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Photo: MizaPhoto

Throughout history, people have been intrigued by legends of societies where residents thrived well past 100 years old.

Today, there is skepticism whether any such place exists, but health scientists do scour the globe in search of medicinal remedies and other lifespan enhancements.

In fact, many “pockets” around the world have been identified as “Blue Zones,” where locals enjoy high quality of life and health in old age.

While failing to offer one “secret,” these regions share community factors such as diet, social integration, activity level, and outlook on life. While genetics plays a role in how long we live, researchers believe lifestyle factors account for 75% of our longevity.

1. Okinawa, Japan

Japanese rank high in lifespan studies, but Okinawans boast exceptional health. Inhabiting a tiny island in the East China Sea, locals have low rates of alzheimers, heart disease, and breast cancer, with 80% fewer cases of heart attacks and cancer than Americans.

Okinawan cuisine, Photo: pelican

The Okinawa diet has been studied intensely. Staples include fresh island fruits like pineapple and shikuwasa, bitter melon, sweet potato, seaweed, tofu, tea, green leafy vegetables, pork, and fish. Locals also follow the cultural tradition of hara hachi bu, or eating only until 80% full. The elderly are active, working on farms and exercising for leisure. Many live independent of nursing homes and daily connect with community.

2. Andorra

Situated between Spain and France, this small principality of 84,000 people has one of the longest life expectancies in world. Residents enjoy good water, a top-notch health care system, and Mediterranean diet. It is believed that stress levels are low due to Andorra’s remarkable social stability. There has been no standing army there for 700 years, and the region currently boasts full employment. Seniors take full advantage of public leisure centers, enrolling in art lessons and recreation classes.

3. Ikaria, Greece

Today people living on Ikaria, a mountainous Greek isle in the Aegean, reach the age of 90 at 4 times the rate of the average American. Their fitness is attributed to their activity level and unhurried lifestyle. Naps are taken regularly as locals have a laid back concept of time. The diet is low in meat, fish, and sugar and high in whole grains, potatoes, and green vegetables. People also regularly consume goat milk and herbal teas over their lifetime.

4. Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

For the 75,000 people who live in the Nicoya Peninsula, modern life closely resembles that of a century ago. Residents maintain solid relationships, eat a plant-based diet, and recognize active work as essential to quality of life. Many residents are sabaneros (cowboys who work on ranches) and small farmers. It’s not uncommon for food to be cooked on wood-burning stoves.

Locals eat a “Mesoamerican Trifecta” diet, consisting of corn tortillas, beans, and squash. The water supply is high in minerals that increase bone health. Because of the dry sunny climate, locals suffer from few respiratory diseases and get plenty of Vitamin D.

Hunza woman, Photo: Shawn D Metcalfe

5. Hunza Valley, Pakistan

Surrounded by the Himalayas in Northeast Pakistan, the Hunza Valley was historically thought to be the mythical Shangri La. There is no evidence that residents live to 150 years old as claimed in the 1970s, but modern research supports that Hunza elderly boast enviable fitness levels. The diet is plant based, consisting mainly of wheat and barley and antioxidant fruits like cherries and plums. The rough terrain encourages high activity level among residents, leading to increased agility in old age. Residents are also known to have very positive outlooks on life and strong family ties.

6. Vilcambamba, Ecuador

Vilcambamba is often referred to as the “Valley of Longevity” for its remote location and lifespan of residents. Beginning in the 1950s, locals have been studied for their low rates of chronic illness and claims of living to 120. Although researchers debunked some claims as exaggerations, they concede that the activity level and diet of residents does offer them extraordinary health.

Seniors commonly work on ranches, performing manual tasks and riding horses. They eat almost no animal products and rely on fresh organic vegetables with medicinal properties. Their fresh water from nearby mountains has high concentration of healthy minerals.

7. Sardinia, Italy

Unlike much of the world, where average gender lifespan is different, men and women in Sardinia share equal longevity estimates. In addition, they reach 100 years old at twice the average than the rest of the world. A common saying on this Italian island is a kent’ annos, or “May you live to 100.”

The cuisine consists of raw milk and cheese, fresh vegetables, and small amounts of lamb, pork, and oily fish. Residents are family oriented and very active well into old age. Some research on Sardinian longevity links it to genetics. Few Sardinians marry outsiders and there appears to be a genetic basis for men suffering fewer cases of heart disease and stroke.

