The Blue Zones Story

The Blue Zones Story

Discovering Blue Zones

In 2004, Dan Buettner teamed with National Geographic, the National Institute on Aging, and the world's best longevity researchers to identify pockets around the world where people lived measurably better, longer. In these five areas, dubbed "blue zones," researchers found that people reach age 100 at a rate that is ten times greater than in the United States and with lower rates of chronic disease.
Ikaria Greece Centenarian

Ikaria

Greece
Okinawan Japan Centenarian

Okinawa

Japan
Sardinia Italy Centenarian

Sardinia

Italy
Loma Linda CA Centenarian

Loma Linda

California
Nicoya Costa Rica Centenarian

Nicoya

Costa Rica

Identifying the Power 9

After locating the world's blue zones areas, Buettner and National Geographic took teams of scientists to each location to pinpoint lifestyle characteristics that might explain the unusual longevity. They found that though the blue zones communities are located in vastly different parts of the world, their residents share nine specific traits that lead to longer, healthier, happier lives. We call these the Power 9®.

Move Naturally

Right Outlook

  • Purpose
  • Downshift

Eat Wisely

  • 80% Rule
  • Plant Slant
  • Wine @ 5

Connect

  • Right Tribe
  • Loved Ones First
  • Belong
Power 9 Image
 

Move Naturally

The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it. They grow gardens and don’t have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work. 
 
Fuel the movement to move naturally. People live better, longer in places that make it easy to move naturally. Yet the modern state of roadways and transportation systems deter walking and biking. Strip malls, cul-de-sacs, poorly sited schools, and zoning rules contribute to automobile dependency. Blue Zones Project works with community leaders to reshape surroundings so people move more, without even thinking about it. Within communities we build coalitions of people, organizations, and policymakers to influence their surroundings for the better. With our best practices, activity becomes second nature—and part of the culture. 

Reduce health problems and costs. About 69 percent of the American population can be classified as overweight or obese.1 Obesity is not just a health problem, it’s an economic one. The estimated annual healthcare costs of obesity-related illness represent nearly 21 percent of annual medical spending. Childhood obesity alone is responsible for $14 billion in direct medical costs.2 Studies show that just by making our communities more walkable, the prevalence of obesity can decrease by more than 10 percent.3

Boost productivity and performance. Overweight or obese adults miss 450 million more aggregate days of work annually than healthy workers do, costing more than $153 billion per year in lost productivity.4 People who take a brief break every 90 minutes report a 28 percent higher level of focus and 40 percent greater thinking capacity.5 Improved well-being, which includes physical well-being, can positively affect an individual’s commitment to work, school, and other priorities. Commitment contributes to positive outcomes, personal satisfaction, and retention and recruitment success for organizations. 
 
Change the built environment for the better. Seventy-nine percent of Americans today want walkable neighborhoods, according to the National Association of Realtors6, yet the majority of neighborhoods are not walkable. Blue Zones Project brings stakeholders together to collaborate on projects and programs that advance a walkable, bicycle-friendly built environment. We position our partners to identify and secure grant and funding opportunities and to champion new and improved walking paths, bike trails, crosswalks, sidewalks, and other pedestrian and bike-friendly development. 
 
Create supportive social structures and cues. Blue Zones Project uses the power of communities to encourage activity and connection. Walking teams within schools, worksites, and other organizations get people moving on a regular basis. Policies that encourage stretch breaks and brain breaks do the same. Signage and reminders in gathering places help reinforce team goals and movement opportunities. 

Did you know: Five Blue Zones Communities were recognized by the National Complete Streets Coalition as “Top Complete Streets Policies and Projects.”  
 
 
1. National Center for Health Statistics. (2015). Health, United States, 2014: With Special Feature on Adults Aged 55–64. Hyattsville, MD. 
2. Eric Andrew Finkelstein, Wan Chen Kang Graham, and Rahul Malhotra. Lifetime Direct Medical Costs of Childhood Obesity. Pediatrics, April 2014 DOI: 10.1542/peds.2014-0063
3. Frank, L.D., Andresen, M.A., Schmid, T.L.. (2004). Obesity relationships with community design, physical activity, and time spent in cars. Am J Prev Med 27(2): 87–96. 
4. CDC Healthy Workforce Infographic. (n.d.). In CDC Foundation. Accessed June 21, 2018. http://www. cdcfoundation.org/businesspulse/healthy-workforce-infographic 
5. The Energy Project/ Harvard Business Review. (2014). The Human Era at Work. Yonkers, NY: The Energy Project. Accessed June 21, 2018. https://uli.org/wp-content/uploads/ULI-Documents/The-Human-Era-at- Work.pdf 
6. The Energy Project/ Harvard Business Review. (2014). The Human Era at Work. Yonkers, NY: The Energy Project. Accessed June 21, 2018. https://uli.org/wp-content/uploads/ULI-Documents/The-Human-Era-at- Work.pdf 
 

Right Outlook

Purpose: The Okinawans call it “Ikigai” and the Nicoyans call it “plan de vida;” for both it translates to “why I wake up in the morning.” Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy.

