The World’s Blue Zones Beckon with Culture, Serenity and Secrets to a Longer LifeBy Kara Williams
With wellness tourism showing no signs of slowing down, travelers continue to find new ways to focus on their physical, mental and emotional well-being when they’re on vacation. The latest trend? It’s travel to Blue Zones, five areas of the world where residents enjoy unusually long, healthy lives.
Researchers have identified reasons why people in these healthy hot spots may regularly live to be 100 years old. Some common threads among the varied cultures are everyday natural movement (i.e., gardening vs. a gym class); a mostly plant-based, whole-food diet; connection to community; and a value system that involves plenty of time for de-stressing activities, whether prayer, meditation, daily naps or even happy hours with friends.
To learn more about these secrets for living a longer, happy life, consider a trip to one of these worldwide Blue Zones. As always, check for travel guidelines and closures before planning your trip.
In Okinawa, Japan, a thoughtful mindset around food is ingrained in the culture. It’s common for Okinawans to recite “hara hachi bu” before meals. It literally means “eight out of 10,” that is, eat mindfully until you’re 80-percent full. Put the practice into play on a trip to Okinawa while sampling the island chain’s naturally low-calorie, nutrient-dense diet featuring plenty of purple sweet potatoes, tofu and stir-fried vegetables.
Island residents also appreciate life’s simple pleasures, including spending time outdoors in Okinawa’s temperate climate. Do the same while kayaking through mangroves, visiting traditional onsen (natural hot springs) and hiking to rainforest waterfalls.
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Squash, beans and corn are staples of the Nicoya Peninsula diet. At restaurants across this region on Costa Rica’s west coast you’ll find dishes with these filling, nutritious ingredients. Consider drinking plenty of the local water: It’s chock-full of calcium, which may help older residents maintain their bone strength and avoid falls and fractures.
The Nicoyans take their siestas seriously — it’s common to work in the morning and then rest in the afternoon. So in between surfing on the coast, spotting wildlife in the rainforest or touring caves in a national park, be sure to build in plenty of quiet time on your Costa Rica vacation.
It’s no surprise the residents on Italy’s second-largest island are so fit: Steep roads crisscross the villages. That means it’s a daily workout to walk from home to the market, church or café on this mountainous island just south of Corsica, France.
While exercise is seamlessly incorporated into daily life in Sardinia, so is a glass of good wine. Take a tour of one of the vineyards here to learn more about the cannonau (grenache) grape that’s grown locally. The perfect accompaniment? A few chunks of Sardinia’s beloved pecorino cheese made from sheep’s milk.
Loma Linda, California
About 60 miles east of Los Angeles in San Bernardino County, Loma Linda is home to about 9,000 Seventh-day Adventists, who, according to their faith’s principles, eat a vegetarian diet, exercise regularly and don’t drink alcohol or smoke.
On a weekend visit to this longevity hot spot in SoCal, check out the Sunday farmer’s market to shop fresh produce and healthy snacks, hike the myriad trails in South Hills Preserve just south of town, and stop into one of the area’s veggie-friendly restaurants, including the offerings on the Loma Linda University campus, where cafés are solely vegetarian.
Lean into a languid pace on the North Aegean island of Ikaria, Greece, accessible via ferry from Athens or from neighboring islands like Mykonos. Quiet and not touristy, Ikaria offers visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in the agricultural lifestyle that has been enjoyed by residents for centuries.
Live like locals with a stroll through olive groves or along mountain paths. Soak in the natural thermal pools or take a dip in a blue-green ocean cove. And finish your day in a neighborhood taverna with a glass of wine and top-quality Greek ingredients like just-picked vegetables, freshly caught fish and homegrown honey.