Could the Blue Zone’s exercise secrets hold the key to vital ageing?

Could the Blue Zone’s exercise secrets hold the key to vital ageing?

Who doesn’t want to live an exceptionally long and vibrant life? It’s why we’re all looking for ways to keep our bodies, minds and immune systems optimally well. It’s a good plan, when you realise that some 74% of all global deaths are thought to be caused by chronic lifestyle disease, with lack of physical activity and poor diet two large attributing factors. Indeed, there is abundant and compelling research to suggest that regular exercise and a good diet provides a greater quality of life and perhaps even increases longevity[1].

But nobody highlights the power of daily movement and a healthy diet more than the residents of some of the world’s longest-living communities. Collectively known as the ‘Blue Zones’, these optimal wellness enclaves are home to an extraordinarily high number of people who live far longer than average, often into their 90s and beyond. But not only do Blue Zone residents live longer, they also remain healthy and vital well into their old age.

What are the Blue Zones?

Made famous in the series of books by National Geographic explorer and journalist Dan Buettner (and more recently in his Netflix documentary Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones), the Blue Zones are communities around the world where people live exceptionally long and healthy lives.

Working with a team of medical researchers, anthropologists, demographers, and epidemiologists, Buettner traveled the world in search of these bastions of healthy ageing. He drew on the work of well-respected demographers Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain, who had drawn blue circles around these regions on a map of the world, hence the name “Blue Zones.”

Buetnner discovered five Blue Zones scattered throughout the globe, including

  • Ikaria in Greece
  • Okinawa, in Japan
  • The Barbagia region of Sardinia 
  • The Seventh Day Adventist community in Loma Linda, California
  • The Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. 

But while the Blue Zones may have radically different diets, cultures and lifestyles, these centenarians do have one longevity secret in common: they may be fit and slim, but you won’t find many of them in the gym or trying out the latest celebrity diet craze.

Buettner and his team worked hard to ascertain exactly what made these people different by looking at factors such as genetic profile, religion, pollution and climate. What they found was that a Blue Zone member’s genetic profile only accounted for 20 to 30% of their extraordinary longevity. In fact it was environmental influences such as diet and lifestyle that played the biggest role in determining their lifespans.

The Blue Zone lifestyle

So what can we learn from the longest-living, healthiest people in the world? Buettner looked for evidence-based denominators shared by all the Blue Zone communities and discovered nine factors they had in common. So what are the secrets of the Blue Zone?

Natural movement - from gardening to housework, Blue Zone communities live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it. 

Plant-based diet - with meat included only occasionally.

Purpose in life - Knowing your sense of purpose was discovered to be worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy.

Plenty of rest - The Seventh Day Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians enjoy happy hour as ways of resting and de-stressing.

Adherence to the 80/20 rule - Most stopped eating when they were 80% full, and ate their heaviest meals earlier in the day.

A life of faith - the vast majority belonged to a faith-based community.

Family bonds - members of Blue Zone communities committed to a life partner and cared for ageing parents within the home.

Moderate drinking - People in all the Blue Zones (with the exception of the teetotal Adventists) drink between one and two glasses of wine a day, with meals and with friends.

Healthy friendships - smoking and obesity can be contagious. The Blue Zone members belonged to friendship groups made up of people who shared their healthy lifestyle.

By incorporating the Blue Zone secrets for a long life into your own lifestyle, it may be possible for you to add a few years onto your own lifespan. Want to know more? I’ve delved deeper into some of the lifestyle factors associated with the Blue Zones below.

Move naturally

Blue Zoners move all day in a natural way, all day long. From tending their vegetable plots to strolling to meet a friend, they live in environments that nudge them into moving naturally, without thinking about it[2].

The scientific name for this kind of natural daily movement is NEAT, which stands for Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. NEAT is all the non-planned physical activity you do each day, like climbing stairs, walking, cooking and brushing your teeth. These types of movement may seem insignificant, but when added up NEAT may account for as many as 2,000 calories per day of energy output.

Boosting your NEAT is easy and offers an achievable way of building more movement into your day. Doing so may help you maintain a healthy body weight and improve wellness. A simple tip is to replace “movement conveniences” like escalators and short car journeys with their physical activity equivalents – walking up the stairs or strolling to the local shops. Leaner people simply move more each day - no gym or HIIT training required[3][4].

Eat a Blue Zone diet

What is a Blue Zone diet? The Blue Zones team distilled more than 150 dietary surveys of the world’s longest-lived people and found that 95% of the centenarians ate a plant-based diet[5]. In fact, the Blue Zone communities ate an impressive array of garden vegetables and leafy greens, combined with seasonal fruits, whole grains and beans, along with oils derived from plants, such as olive oil.

All but the vegetarian Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda consumed meat, but they did so sparingly. Research suggests that 30-year-old vegetarian Adventists will likely outlive their meat-eating counterparts by as many as eight years[6].

A recent review on diet, health and longevity published in November 2023 bears their findings out. German researchers looked at 37 studies and discovered that replacing meat and dairy with whole grains, beans, nuts and olive oil significantly reduced cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and lowered the risk of dying from any cause during the periods covered by the studies, especially when red and processed meats were replaced with plant-based alternatives[7].

