Aging Well and the “BLUE ZONES®” Longevity Principles

Senior Group Living Blue Zones Principles - The Senior Source

By Triste Vasquez-White

Even though I work in the aging field, I haven’t really thought much about how long I want to live or how long I expect to live. Have you? I am in my late fifties now and I am told that this is “midlife” (or maybe a little past?).  But is it really? I have often wondered, what is the ideal age to live to?  Is one hundred years a good goal? That’s a lot of candles.

The one thing I am certain of is that I want to age well. I want a long and happy life, but only if it comes with good health, purpose, and meaning. We know from decades of research that healthy aging is holistic—a complex interaction of many physical, environmental, emotional, social and physical factors. 

About eight years ago, I learned about “blue zones.” The concept of blue zones grew from the study of centenarians all over the world. The research began in 1999 and what they found were concentrations of people who were living into their 90s and 100s in various countries. They found people who were reaching age one hundred at a rate that is ten times greater than in the United States and with lower rates of chronic disease. They labeled these “longevity hotspots” and they were eventually named “blue zones” (because they circled these areas on their research maps in blue ink).

This led to years of further research by Dan Buettner and a team from National Geographic.  What they eventually found were five places where they could identify and quantify specific longevity patterns. Here are the places that met their criteria:

  • Sardinia, Italy – Mountainous highlands of inner Sardinia with the world’s highest concentration of male centenarians.
  • Ikaria, Greece – Aegean Island with one of the world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality and the lowest rates of dementia.
  • Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica – World’s lowest rates of middle age mortality, second highest concentration of male centenarians.
  • Seventh Day Adventists – Highest concentration is around Loma Linda, California. They live 10 years longer than their North American counterparts.
  • Okinawa, Japan – Females over 70 are the longest-lived population in the world.

Ultimately, Buettner and his team found that all these blue zones share nine specific lifestyle habits that they later summarized and called “Power 9®” principles:

1. Move Naturally

The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Most don’t “work out.” 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.

2. Purpose

The Okinawans call it “Ikigai” and the Nicoyans call it “plan de vida.” For both cultures 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.

3. Downshift

We all know that stress causes damage to the human body. It can lead to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. People in blue zones have ways to reduce their stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors; Adventists pray; Ikarians take a nap; Sardinians do happy hour.

4. 80% Rule

People in the blue zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then they don’t eat any more the rest of the day. In Okinawa, they practice “hara hachi bu” which reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. The 20% gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it.

5. Plant Slant

It is no surprise that eating a plant-based diet can help you live longer. It is the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Meat is still consumed, but the average is only five times per month and serving sizes are small.

6. Wine @ 5

People in all blue zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. The trick is to drink 1-2 glasses per day (preferably Sardinian Cannonau wine), with friends and/or with food.

7. Belong

Many centenarians belong to some type of faith-based community. What you believe does not matter, but the research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month can add 4-14 years of life expectancy.

8. Loved Ones First

Centenarians tend to be family-centered. This often means that their homes and families are inter-generational. Aging parents and grandparents live in the home or nearby. 

9. Right Tribe

The world’s longest lived people have social circles that support healthy behaviors.  Okinawans created “moais” meaning groups of five friends that are committed to each other for life. Social networks of long-lived people have favorably shaped their health behaviors.

Building on their published findings, Blue Zones launched their Blue Zones Project in 2009.  The Project incorporates Buettner’s findings and works with cities to implement policies and programs that will move a community toward optimal health and well-being. Blue Zones launched the first pilot community in 2009 in Albert Lea, MN with groundbreaking results. The model has since been applied to more than 70 communities across North America, including Fort Worth, Texas. 

Professionally, in my position as the Foster Grandparent Program Director at The Senior Source in Dallas, it is a privilege to lead a program that helps older adults incorporate more than one of these BLUE ZONES principles into their lives while simultaneously improving the lives of children. The program gives older adult volunteers the opportunity to work individually with elementary-age special needs students in schools and education centers. The program keeps the volunteers physically active as they go into schools multiple times a week. Making a notable difference in the lives of children gives volunteers a strong purpose, and seeing first-hand how it improves the educational outcomes of children keeps them coming back.

Personally, I would love to live in a blue zone. But since that is not realistic for me or my family, I have tried to just educate myself and embrace the Power 9 principles. To me, they are practical, easy to implement, holistic and just make sense. In our modern and sometimes frenzied society, it is hard to prioritize our health and well-being at times. BLUE ZONES reminds us that healthy aging is achievable. We can live longer and better.  

Want to know more about BLUE ZONES principles? Visit the Blue Zones website: You can also find them on Facebook, Instagram, and X. Also check out their documentary series on Netflix called Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones.

Want to know more about the Foster Grandparent Program at The Senior Source? Visit

BLUE ZONES® and Power 9® are registered trademarks owned by Blue Zones, LLC. All rights reserved. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

About the Author, Triste White-Vasquez

Triste Vasquez-White is the Foster Grandparent Program Director. She is a licensed social worker and received her master’s degree from the University of Texas at Arlington. She has worked in the non-profit sector for over 30 years. She loves the outdoors, hiking and playing pickleball. She is a pescatarian and has been an avid fan of BLUE ZONES since 2016.

About The Senior Source

Since 1961, The Senior Source’s mission has been to enhance the quality of life for older adults in greater Dallas. This nonprofit agency serves as the go-to resource for everything older adults may need including financial guidance, advice on long-term care facilities, or ways to connect with others through volunteerism. The agency assists more than 25,000 seniors and their families per year.

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