Think of being able to live at the age of 90 to 100 with literally no health problems. People who are living this lifestyle don’t take pharmaceuticals, they take walks around your neighborhood with little or no stiffness and their memory is surprisingly intact for the most part.

This is a reality for people living in  five regions in the world—Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California.  Dan Buettner, a National Geographic journalist, has been studying these regions for years and calls these regions Blue Zones.  He has made it his mission to share what exactly it is about these regions that make them so healthy, so others can adopt their healthy habits—no matter where in the world they live.

Buettner’s research has found that a long healthy life is no accident.  It can start with good genes, but genetics account for 20-30% of longevity.  Most importantly, it depends on good habits, including diet and lifestyle, as well as environmental factors. If you adopt the right lifestyle, then you may live up to a decade longer.  He published an article in National Geographic which describes the different characteristics of three Blue Zones to find out the specifics to the formula of successful longevity.

Here is a summary of Buettner’s findings:

Ogliastra, Sardinia, Italy

The Ogliastra region of Sardinia is home to some of the oldest men in the world. They live in mountainous regions where walking or biking is the preferred mode of transportation.  The Sardinians typically work on farms, harvest their own food and hunt and fish.

They honor family, live close to relatives and interact with them regularly (nursing homes are a foreign word.) Red wine is a part of their daily diet, which contains resveratrol, keeping the arteries from clogging.  Bread in Sardinia is made from a sourdough starter rich in gut-healthy bacteria.  And, add a rich sheep or goat’s milk cheese made in the region, which also contains lactobacillus, healthy bacteria for the digestion.

Okinawa, Japan

Okinawa is home to the world’s oldest women in the world – 30 times more than the U.S. They live by the saying “ikigai,” literally “that which makes life worth living.” Ikigai includes daily activities that allow for interaction with the community, following their passions, exercise, and eating the vegetables that they grow.

Ushi Okushima, a 103-year old elder woman keeps by her tradition-honored daily rituals of morning prayers to ancestors, tea with friends, lunch with family, an afternoon nap, a sunset hour with friends, and a cup of sake infused with mugwort herb.  She used to grow most of her food until she accepted a job.  It’s important to point out that older people are typically honored and valued in Japanese society, a stark contrast to the Western obsession with youth.

Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, California

The U.S. is home to one of the Blue Zone regions.  What differentiates Loma Linda apart from the rest of California and most of the country is that most people who live there are Seventh-day Adventists, a sect of Christianity that originated in the U.S. in the mid-19th century.  From 1976 to 1988, 34,000 California Adventists were studied by the National Institute of Health.  They found they lived on average four to ten years longer than other Californians.

They typically eat a strict vegetarian diet and shun alcohol and caffeine.  Faith is at the heart of their longevity. “To accept Christ is to be free, which reduces stress”, says Dr. Elsworth Wareham, a Seventh Day Adventists who at 91 still assists heart surgeries.  Another key to health is taking time off and celebrating life.  Saturday’s are their Sabbath to enjoy non-work activities that typically stretches into Sunday.

Although these are the only areas discussed in Buettner’s book, there may be unidentified areas in the world that could also be Blue Zones.

To read the full article on Blue Zones, click on this pdf from National Geographic: