There’s an interesting phenomenon happening in five small pockets of the world. Researchers call these areas the ‘Blue Zones’.1 We’re talking about the happiest and healthiest people in the world.
And guess what?
They live the longest too. It’s not uncommon for people who live in the Blue Zones to live until the age of 100.
The Blue Zones’ secrets to healthy living aren’t complicated at all. The principles they live by, and their simple daily practices, are what allow Blue Zone folks to flourish well into their golden years. And they don’t do this alone.
It takes a community of like-minded people to support each other. Having a strong social network and a supportive community is one of the reasons why Blue Zones are so remarkable.
What’s also remarkable is that any community (yes, yours too) can take the Blue Zones ideas and put them into practice. Each community’s ideas will be unique to their needs. But overall it will mean healthier and happier people and neighborhoods.
So, what would it take to create a community where people can live happy and healthy for a really long time? Let’s explore the Blue Zones principles.
Why the Blue Zones Are Home to the World’s Longest-Living People
The five original Blue Zones of the world are:
- Ikaria, Greece2
- Okinawa, Japan3
- Ogliastra Region, Sardinia4
- Loma Linda, California5
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica6
Even though these five Blue Zones are far apart from each other, separated by oceans and countries, they all have certain things in common.
What you might find surprising is that none of them are wealthy communities. Far from it. But what they lack in money, they more than make up for in access to fresh, healthy food, clean water, movement, social connections, and a strong sense of community.7
That’s it. Those are the Blue Zones principles to a happy and healthy life. It doesn’t involve money, technology, or any sort of far-out idea.
They focus on our basic needs as humans. Our need for food, water, moving our bodies, and forming social bonds. This is what makes Blue Zones principles so easy to implement on a personal and community level.
And they don’t leave anyone behind either. They place a huge value on caring for family and friends, including senior citizens.
For example, Okinawans form lifelong social support groups called Moai.8 It’s like a second family that supports you emotionally, mentally, and even financially, if need be.
Just knowing that there’s a support system in place helps to reduce stress. It’s also a good excuse to get together with like-minded people, to share and laugh together.
Happiness and Health Well Into Your Golden Years
We all know that eating fresh whole food is better for you than processed food. Mental health is every bit as important as physical health when it comes to living a long life. When we reduce stress, it reduces our chances of chronic disease along with a healthy diet and exercise.9
That’s why people who live in the Blue Zones live longer. They suffer from less chronic disease and other conditions than the rest of us. They live happy, healthy lives well into their 80s, 90s, and even 100s.
Chronic diseases are a huge problem in the US. They’re the leading cause of death, and cost billions to treat every year.10 Applying Blue Zones principles can help us reduce these numbers and give people a chance to live longer.
It’s about giving everyone, no matter where they live, access and the opportunity to live healthier lives. People living in lower-income neighborhoods across the US suffer from higher rates of chronic disease.11
This is interesting because as we mentioned, income, or wealth, don’t play a role in Blue Zones’ longevity. Some of the longest-living folks, like in Ikaria and Sardinia, are shepherds and farmers with very little income.
So what explains the difference between poor farmers and lower-income Americans? What does one population have that the other doesn’t, especially if money isn’t a factor?
What the Blue Zones Have That We’re Missing
Sure, there are a lot of communities around the country that have strong social networks, community groups, and faith-based centers that help bring people together.
But some places lack real access to healthy food, proper seniors housing, or safe neighborhoods to get around in.
Not being able to access all of these things, like the people in the Blue Zones, means a lot of people are missing pieces of the puzzle. That puzzle being a long and healthy life.
Lower-income neighborhoods are full of fast food and convenience stores where often the only choice is cheap, unhealthy food.
The Blue Zones believe in providing for themselves and each other (ie: their community), by growing and farming their own food. Their local food systems are a lot more self-sufficient. This is how, even though they don’t make a lot of money, they’re still able to consume healthy food.
A greasy bacon cheeseburger isn’t an option for them.
In the US, almost one out of every four people aged 65 and older are socially isolated.12 Sadly, we live in a society where seniors are often marginalized and left alone to fend for themselves.
They have limited income and find it difficult to get around. Sometimes, it’s hard for them just to get the bare necessities.
Getting old is something to celebrate and cherish in the Blue Zones. “Loved ones first” is the idea that family comes first. That includes having parents and grandparents living nearby so they can be supported physically, emotionally, and financially.
How Do We Fix This?
Each community needs to find its own way to make sure that no one is left out, and that everyone has access to basic human needs.
Things like wholesome foods, safe neighborhoods with easier access to stores, neighbors, and loved ones. And of course, making sure that everyone feels included and supported.
When I think of communities elsewhere that I’ve visited or been a part of, I’ve always been amazed by how strong we can be when we come together. People stepping up to help each other, to feed the most vulnerable during this pandemic,13 is a great example of who we really are.
Even back when I was a child growing up on a farm, I would put together bags of fresh veggies from the garden. And with my father, we would drive around and share the harvest with families that lived nearby.
They were always so happy to see us, and so grateful. It’s a powerful memory for me, and it shows that food does bring people together.
Can Non-profits and Mobile Farmers’ Markets Help?
Food banks, food services, and community gardens are often at the heart of our most disadvantaged communities. They don’t just provide food to the hungry.
They also give people a sense of community and a feeling that everyone matters. And they offer a chance for people to create social connections and help each other out.
At the Farmers’ Truck, we truly feel that mobile farmers’ markets could help bridge those gaps too. They bring healthy food straight to where it’s needed the most. Mobile markets are also really good at bringing people together.
Imagine a mobile farmers’ market parked at a seniors complex where many seniors often have a hard time making it to the closest grocery store. In some cases, it’s too far (or not safe enough) to walk, or they can’t afford transportation to get there regularly.
What a welcome sight that mobile market must be!
These farmers’ markets on wheels make it way easier for people to get fresh produce right at their doorstep, and at reasonable prices too. Plus it gives people a great chance to gather, socialize, laugh together, and swap a recipe or two. Now, isn’t that a wonderful idea?
“It Takes a Village…”
When we support these organizations, it means reaching more people and changing lives for the better. These community organizations are already playing an important role in helping to fight hunger and food insecurity. They’re part of the solution on a local and national scale.
We need to help them, so our food systems become more resilient, and so we all have access to healthy, nutritious foods. Not to mention the social and mental benefits that they offer people as well.
You can’t change a community overnight. But that doesn’t mean you don’t try. The Blue Zones regions are a perfect example of how healthy living is possible for everyone. We just need to empower ourselves and each other.
There are a lot of ways to increase food access and to create safer, more accessible, and inclusive neighborhoods.
Check out our article about the Blue Zones Projects across North America. In it, we talk about how some communities are already creating measurable change for the better.