the blue zones book summary

Book Summary: The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner

The Book in Three Sentences

In this summary of The Blue Zones, you’ll read about the long-lived communities of the world. Dan Buettner examined the lifestyles, diets, and stress-coping mechanisms of those communities. He then turned those studies into a practical guide that can help you add years to your life.

Chapter 1: The Truth About Living Longer

For hundreds of years, people have been interested in a source of long life. Science has proven that while you can’t stop the aging process entirely, you can speed it up or slow it down depending on the lifestyle you have. According to experts, following the right lifestyle can add as many as ten years of life. The premise of this book is that by optimizing your lifestyle, you can get an extra decade of life.

Before moving on, the author clarifies some common questions people have.

  • What is aging? Aging is a constant development that happens in all species. In humans, the peak takes place in the mid-20s and starts to decline in our mid-40s. Signs of aging include deteriorated eyesight, graying of hair, loss of muscle mass, and a less competent immune system.
  • What’s the average American lifespan? Around 75 years old.
  • What are the chances of living to 100? Less than one percent. To increase your chances, you need a healthy lifestyle.
  • Is there a pill that can extend your life? No, such a pill doesn’t exist yet.
  • Are vitamin supplements helpful? While taking supplements to meet your vitamin requirements can help, it can also cause other problems.
  • What’s a smart diet for longevity? Have a balanced diet where you eat everything in moderation. Above everything else, avoid foods with a lot of salt, sugar, and fat.
  • How can you add more good years? Exercise often and make it sustainable. Smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your health.
  • Does going to the gym help? Moderate, sustained exercise can help. Aim to do a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise five times a week.
  • How can we maximize the good years? Living long isn’t the same as living well. To age successfully, be social and do something you love that doesn’t lead to stress.

Chapter 2: The Sardinian Diet

In the early 2000s, Scientists started researching the places where most centenarians live. One of those scientists circled areas of the map with blue ink and the term “Blue Zones” was soon adopted by demographers.

One of those places is the Barbagia region in Sardinia, a small island 120 miles west of Italy that has a population of 1.6 million people. Sardinians have maintained the same lifestyle for hundreds of years: they have meals with loved ones, stroll from time to time, and have a harsh sense of humor. Most of them were farmers and shepherds growing up and socialized when they weren’t working.

The traditional Sardinian diet includes bread, cheese, and vegetables (zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and fava beans). They eat meat on rare occasions. Also, they drink sheep milk, goat milk, and wine. Centenarians in this region have a sense of purpose in life, as well as a strong sense of community.

Sardinian’s Blue Zone Lessons:

  • Eat a plant-based diet with meat: This includes whole-grain bread, beans, vegetables, and fruit, and pecorino cheese. Meat is reserved for Sundays or special occasions.
  • Put family first: Have strong family values.
  • Drink goat’s milk: Goat’s milk protects you against heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Celebrate elders: This helps people maintain traditions.
  • Take a walk: Walk five miles every day.
  • Drink a glass or two of red wine daily: As long as you do it moderately, wine consumption can be beneficial.
  • Laugh with friends: Have a sense of humor.

Chapter 3: The Blue Zone in Okinawa

Okinawa is a group of tropical islands located 1,000 miles from Tokyo. In this archipelago, you can find the highest life expectancy in the world. Japan focuses on preventing diseases before they happen, not on treating them when they do. As a consequence, Japanese people suffer from diseases but at a lower rate than other countries.

Thanks to the tropical climate, Okinawans grow vegetables in their own gardens. Also, their diet contains little to no salt. Apart from fish, they also get protein from pork and some plants. It’s common in Japan to eat until you’re 80 percent full. Japanese people are able to do this by saying the phrase hara hachi bu before meals. Okinawans have a simple routine: they eat, pray, take naps, socialize, and they get up and go to bed early.

One of the reasons why Japanese people live so long is because they have an ikigai. This means they have a mission or purpose in life. Additionally, they are often part of a moai or social group. All of this helps Okinawas’s centenarians to have a stress-free life where they laugh often.

Due to a diet high in antioxidants, Okinawans have a balanced immune system that keeps them healthy. They eat healthy and nutritious food and they do it in small portions. Another ingredient in Okinawans’ longevity is vitamin D which they get from being exposed to the sun. To get these benefits, people need 10-15 minutes of sun twice a week.

Okinawa’s Longevity Lessons

  • Embrace an ikigai: Have a reason to get up in the morning.
  • Rely on a plant-based diet: Okinawans eat vegetables, sweet potatoes, tofu, and goya regularly.
  • Get gardening: This encourages you to exercise, as well as eat healthily.
  • Eat more soy: The flavonoids from soy can protect you from diseases.
  • Maintain a moai: Have a social group to rely on.
  • Enjoy the sunshine: Get exposed to the sunlight on a regular basis.
  • Stay active: Walk, garden, and sit on the floor whenever possible.
  • Plant a medicinal garden: Have plants with medicinal qualities.
  • Have an attitude: Enjoy life’s simple pleasures and be likable.

Chapter 4: An American Blue Zone

Loma Linda is a small community in California where 9,000 Seventh-day Adventists live. The town is 60 miles from Los Angeles and its residents have the longest life expectancy in the country. Due to their religion, Adventists can’t smoke, drink alcohol, or eat certain kinds of food (such as pork or meat). Since Adventists don’t eat meat, they never get heart diseases. Additionally, they don’t drink soft drinks, coffee, or cocoa.