Sardinia, Photo: bitter like a coffee

8. Abkhasia, Georgia

Almost 100,000 people live in the mountainous region of Abkhasia, a breakaway region of Georgia. Locals have been studied with interest for their fantastic claims of lifespans reaching 150 years old. Although researchers cast doubt on those figures, they concede that elderly suffer low rates of disease and enjoy high quality of life.

The Abkhasian diet consists of locally grown vegetables, beans, and grains, moderate vodka intake, and low meat, fish, and sugar consumption. They have extensive family networks believed to reduce stress, and status is conferred by age, rather than wealth or achievement. In addition, culturally, locals believe events derive from their own actions, rather than outside forces. In this way, they feel greater control over the lives.

9. Macau, China

Although not identified as Blue Zones per se, Macau and San Marino, Italy also rank high on longevity estimates around the world. Macanese live on average to 84.38 years, one of the longest expectancies in the world. Although not studied extensively, features of this unique former Portuguese colony stand out to researchers. The diet is plant and seafood based, drawing on cuisine traditions of China and Portugal. The city is relatively wealthy, given its status as the newest gambling capitol of the world. Social welfare programs are well funded, giving residents many recreation opportunities. Health care is a priority with dozens of western and Chinese medical centers and a doctor density of 1.5 doctors per thousand people.

10. San Marino

San Marino is a rugged tiny republic situated in the Apennine Mountains within the boundaries of Italy. Studies report that the average male in this region lives to age 81. Employment rates are high and the standard of living averages $32,000 US per year. It is believed that stress levels are low here because of little economic social division, low divorce rates, and high integration of elders into society. Seniors often live with younger family members rather than nursing homes or hospitals.

This list of regions with high average lifespan is certainly not exhaustive. Depending on the study, others areas (and countries as a whole rank) high in longevity rates. Other notable places in CIA 2010 assessments include Monaco, the UK’s Guernsey Channel Islands, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Sweden, Switzerland, and Canada.

While it may not be realistic to live the rest of your days in a Blue Zone, it is certainly possible to adapt the healthy habits of their residents into your lifestyle in whatever country you’re living in.

About The Author

Mary Richardson

Mary Richardson is a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia. She currently lives in Okinawa, Japan, where she is a tour guide and travel writer. Read her stories at worldcurioustraveler.wordpress.com/.

  • txomin

    Here in Spain few people take Andorra seriously. Most of us see Andorra as a big tax-free shopping centre and ski resort which exists just so that we can take advantage of those snowy mountains and big shops.
    But yes, from my own experience it is a very wealthy country, with a great health care system -although, in my opinion, not as good as the Spanish and French systems

    • marco

      to be fair, andorra is a big

      • marco

        whoops, accidentally posted. i was saying, to be fair andorra IS a big tax-freee shopping centre …

  • http://onceatraveler.com Turner

    Love this article and your description of the various diets. I was thinking about writing something similar on how just there come to be so many centenarians in Asia: probiotic drinks readily available, few fatty foods with butter and grease, and (sometimes) a more active lifestyle.

  • http://www.BroughinIt.com Broughin It

    Could not agree more about the inclusion of the Nicoya Peninsula. I adore that part of C.R.

  • http://michelleschusterman.com Michelle Schusterman

    Hara hachi bu – this is seriously something I need to start practicing.

  • http://vagabonderz.com Carlo Alcos

    How interesting. I was surprised to see a Russian region in there! As a whole, the country has a pretty low average lifespan.

  • Kacie

    San Marino is an independent state, not a city in Italy. Get it right!

    • Heather Carreiro

      Hey Kacie, we’ve described San Marino as a “rugged tiny republic” and included “Italy” in the subhead due to its status as an enclave surrounded by Italy. Looking at the rest of the list, it does seem ambiguous as to whether (listed this way) it’s a city or an enclave, so I’ll fix that up to make it clearer. Thanks!

  • http://www.santafetravelers.com santafetraveler

    Don’t want to move to any of them- but you gave me food for thought for places to travel to.

