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Adlen Robinson: What’s the secret of people who live in Blue Zones?

Have you heard of Blue Zones? They are regions of the world where people tend to live much longer than the average amount of years. Apparently, an author named Dan Buettner traveled to these regions to study why these people were living so long. What, he wondered, was their secret to longevity? 

The name “Blue Zones” was coined because Buettner drew blue circles around the places where these people lived on a map of the world. Have you ever heard the word “agenarians?” These are people who live into their 90s. Those who live into their 100s are called centarians. It turns out, lifestyle has more to do with a long life than even genetics.

Let’s talk about where these Blue Zones are and what these people are doing to not only live such long lives, but also enjoy being healthy.

1. Icaria is an island in Greece. The people there enjoy the Mediterranean diet, feasting on plenty of vegetables, fruit, fish, olive oil, and drink red wine.

2. In Okinawa, Japan the people eat mostly soy-based food, fish, and practice the art of tai chi as a meditative exercise.

3. Oligastra, Sardinia in Italy also enjoy fish, red wine, olive oil, and fruits and vegetables.

4. In Nicoya Peninsula, in Costa Rica, residents feast on beans and corn tortillas, and get plenty of exercise working outdoors on farms.

5. The Seventh-day Adven­tists in Loma Linda, California are vegetarians and live in a very close community. Of course they are extremely religious as well.

So what do these communities, all of which are so very far apart from each other, have in common? One of the main things they have in common is that their diets consist mostly of plant-based foods. The communities that do eat meat, consume it only four or five times a month. The main foods these long living residents eat are legumes (beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas), whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and fish.

Studies have also found these people tend to consume fewer calories. The Okinawans follow the 80 percent rule, which they call “hara hachi bu.” This is the practice they follow to stop eating when they are 80 percent full. Many residents in the Blue Zones also periodically fast or practice intermittent fasting.

Another important thing Blue Zone communities have in common is they exercise daily. Not by going to the gym — but by incorporating exercise into their daily routines. This includes gardening, farming, walking, cooking, meditating and daily chores. In other words, they are not sedentary.

Getting adequate sleep is another common denominator with regards to people in Blue Zone communities. They are certain to get seven hours of sleep a night and if they nap during the day, they don’t nap for longer than 30 minutes. Of course if you get enough sleep at night, you probably wouldn’t need a nap.

Another thing the Blue Zone people have in common is they are religious or spiritual, giving them a sense of community and belonging. Often older and younger people live together. For example, in these communities, it is not uncommon for the grandparents to live with their children and even care for their grandchildren. Studies have shown that grandparents who care for their grandchildren tend to live longer.

Lastly, people who live in Blue Zones have a life purpose. In Okinawa, this is known as “ikigai.”  

These are all things we can all do to achieve optimal health and perhaps extend our lives. Make sure you check out my food column in this Friday’s FCN where I will be featuring some healthy and delicious recipes that are probably on many of the menus of those living in Blue Zones. 

South Forsyth resident Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at