These are the five things people can do to live as long as Adventists in Loma Linda:

  1. Become a vegetarian
  2. Eat more nuts
  3. Don’t smoke
  4. Engage in modest yet regular physical activity
  5. Maintain a normal body weight

Loma Linda’s Blue Zone Secrets:

  • Find a sanctuary in time: Take a day off from work to focus on family, nature, or something you’re into.
  • Maintain a healthy body mass index: This is having an appropriate weight for your height.
  • Get regular, moderate exercise: Something as simple as a daily walk helps.
  • Spend time with like-minded friends: Spend time with people who share your values and support your habits.
  • Stack on nuts: Consuming nuts will have a positive impact on your health.
  • Give something back: Help others.
  • Eat in moderation: Consume fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Have small portions of meat or as a side dish.
  • Eat an early, light dinner: Having a light dinner early in the evening promotes better sleep.
  • Put more plants in your diet: Have two or more servings of fruit per day. Eat legumes three times a week. Consume tomatoes regularly.
  • Drink Plenty of water: drink five or six glasses of water every day.

Chapter 5: Discovering Costa Rica’s Blue Zone

Hojancha, a small village in Costa Rica, has one of the healthiest populations on earth. The place remained largely ignored because people thought Costa Rica was a dangerous place. This is an erroneous assumption, Costa Rica has a great public health system, especially in Nicoya. Since most people carry a national identification card, verifying people’s age is relatively easy, not to mention accurate.

People in Nicoya have a solid work ethic, strong family ties, and access to a great public health system. Their diet includes corn, beans, pork, vegetables, and fruit. Nicoyans eat a low-calorie, low-fat, plant-based diet. The main thing that sets them apart from other Blue Zones is the fact that they eat corn tortillas in every meal. They also consume large quantities of tropical fruit, such as sweet lemons, oranges, and bananas. Like in Japan, Costa Ricans have a reason to wake up in the morning, something they call plan de vida.

Costa Rica’s Longevity Secrets

  • Have a “plan de vida”: Costa Ricans’ centenarians have a sense of purpose.
  • Drink hard water: Nicoyan water is high in calcium.
  • Keep a focus on family: Having family around gives you support and a sense of belonging.
  • Eat a light dinner: Eat a light dinner early in the evening.
  • Keep hard at work: Find joy in simple physical chores.
  • Get some sun: Sunshine rays let your body produce vitamin D.
  • Embrace a common history: Have traditions that keep the stress away.

Chapter 6: The Greek Blue Zone

Ikaria, a small island in the Aegean Sea is a recently discovered Blue Zone. Despite what experts thought, there’s no single ingredient that leads to longevity and Ikaria proves this. Ikarians grow their own vegetables, herbal teas, and grapes. Their secret isn’t a singular ingredient, their lifestyle is.

Most people on the island have a stress-free life and they don’t even carry watches. Additionally, they eat their own version of the Mediterranean diet which includes olive oil, vegetables, potatoes, goat milk, beans, fruit, and red wine. They also drink herbal tea with honey. Ikarians also like to stay up until late at night, so they take naps regularly. They eat meat on rare occasions though. While what they eat is important, how they eat is also noteworthy. When they have a meal, they relax and have a conversation with whoever is around. In fact, villagers, socialize a lot, since they talk to their neighbors or family members on a daily basis.

Ikaria’s Blue Zone Secrets:

  • Drink goat’s milk: Goat’s milk has calcium, potassium, and a stress-relieving hormone.
  • Mimic mountain living: Exercise mindlessly.
  • Eat a Mediterranean-style diet: Eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, potatoes, and olive oil.
  • Drink herbal teas: Herbal teas have antioxidants and keep your blood pressure in check.
  • Nap: According to experts, nappers have healthier lives.
  • Fast occasionally: Due to their religious beliefs, Ikarians fast every once in a while.
  • Make family and friends a priority: Connect with the people you love.

Chapter 7: Your Personal Blue Zone

In this chapter, the author gives you a simple program you can follow. The program takes into account everything he learned from studying the Blue Zones. He calls these lessons the “Power Nine”.

  1. Move naturally: Do regular, low-intensity activities that are part of your routine. Hike, garden, ride a bike, go on walks, do yoga, or use light exercise as an excuse to socialize.
  2. Hara hachi bu: Remind yourself to stop eating before you’re full. It’s not about starting a strict diet but to avoid overeating.
  3. Avoid meat and processed foods: Get in the habit of eating small portions of unprocessed foods. Instead, eat fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts.
  4. Drink red wine: As long as you drink it in moderation, red wine may have some benefits. Too much of it though can lead to serious consequences.
  5. Have a strong sense of purpose: Having clear goals in life increases your longevity. This may come from a job, a hobby, or a family obligation.
  6. Relieve stress: The best way to do this is by resting and socializing. For this purpose, be in complete silence from time to time, arrive at places early rather than late, and meditate regularly.
  7. Have faith: Being part of a spiritual community has some advantages. The religion you choose is unimportant, as long as you engage in religious services regularly.
  8. Make family a priority: Celebrate with your family, have your own rituals, love your children, respect your elders, honor your ancestors, and share meals and activities with your spouse, kids, or other family members.
  9. Surround yourself with people with the same values: Associate with people who share the same values as you. This will make the process of adopting good habits easier.

Further Reading

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