  • Heather Carreiro

    The Hunza Valley is one of my favorite places. My husband and I have considered building a small house in the region, although winters are harsh and most of Pakistan’s northern areas are cut off from the rest of the country.

    School vacations actually take place in winter (since it’s so cold) rather than in summer. I’d love to live there during the summer months, and I’m sure being active, hiking in the higher elevation areas and eating a healthy Hunza-style diet (the food is some of my favorite cuisine from anywhere in the world) would most likely keep us healthier!

    I always loved going to Hunza for vacation after breathing in so much smog in Lahore.

  • Mike

    Heather, please mention Hong Kong as a part of China in your ‘other notable selections’…even though it enjoys some special administrations – it was handed back by the Brits to China in 1997!

    • Heather Carreiro

      Hey Mike,

      “Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China” is quite the mouthful and makes for some tedious reading. Since most people have heard of Hong Kong and know its location (although they may or may now know the specifics of its political status), travel publications and other written works normally just refer to it as Hong Kong. Nothing in the paragraph suggests it is still administered by the UK – only the Channel Islands are listed as such.

  • http://www.kararane.com kara rane

    Let us create these “longevity” communities where we live right now.
    No moving necessary, just inner travel. One at a time we can change.

  • Anya

    Abkhasia is not quite safe politically though… Unfortunately O.o

    I’m surprised that Tibet is nowhere on the list. Maybe because all foreigners who get high up there start throwing up or suffering of headache. At least that’s what happened to me :) But the locals seem to be okay with this.

  • http://www.bottomofthesoul.com Oliver

    Bet none of the Centenarians in these places have a mortgage.

    Nice thing is, it seems most of these habits and practices can be applied anywhere in the world!

  • http://www.pakistanpaedia.com/ Jalal Hameed Bhatti

    Good listing and I wasnt much surprised to find Hunza in the list. One really has to visit the place and see for oneself the peaceful and healthy environment of the place. When I visited the place sometime back, I found even the oldest walking and talking like the young. Living in a pollution free place with a very healthy diet, specially the barley and apricots, is the key to their superb health.

  • http://MaxTheITpro.com Max – The IT Pro

    Wow, great article!! I got the travel bug — accidentally — 5 years ago coming to East Africa from Ottawa, Canada…haven’t been back yet.
    If it weren’t for other “challenges” in this region, I’m sure it’d be one of the greatest spots to live on earth. The scenery, thanks to the diverse landscapes that make up the Great Rift Valley, is as breath taking as any where else on the planet.
    Oh, that pic of Ikaria looks sooooo LAID BACK. That’s part of the secret of living long…no doubt.
    Some day I’ll make it to the Mediterranean region. Who knows, I might never get back to Canada or Barbados. :-)

  • http://MaxTheITpro.com Max – The IT Pro

    …and if you’re ever on Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast, don’t forget to visit Shimoni by Wasini Island and take a Charlie Claw’s tour. :-) Life is pretty laid back over thar.

  • http://travelcalling.blogspot.com Angela

    Glad to see Sardinia included in the list, I originate from the island and probably too many natives dismiss this precious quality their hometown.

  • http://www.evedonegan.wordpress.com Eve

    Sign me up for life in Japan! I could eat pineapples, tofu and pho all day. Thanks for sharing Heather and great job researching it all.

    • Heather Carreiro

      Mary deserves the credit for this one! She’s actually living in Okinawa so feel free to ask her about it. : )

    • architekt

      you would have to go to vietnam for the “pho” my dear.

  • nik

    I wish to retire to one of those place :)

  • LearnActReform.com

    Andorra sounds pretty nice about now :-)

  • http://www.buzzpk.com/ Muhammad Ahmed

    Hunza Valley and Northern areas are actually the heaven of Earth, just like 

  • Muhammadshah555

    Who says Hunza vellay on world 234…or any number it show he dont see Hunza. In my opinion Hunza velly is the world’s beautiful velly. It ever been on on Number .1 and will on Number-1. God Bless Pakistan.

  • Imtiaz20042003

    soooooooooooooooooooooooooo nice  UMMAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

  • Kerri – Economy Car Hire

    Wow, my sister is moving to Okinawa in May next year! I will have to let her know about the obvious benefits of the island :)

  • http://www.fourjandals.com/ Cole @ FourJandals.com

    Would love to live in any of those places. Obviously comes down to diet, fitness and being living in a close knit community. So jealous my lifestyle is so fast-paced, why do we chase such silly dreams?

