good places to live. Often, they feature low levels of environmental toxins, such as smog and airborne particulate matter, and they tend to feature regional quirks, such as the Sardinians' vertical houses -- in which many small floors are connected by stairs -- that promote activity as part of daily tasks. Likewise, the most easily obtained foods in these regions tend to be healthy choices (think healthy cold-water seafood off the coast of Japan) [source: Okinawa Centenarian Study].
It's a choice to make the most of these regional benefits. If a person chooses to eat unhealthy food despite having healthy options nearby, he or she may be missing out on a life-extending benefit. In the same vein, if a person doesn't become engaged with friends and family, the most supportive culture in the world won't help improve his or her mental and emotional health [source: New England Centenarian Study].
That's actually good news for the vast majority of people who can't simply move to a blue zone. We can improve our daily living habits in ways that reflect these long-lived cultures, and while we might not obtain every last benefit they gain from living healthy lives in very healthy locations, the years we add to our lives can be just as sweet.
For more information on living to old age, check out the links below.
- Blue Zones Web site. (May 11, 2011) http://www.bluezones.com/about/
- Boston University School of Medicine. "The New England Centenarian Study." July 3, 2010. (May 10, 2011) http://www.bumc.bu.edu/centenarian/
- Krach, Constance A. and Victoria A. Velkoff. "Centenarians in the United States." U.S. Census Bureau. July 1999. (May 8, 2011) http://www.census.gov/prod/99pubs/p23-199.pdf
- Langreth, Robert. "How To Live To 100." Forbes. April 7, 2009. (May 10, 2011)http://www.forbes.com/2009/04/06/centenarians-exercise-diet-personal-finance-retirement-live-to-100.html
- Murphy, Zoe. "The mystery of Japan's missing centenarians." BBC News. Sept. 20, 2010. (May 9, 2011) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-11299646
- National Centenarian Awareness Project Web site. February 2011. (May 10, 2011)http://www.adlercentenarians.org/
- NPR. "Can 'Blue Zones' Help Turn Back the Biological Clock?" June 8, 2008. (May 11, 2011) http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91285403
- Office for National Statistics. "Number of centenarians grows." Sept. 30, 2010. (May 11, 2011) http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=1875
- Okinawa Centenarian study. "Okinawa's Centenarians." (May 9, 2011) http://www.okicent.org/cent.html
- Park, Alice. "How to Live 100 Years." TIME. Feb. 11, 2010. (May 8, 2011)http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1963392_1963365_1963378,00.html
- The Popular Science Monthly. "Secrets of the Centenarians." October 1894. (May 11, 2011) http://books.google.com/books?id=zyQDAAAAMBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Sedensky, Matt. "Number Of Centenarians Is Booming In U.S." The Huffington Post. April 26, 2011. (May 11, 2011)http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/26/number-of-centenarians-is_n_854013.html