Downshift: Even people in blue zones areas experience stress. Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. What the world’s longest-lived people have that we don’t are routines to shed that stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians enjoy happy hour with enriched Cannonau wine. 

 
Lead the way to right outlook. Blue Zones research shows that having a clear sense of purpose can help people live up to seven years longer than they otherwise might. In the original blue zones areas, residents are known to place special emphasis on their reason for being. They also cultivate a positive outlook with habits that help them shed stress, from naps to moments of prayer and remembrance. To communities and sponsor organizations, Blue Zones Project brings practices that help people learn how to live in the moment, better manage stress, and connect with their innate gifts. We help people match their passions with commitments to deepen their sense of purpose. Our best practices also include tools for defining and sharing individual and organizational purpose in ways that can motivate and engage stakeholders.
 
Reduce stress. Stress is a common aspect of everyday life. Unmanaged, it leads to chronic inflammation, which is tied to every major age-related disease.7 Simple practices and supportive surroundings can curb stress and help people downshift—in the workplace, at home, in school, and elsewhere.
 
Raise productivity and loyalty. Fewer than 50 percent of Americans find meaning at work.8 Those who do are 93 percent more engaged9 and more than three times more likely to stay with their organizations.10 Employees with a passion for their work outperformed their counterparts by 16 percent and experienced less burnout.11 When it comes to buying decisions, a study found that 83 percent of Millennials find it important for the companies they buy from to align with their values.12
 
Improve performance and well-being. Research suggests that teaching mindfulness skills to students increases attention and improves social skills while decreasing test anxiety.13 Learning mindfulness also creates a sense of calm, connection to nature, and improvements in sleep.
 
Advance a sense of purpose and volunteerism. Blue Zones Project Purpose Workshops bring people together to learn and engage in the process of defining purpose. Participants spend time understanding and articulating their passions and abilities. They deepen their self-knowledge and connect with other participants. The end product for each person can enhance focus, productivity, and interaction with others. Volunteer fairs and resources like online databases link community needs with volunteer interests, helping provide people with opportunities to live their purpose.
 
Seed support in many places. Blue Zones Project best practices include defined actions that people and organizations can take to elevate outlook, such as designating a space at home for meditation or establishing quiet places at work.
 
 
7. Carnegie Mellon University. (2012, April 2). How stress influences disease: Study reveals inflammation as the culprit. ScienceDaily. Accessed June 18, 2018. www.sciencedaily.com/ releases/2012/04/120402162546.htm. 
8. Amortegui, J. (2014, June 26). Why Finding Meaning At Work Is More Important Than Feeling Happy. Fast Company. Accessed June 21, 2018. https://www.fastcompany.com/3032126/how-to-find-meaning-during-your-pursuit-of-happiness-at-work. 
9. The Energy Project/ Harvard Business Review. (2014). The Human Era at Work. Yonkers, NY: The Energy Project. Accessed June 21, 2018. https://uli.org/wp-content/uploads/ULI-Documents/The-Human-Era-at- Work.pdf. 
10. Amortegui, J. (2014, June 26). Why Finding Meaning At Work Is More Important Than Feeling Happy. Fast Company. Accessed June 21, 2018. https://www.fastcompany.com/3032126/how-to-find-meaning-during-your-pursuit-of-happiness-at-work. 
11. Spreitzer, G., & Porath, C. (2012, January–February). Creating Sustainable Performance. Harvard Business Review. Accessed June 21, 2018. https://hbr.org/2012/01/creating-sustainable-performance. 
12. Consumer Culture [5W PR 2020 Report] - 5W PR. (2020). https://www.5wpr.com/new/research/5wpr-2020-consumer-culture-report/
13. Schonert-Reichl K.A., Oberle E., Lawlor M. S., Abbott D., Thomson K., Oberlander T.F., Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social-emotional development through a simple-toadminister mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: a randomized controlled trial. Developmental Psychology. Accessed June 21, 2018. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25546595. 
 

Eat Wisely

80% Rule: “Hara hachi bu” – the Okinawan, 2500-year old Confucian mantra said before meals reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. The 20 percent gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it. People in the blue zones regions eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then they don’t eat any more the rest of the day. 