  • Barbahrooba

    I saw a little bit of Costa Rica from a video I saw on TravelExplosion.com the other day.  It looks like a beautiful country to visit.  Apparently there’s some sort of Costa Rica vacation giveaway there too.  

  • JustChuckinIt

    Great post, I would love to live in Greece or Italy one day!

  • http://www.mr-loto.it/ Mr.Loto

    I live in Sardinia and I hope to live past one hundred years even if I do not drink milk and eat meat. :-)

  • rebeccazg

    low on meat, high on veg, with good water and naturak minerals, not stuffing your face, fresh air , exercise with purpose ( eg an activity  )… this is a good way to live. Instead so many bloated over produced non meat fed until fit to burst, sitting on front of the tv and internet in a polluted city.

    wake up guys :)

  • http://travelated.com/ Nichole

    This was so great! I’d choose Italy or Greece for sure. I’ve already been to Italy so hopefully Greece will be my next trip!

  • quiescentmind
  • http://www.facebook.com/pmrolli Paige Rollison

    Andorra sounds really interesting! I’ve never heard of it before but I’m definitely going to do some research. 
    - Paige @ Green Global Travel

  • Fred

    The Italian phrase to live 100 years is a toast and its not Kent Annos

    Its cento anni  or you could say centanni

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Turismo-EnPortugal/100001945834999 Turismo EnPortugal

    Nice article, very interesting information. :)

  • peacebeme

    Great article! really made me think about how to improve my diet. I think an important thing to note is that not only do these people live a long time, they live WELL for a long time (in good health). In the US and many other countries we often live long but on many medications and in poor health for the last 10+ years of life.

  • Willem Verbrugh

    It’s about how well people enjoy life that determines their ambition to live longer.
    Environment(the absence of negative) , culture and diet helps but these are to certain degree choice…

  • http://www.theconnaught.in/ Delhi Hotels

    You have explored the world in great way. Thanks for nice list.

  • http://twitter.com/4DayPlaneters Planeters

    Excellent suggestions, they all look very appealing

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scout-Mandilk/100003148140126 Scout Mandilk

    I would not be interested in one of those places.

  • http://fairlyoddmedia.com/ Frances Locke

    I’m only 28 but I would love to retire in Andorra someday. One can hope…

  • Martha

    It is very interesting to see that there are so many places around the world where people enjoy a long life. What makes a great impression on me is that the important factors for a long life are not high salaries or wealth in the country but social integration, diet, good water quality and and activities for seniors. http://madrilicious.com

  • http://www.robertreeveslaw.com/injuries/wrongful-death.html Wrongful Death

    These places all have a lot in common. It makes me wonder how much longer I would live if I had lived in one of these areas.

    • http://profiles.google.com/ameliaheartsu Amelia Logan

      It’s not too hard to reverse aging if you start living healthy now.

  • N_kendra

    Abkhazia is a contested territory usually described as being part of Georgia which currently has status as an autonomous republic. While Russia certainly recognizes Abkazia as an independent state- it is not. It is a Georgian break away territory.

  • PMorgan

    Nice piece. But you may want to look up where Abkhazia is – it is not IN Russia, it is internationally recognized as part of Georgia, but has declared independence from that country, which has not been recognized by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru and Tuvalu.

  • Leobilly69

    you might want to add “as long as you don’t have HIV or AIDS, because if you do, NONE of these places will let you move there!”

  • http://www.AroundtheWorldin80Jobs.com/ Around the World in 80 Jobs

    Seems like a lot on the blue zone list. I am currently in Mexico, and if you have money, you can have a nice lifestyle here (with nice beachfront).  Great good, avocados, fish- gotta watch out for that carne though.

    cheers to happy living,
    Turner

  • http://twitter.com/Horner_Alex Alex Horner

    Or, just hop over the Abkhazian / Georgian border and spend some time in Upper Svaneti. Good food, good people, and the same claims about life spans (actually, these claims seem to be common across all of Georgia).

