Blue Zones: Debunking Longevity Secrets From The World’s Oldest Populations

Blue Zones

In the ever-evolving world of health and wellness, few topics have piqued our curiosity quite like the concept of Blue Zones. These regions across the globe have fascinated researchers and health enthusiasts alike with their remarkable stories of longevity and vitality - there’s even a new Netflix special exploring the phenomena of these regions. Therefore as a functional medicine expert, I can’t help but uncover what’s real and what’s hype about these areas. So let’s dive in and learn more about what these areas can teach us about our own health and wellbeing.


Make Your Life a Cleanse



Get FREE access to these + giveaways, recipes, & discount codes in personal emails from Dr. Will Cole.

What are blue zones?

The term "Blue Zone" was coined by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic journalist, who identified regions around the world where a higher-than-average number of people live longer, healthier lives. These areas have attracted attention from researchers and health experts alike because they offer insights into the factors that contribute to vibrant longevity. Researchers have identified four key characteristics of blue zones including:

  • Longevity: Blue Zones are known for their high concentration of centenarians - people who live to be 100 years old or older.
  • Good Health: Blue Zones have a lower prevalence of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. They also have a higher quality of life in terms of both physical and mental health.
  • Lifestyle Factors: Blue Zones often share common lifestyle factors that contribute to longevity such as eating a plant-based diet rich in vegetables and legumes, regular physical activity, strong social connections, and a sense of purpose or reason for living.
  • Stress Reduction: People in Blue Zones tend to have lower levels of stress and enjoy a slower pace of life compared to other areas.

Some of the most well-known Blue Zones include:

  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Sardinia, Italy
  • Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
  • Ikaria, Greece
  • Loma Linda, California, USA

Are Blue Zones really what they seem?

With most things relating to health, there’s rarely ever a magic solution to anything for everyone. That’s what makes Blue Zones so intriguing is that these large pockets of populations have all seemingly hit the jackpot and found that solution for optimal health. The thing is, when we dive a little deeper we can begin to uncover the truth behind some of the most popular myths around these regions. The reality is, there’s a lot more that goes into the health of these populations then we would like to think on the surface.

Myth #1: Blue Zones follow a “one-size-fits-all” diet

One common misconception is that all Blue Zone residents adhere to the same diet. While there are common dietary principles, there's no “one-size-fits-all approach” in these regions. For instance, Okinawans in Japan primarily consume a plant-based diet rich in sweet potatoes and vegetables, while Sardinians in Italy embrace whole grains, beans, and goat's milk. 

The truth: In functional medicine, we understand the importance of bioindividuality and Blue Zones perfectly reflect this concept. Instead of a specific diet, Blue Zones all share similar principles of prioritizing plant-based foods, healthy fats, moderate animal product consumption, and mindful eating. This shows us that even though certain eating patterns promote longevity, there’s room for adaptation based on your genetics and specific health case. 

Myth #2: Longevity is all about what you eat

Another misconception is that diet is the sole secret to longevity in Blue Zones. Although food does play a vital role, it is just one piece of the puzzle.

The truth: The more research that is done around Blue Zones, the more we see just how important lifestyle factors are to your overall well-being. Everything from strong social connections, regular movement, stress management, and a sense of purpose all contribute to vibrant health and support the functional medicine concept of the mind-body connection.

Myth #3: People in Blue Zones are immune to chronic disease

There's a common misconception that Blue Zone residents are entirely immune to chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer and that by following Blue Zone principles, you will be too.

The truth: Even though Blue Zone residents do experience a lower prevalence of chronic diseases, they are not immune to them. Genetics, lifestyle, and environment all play roles in disease risk. However, researchers believe the healthy habits and diets observed in Blue Zones can significantly reduce the risk of developing these conditions, promoting better quality of life in later years.

Myth #4: People in Blue Zones don’t eat enough protein

Some critics argue that Blue Zone diets are too low in protein, potentially leading to muscle loss and weakness, especially in older populations.

The truth: While it's true that Blue Zone diets may be lower in animal protein compared to Western diets, they prioritize quality over quantity. In these regions, when animal products are consumed, they tend to be sourced from local, sustainable options. Additionally, legumes, such as beans and lentils, are a significant protein source in Blue Zone diets, providing both protein and fiber.

The takeaway

In the end, it’s less about a magic solution as it is about incorporating certain principles into our lives that have been separately supported by studies to facilitate better health. So while we may not all live in Blue Zones, we can certainly integrate their principles into our lives to promote health and longevity:

  • Prioritize Plant Foods: Increase your intake of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. These foods provide essential nutrients and antioxidants.
  • Mindful Eating: Practice mindful eating by savoring your meals and minimizing distractions. Create a relaxed environment for dining.
  • Stay Connected: Foster strong social connections and prioritize relationships. Engage in community activities and build a support network.
  • Stay active: Incorporate physical activity into your daily life, such as walking, gardening, or dancing. Find activities you enjoy to make exercise a sustainable part of your routine.
  • Manage Stress: Develop stress management strategies that work for you, whether it's meditation, yoga, or spending time in nature.
  • Find Purpose: Explore your passions and interests to discover a sense of purpose in your life.

Ultimately, Blue Zones are a source of inspiration and valuable insights, but they are not the final word on health and longevity. Just because there is a correlation between the principles followed by people in Blue Zones and a longer, healthier life, doesn't mean these principles are the direct causation of longevity. The truth is, studies specifically looking at Blue Zones are limited and therefore, we have to remain open to new insights and continue exploring the multifaceted aspects of health and bioindividuality. By understanding the complex interplay of genetics, lifestyle, and environmental factors, we can take the key principles followed by Blue Zones and apply them to our life as we see fit for our own personal health cases.

As one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe.


Start Your Health Journey Today



  1. Facts & Statistics Anxiety and Depression Association of America
  2. Kassed CA, Herkenham M. NF-kappaB p50-deficient mice show reduced anxiety-like behaviors in tests of exploratory drive and anxiety. Behav Brain Res. 2004;154(2):577‐584. doi:10.1016/j.bbr.2004.03.026
  3. Crippa JA, Derenusson GN, Ferrari TB, et al. Neural basis of anxiolytic effects of cannabidiol (CBD) in generalized social anxiety disorder: a preliminary report. J Psychopharmacol. 2011;25(1):121‐130. doi:10.1177/0269881110379283
  4. Bergamaschi MM, Queiroz RH, Chagas MH, et al. Cannabidiol reduces the anxiety induced by simulated public speaking in treatment-naïve social phobia patients. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2011;36(6):1219‐1226. doi:10.1038/npp.2011.6
  5. Hill MN, Patel S. Translational evidence for the involvement of the endocannabinoid system in stress-related psychiatric illnesses. Biol Mood Anxiety Disord. 2013;3(1):19. Published 2013 Oct 22. doi:10.1186/2045-5380-3-19

View More At Our Store

Purchase personally curated supplements
and Dr. Will Cole’s books!

Bew Global Shop Banner

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.

Our content may include products that have been independently chosen and recommended by Dr. Will Cole and our editors. If you purchase something mentioned in this article, we may earn a small commission.



Evidence-based reviewed article

Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is also the host of the popular The Art of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, Gut Feelings, and The Inflammation Spectrum.

Gut Feelings Dr. Will Cole 6

Gut Feelings

Healing The Shame-Fueled Relationship
Between What You Eat And How You Feel