We’ve traveled to all of the world’s Blue Zones, as first identified by Michel Poulain and featured by National Geographic in the early 2000’s, in order to launch a new investigation into the factors that contribute to exceptional health and longevity of the people who live in these unique places.
We also recently attended the Journey to 100 Conference held in Guernsey – part of the Channel Islands located off the French coast – which assembled many of the world’s leading experts on health, longevity, and chronic disease.
An extremely mountainous island, most of the modern inhabitants are located along the coast. While many of the oldest villages are found in the mountainous valleys of the interior. Much of the island features landscapes laden with lush green shrubbery, and the climate is mostly Mediterranean/temperate.
Humans have inhabited the island for at least 9,000 years, according to current archaeological evidence. And modern Ikarians are some of the healthiest and longest-lived people on Earth, living more than 10 years longer than the European average.
With approximately 1 in 3 living well into their 90’s, it is often said that Ikarians ‘forget to die’.
Between the all-night village parties, 3-hour chats over coffee, and patience that will outlast a mule, the Ikarians exude a calmness and sense of well being that is sure to be a major contributor to their impressive healthspan and longevity.
There are several microclimates in Sardinia, most falling within what would be considered a typical Mediterranean/temperate climate with more rain than average for the region. According to current evidence, people first settled the island 50,000-100,000 years ago, making it one of the first populated bodies of land in Europe. And according to a prominent local archeologist, the DNA from the long-line of Sardinian descendants is fantastically-well preserved and the oldest in the greater Mediterranean region.
The dietary aspects contributing to longevity of the island include the famous Pecorino cheese, Cannonau wine, olive oil, wild seafood, and polyphenol-rich tomatoes.
Average life expectancy of the island is over 82 years. And Ogliastra, identified as the first Blue Zone region by famed demographer Dr. Michel Poulain, shares the highest rate of centenarians in the world, along with Okinawa, Japan.
The region boasts an astounding number of plant and animal species, and is a favorite destination for surfers and lovers of all water sports. The Nicoya shoreline contains seemingly infinite numbers of small beaches, bays, inlets, and dozens of villages. The weather fluctuates between arid and tropical throughout the year with a rainy season that runs from May until November.
There is an abundance of readily available tropical fruit and produce that grows in the wild and is cultivated by the local population. You’ll frequently hear the phrase pura vida used by both locals and tourists, which literally translates to ‘pure life’. This mentality permeates the culture and is undoubtedly a mindset that plays a profound role in their exceptional longevity.
The islands lie within a subtropical climate zone, which supports ample farming of sugar cane, pineapples, and many types of tropical flowers. Okinawa Island, the largest in the group, has an area of 463 square miles, with most of the over one million inhabitants located in the urban areas of the central and southern parts of the island. In the last 40 years, tourism has become the #1 industry in Okinawa, along with the economic impact brought on by a rather large lingering U.S. military presence after WWII.
The purple sweet potato was brought to the island sometime in the 16th century and has become a staple in the traditional Okinawan diet. In the mid to late 20th century, approximately 70% of calories in their diet came from sweet potatoes.
While the area is not technically identified as a Blue Zone by statistical measures, Adventists in Loma Linda have one of the highest rates of longevity in the United States. The city has strict controls on the sale of alcohol, heavy restrictions on smoking, and the church-owned grocery store does not sell meat.
The town is also home to Loma Linda University, a higher learning institution of health sciences – and the culture is highly focused on medical sciences as a whole.
The population of Guernsey is approximately 65,000 and is a relatively small 24 square miles in size. Like many other locations, it has a temperate climate featuring mild winters and warm, sunny summers, producing a very green and lush landscape ideal for home gardens and time spent outdoors.
While quite different from the other locations, Guernsey is actively attempting to become a Blue Zone – having recently hosted the Journey to 100 Conference, which brought together many of the leading experts on longevity and lifestyle medicine.
With a relatively small population, a bit of autonomy, and the island benefits of isolation, Guernsey has a unique opportunity to create a template for proactively and intentionally fostering longevity through public policy, building community, and a healthy medical infrastructure.