  • http://www.mauritiusprestige.com/ Mauritius

     Always wanted to retire in Japan Okinawa but after the Nuclear disaster i have to change my mind

  • hopscotchtheglobe

    I completely agree with rebeccazg.  After spending 300 days traveling around the world and visiting some of these places, I completely understand how people live as long as they do there.  I am back in Toronto right now, and I can see the difference in my body, skin, attitude, just from being around this crazy go, go, go type of lifestyle.  

  • http://www.uberholiday.com/ Uberholiday

    hello with love from uberholiday.com :)

  • http://www.uberholiday.com/ Uberholiday

    sry accidental double post :X

  • NM

    Abkhazia is NOT Russia, it’s part of Georgia

    • http://wayworded.blogspot.com/ Hal Amen

       Thanks for the catch, folks. This has been changed.

  • http://www.ecothreesixty.com/ ecothreesixty.com

    It’s interesting that quite a few of the places on the list are either mountainous /hilly regions, there’s nowhere on the list which is completely flat.   

  • Myemail

    Moving to these places will not extend your life in any way, shape, or form…unless you have a time machine, kidnap your parents, transport them to one of these locations, and are born and spend your life there.

    • Yeshanu

       Moving to these places will not extend your life in any way, shape, or form, unless you adopt the diet & lifestyle of the culture. And you don’t have to move to do that…

  • Kimbo

    Australia (in the honourable mentions) makes sense.  The culture is so laid back and activity is just a given.  ”If you’re Australian, you play sports”.  My American expat friend commends the culture for the “She’ll be right” attitude.  She feels more in-control of her life there.

  • http://www.hotel-matina.com/ Santorini Hotel

    I think Santorini Greece should also be included

  • Gr3mem

    It’s not where you live but how you live. All these places have the same themes…low stress, healthy diets, exercise, and family ties into old age.

  • http://www.phyfun.com/Games/6-4320-Formula-Racer.aspx Formula Racer

    Great to see Macau is on the list, I like the place. 

  • Charles McCool

    Interesting twist. Move abroad can save money but also extend your life. Total win-win! Love it.

  • Andrea Casella

    I like two place hare in italy.

  • Roy Houston

    Think I’ll move to Andorra, it has one of the longest life expectancies in the world!

  • Mohammad Salih Bamaga

    why Jeddah is not there?

    • Stuart Bogue

      Are you being serious?? I lived in Jeddah from 1975-1979. Had a great time,but do not see it on the list,so I assume I have missed the joke…

  • Mohammad Salih Bamaga

    just to let you know, it was a joke! but how did you know?

  • Laura Guarino

    interesting.

    • Koka Kunchulia

      lora its time to move to abhazia :D

    • Laura Guarino

      you and @[36611743:2048:Danielle Roe] can. Ill come visit!

  • Gotta Keep Movin’

    Okay okay I’ll move to Costa Rica if you really recommend it! This is a great list, I will keep it in mind for my retirement plan.

  • Sandy Chappell

    seems like a peasant diet, good water and what did not get mentioned, clean air, contribute to a long life. not isolating the elderly also seems beneficial. who could have guessed?

    • Tony Le Blanc

      A ‘peasant diet’? Are you by chance Lady Sandy of Chappell Manor?

    • Tony Le Blanc

      A ‘peasant diet’? Are you by chance Lady Sandy of Chappell Manor?

    • Tony Le Blanc

      A ‘peasant diet’? Are you by chance Lady Sandy of Chappell Manor?

    • Tony Le Blanc

      A ‘peasant diet’? Are you by chance Lady Sandy of Chappell Manor?

    • Tony Le Blanc

      A ‘peasant diet’? Are you by chance Lady Sandy of Chappell Manor?

  • The Drifters’ Blog

    Okinawa, Japan is TRULY worth a look.

    • The Mad Traveler

      Going to Okinawa next week. Any recommendations?

  • The City Lane

    Great list. I’m certainly keen on Okinawa. I wonder if Macau will be up there for much longer with it’s rapid changing into a bigger scale Vegas.

  • Kyra Burgess

    Am I wrong or do a lot of these regions have good healthcare systems?

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

    • Tim Anderson

      You aren’t wrong; they do :)

  • Tim Anderson

    Great list…there’s a lot to be said for healthy living abroad and making it longer due to lower stress and better food options. No forced GMO in Asia, for example =).

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