Plant Slant: Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Meat—mostly pork—is eaten on average only five times per month.  Serving sizes are 3-4 oz., about the size of a deck of cards. 

Wine @ Five: People in the original blue zones (except Adventists in Loma Linda) drink alcohol moderately. Provided you have a healthy relationship with alcohol, you can drink up to 1-2 glasses per day (preferably Sardinian Cannonau wine), with friends and/or with food. 

 
Make it easy to eat wisely. People make more than 200 food decisions every day, and what we eat impacts our health and productivity. Since the early 1900s, plate sizes have grown from 9.5 inches to 12.5 inches, and we’ve increased how much we eat by 27 percent.14 About 60 percent of the food we purchase is highly processed, fatty, salty, or sugary.15 The typical American entrée in a restaurant weighs in at 1,000 calories.16 Blue Zones Project programs have sparked large and small changes in many spaces that influence food choice. We partner with sponsors, community leaders, businesses, and individuals to make a broad impact on health and well-being. By working together, we make eating wisely second nature. 
 
Boost productivity and performance. A study published in Population Health Management revealed that unhealthy eating is linked to a 66 percent higher risk of productivity loss.17 Health-related productivity loss accounts for 77 percent of all employee productivity loss and costs employers up to three times more in annual healthcare expenses.18 From an academic standpoint, students who have access to school garden programs score significantly higher on science achievement tests than students who are taught by strictly traditional classroom methods.19 
 
Fuel healthcare cost savings and economic growth. In the U.S., healthy eating could generate an estimated savings of $114.5 billion per year through reduced medical costs, increased productivity, and declines in heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and osteoporotic hip fractures.20 A study of U.S. restaurant chains analyzing sales between 2006 and 2011 showed superior performance for restaurants that increased their better-for-you/low-calorie servings—an increase in same-store sales of 5.5 percent. Restaurants that did not increase their better-for-you/low-calorie servings saw a 5.5 percent decline in sales.21 An American Community Gardening Association report showed community gardens can increase home prices for nearby residences as much as 9.4 percent within five years.22 
 
Improve surroundings, sources, and options. Blue Zones Project sparks changes in the stocking, display, and promotion of food choices to put the attention on healthy options in grocery stores, cafeterias, and vending machines. With community partners, we put unused pockets of green space to use as gardens. Menu changes prompted by Blue Zones Project invite engagement and help energize restaurants and their customers. 
 
Champion opportunities to get involved and invested. Individuals and organizations take thousands of actions through Blue Zones Project that shape easier, healthier eating for all. Healthy cooking classes at stores and workplaces bring people together. Potluck Moais connect neighbors with new recipes and each other. Volunteers initiate food-policy changes in their groups and networks that make gatherings fun and healthy. 
 
14. Benton, David. “Portion size: what we know and what we need to know.” Critical reviews in food science and nutritionvol. 55,7 (2015): 988-1004. doi:10.1080/10408398.2012.679980 
15. Olson, S.. (2015, May 30). Grocery Stores Sell Processed Food High In Fat, Sugar, And Salt More Than Anything Else. Accessed June 21, 2018. http://www.medicaldaily.com/grocerystores-sell-processed-foods-high-fat-sugarand-salt-more-anything-else-327580. 
16. Hurley J., Lim, D., Pryputniewicz, M..(2011). Xtreme Eating 2011: Big Eats…Big Americans. Nutrition Action Healthletter. Center for Science in the Public Interest, 30(6), 13. 
17. Merrill, Ray M. et al. "Presenteeism According To Healthy Behaviors, Physical Health, And Work Environment." Population Health Management15.5 (2012): 293-301. Web. 17 June 2020. 
>18. Merrill, Ray M. et al. "Presenteeism According To Healthy Behaviors, Physical Health, And Work Environment." Population Health Management15.5 (2012): 293-301. Web. 17 June 2020. 
19. Klemmer, C. D., Waliczek, T. M., & Kajicek, J. M.. (2005). Growing minds: The effect of a school gardening program on the science achievement of elementary students. HortTechnology 15(3): 448-452. 
20. Anekwe, T.D., Rahkovsky, I.. (2013). Economic Costs and Benefits of Healthy Eating. Current Obesity Reports, 2(3), 225-234. 
21. Cardello, H., Wolfson, J., Yufera-Leitch, M., Warren, L., & Spitz, M.. (2013). Better-for-you foods: An opportunity to improve public health and increase food industry profits. Hudson Institute. Accessed June 21, 2018. http://www.hudson.org/content/researchattachments/attachment/1096/better_for_you_ combinedfinal.pdf. 
22. American Community Gardening Association. (2009). Promoting Community Gardening Through Research: A Survey. Community Greening Review, 41.
 

Connect

Belong: All but five of the 263 centenarians interviewed by Blue Zones researchers belonged to some faith-based community.  Denomination doesn’t seem to matter. Blue Zones research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy. 

Loved Ones First: Successful centenarians in the blue zones put their families first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home (It lowers disease and mortality rates of children in the home too.) They commit to a life partner (which can add up to 3 years of life expectancy) and invest in their children with time and love (they’ll be more likely to care for you when the time comes).

Right Tribe: The world’s longest-lived people chose–or were born into–social circles that supported healthy behaviors, Okinawans created ”moais”–groups of five friends that committed to each other for life. Research from the Framingham Studies shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. So, the social networks of long-lived people have favorably shaped their health behaviors. 

 
Help your community connect. A sense of belonging supports individual well-being and is one of the behaviors connected to longevity in the original blue zones areas. It's getting harder to be connected in many places. We change jobs more than ever before, and working from home or in isolated conditions can limit socialization. A lack of connectedness leaves people vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and other anti-social behaviors.23 Blue Zones Project partners with our sponsors to deploy proven best practices that increase positive connections among community members. We spread the benefits of involvement in groups that support healthy practices and engage individuals in actions that strengthen their social networks. Providing these opportunities helps everyone feel like a part of something bigger and associates sponsors with the positive impact of uniting a community around well-being.
 
Inspire and reinforce healthy habits. Friends provide more than good times, memories, and companionship—they share health habits and other traits with one another. A person whose three closest friends are overweight is twice as likely to be overweight.24 On the positive side, people are twice as likely to succeed at new behaviors if they do them with a buddy.25 Adolescents who eat dinner with their families are 15 percent less likely to become obese.26 A report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse points out that teens who eat dinner with their families more than three times a week are less likely to do poorly in school.27
 
Establish communities within communities. Blue Zones Project promotes the formation of interest-based groups in which members motivate each other to move naturally, eat wisely, and cultivate purpose. Called Moais, these groups also build a sense of connection among participants. Moais can be organized on a community level or within a specific neighborhood, employer, school, or university. Other practices build connections across seemingly disparate groups. Legacy projects foster interaction between students and older adults, alleviating loneliness and expanding perspectives.
 
Create events and welcoming spaces that encourage gathering. Changes in the built environment, such as improved walking trails, bring people outside where interaction happens. A shift in outdoor dining policy or rooftop zoning can create new gathering spaces with little expense. Initiatives that attract volunteers bring together people with similar passions. Events inspired by Blue Zones Project, such as cooking demonstrations and volunteer opportunities, give people another reason to get involved in a connecting experience.
 
23. McPherson, M., Smith-Lovin, L., Brashears, M.E. (2006). Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades. American Sociological Review, 71(3), 353-375. 
24. Christakis, N., Fowler, J.. (2007). The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social network over 32 Years. The New England Journal of Medicine. Accessed June 21, 2018. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/ NEJMsa066082#t=articleBackground. 
25. Wing, R., Jeffrey, R. (1999). Benefits of recruiting participants with friends and increasing social support for weight loss and maintenance. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 67(1), 132-138. Accessed June 21, 2018. http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=buy.NoptionToBuy&id=1999-00242-015. 
26. Berge, Jerica M et al. “The protective role of family meals for youth obesity: 10-year longitudinal associations.” The Journal of pediatricsvol. 166,2 (2015): 296-301. doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2014.08.030
27. CASA* Report Finds Teens Likelier To Abuse Prescription Drugs, Use Illegal Drugs, Smoke, Drink When Family Dinners Infrequent. (2007). Accessed June 21, 2018. https://www.centeronaddiction.org/ newsroom/press-releases/2007-family-dinners-4.

The Blue Zones Project Beginning

Blue Zones Project took the learnings from Blue Zones research and started working with communities across North America to transform environments.

In 2009, Blue Zones, LLC worked in partnership with AARP and the United Health Foundation to apply the Power 9 principles to Albert Lea, Minnesota. It worked. After just one year, participants added nearly 2.9 years to their average lifespan. In addition to increased economic vitality, medical cost and lost productivity savings, and improved health outcomes in Albert Lea, Freeborn County jumped up 34 places in the Minnesota County Health Rankings.

The community continues to receive grants for its built environment work and is experiencing significant economic impact. Harvard's Walter Willett, writing in Newsweek, called the results "stunning."

Since the pilot program, Blue Zones Project has expanded to 51 communities across North America, impacting millions of people. Our work has produced double-digit drops in obesity, smoking, and body mass index, among other health and well-being improvements.

Learn more about the Blue Zones Project approach to transforming community well-being.

 

 

Walking Group