Follow the 80/20 rule

Before eating, the Okinawans are known to say, “Hara hachi bu”, a 2,500-year-old Confucian mantra that reminds them to stop when their stomachs are 80% full. So could eating fewer calories per day be contributing to the longevity of those in the Blue Zones? 

It is according to Professor Roy Taylor. His pioneering research into type 2 diabetes found that eating a diet that was lower in calories (and therefore protective against weight gain) could also protect against chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes. 

Eating more calories than the body can burn over a long period of time can lead to fat storage. But Professor Taylor discovered that the body has a limit to the amount of fat it can safely store under the skin - a limit that is unique to everybody. When these safe fat stores reach capacity, the body has nowhere to store excess fat and it can spill over into the liver and then the pancreas. If these organs get clogged with fat, they stop functioning properly and that is when you develop type 2 diabetes. 

Because everyone’s capacity to safely store fat under the skin varies, people who are obese might not develop type 2 diabetes, while a lean person susceptible to storing fat in the wrong places, can. Professor Taylor discovered that a low calorie diet removes the fat from the liver and pancreas, effectively putting type 2 diabetes in remission[8].

Get enough rest

Adequate sleep keeps the immune system functioning smoothly, decreases the risk of heart attack and recharges the brain. People in Blue Zone-regions rise with the sun and sleep when night falls. But in addition to a good night’s sleep, the residents are also partial to the occasional daytime nap. 

According to a study published in July 2023, habitual napping appears to be associated with a larger brain volume in adults, with scientists suggesting this raised the possibility the practice offers some protection against neurodegeneration[9]. University College London researchers showed nappers' brains were 15 cubic centimetres larger - equivalent to delaying ageing by between three and six years[10].

Buddy up

Friendships don’t just make you feel good, they may also help you live longer. People in the Blue Zone have been found to share a strong sense of social connection, with family ties and friendly neighbours providing a source of both intellectual stimulation and emotional support.

But friends may also help us with our exercise efforts, too. Research suggests having an exercise buddy or workout tribe may increase your enjoyment, motivation and commitment to physical activity. One study compared group and individual exercise and highlighted the group exercisers as having ‘higher degrees of enjoyment and intrinsic motivation’ which was linked to the social interaction during the physical activity[11].

Take moderate exercise

From gardening to physically demanding chores, Blue Zone residents have a diverse range of ways to get their daily activity. But what these healthy centenarians all seem to share is that they exercise moderately.

As such, it may well be worth parking the ‘go hard or go home’ exercise dogma which leads so many of us into starting hard, followed by just going home and staying there! Instead, make like the Blue Zoners and embrace the power of moderate exercise. This clever strategy shows excellent outcomes for weight loss, increasing strength, building self-confidence, promoting a positive outlook and decreasing risk of lifestyle disease.

Before starting any exercise regime, it’s worth taking the time to plan and build into it slowly. This gives your body time to adapt to the physical stress of training and helps your brain adapt to the discipline of doing it regularly, increasing mental buy-in.

When it comes to choosing which type of exercise you should be doing, studies show good results from combining both resistance and cardio exercise - something our Blue Zoners do naturally in the course of their daily lives.

To get both of these forms of exercise in one, circuit resistance training creates a nice mix and gives you the most bang for your buck. Not sure where to start? My plan will help you get going, and it’s easy to do from home. You will only need a small area but find a space free from objects and hazards and have some water and a towel handy.

Body weight resistance training circuit

The exercises:

  1. Side to side Cossack squat x 6 each side.
  2. Chair tricep dips x 12
  3. Alternate Supermans (on all fours) x 6 each side
  4. Alternate lunges x 12 each leg
  5. Reverse table-top hip extensions x 12
  6. Side bridge hold x 6 seconds each side
  7. Curl up x 12
  8. Mountain climbers x 12 alternate knees

Aim for three circuits of the exercises in rotation with minimal rest in between sets. The program can be done three times per week, but take at least a day’s rest in-between each workout.

Key coaching tips:

Keep your core (your butt and abs) strong throughout each of the movements and let your technique guide the amount of reps you can do. It’s better to have good exercise form throughout, rather than bad extra reps.

Aim for a moderate speed for each movement, which translates into a slow and controlled tempo. This creates more efficient muscle loading and subsequent strength and muscle gains.

Breathe steady and aim to exhale on exertion (as you curl up from floor) and inhale as you return (as you lower back down).

Aim for dynamic posture. Keep your body long with awareness of good posture throughout all exercises.

If three circuits is too much to start with, try doing one circuit for two weeks, then two circuits for two weeks until you’ve built up to three.

Whether you choose my workout or your own form of activity like walking or cycling, how do you make sure you’re exercising moderately? The next step is to work out simple ways to gauge how often, how hard and how long you should be working out for. 


The World Health Organisation suggests that adults should exercise moderately for 150 minutes each week, which works out to 22 minutes each day[12]. So start with 22-30 minutes of exercise per day in activities that work both your heart and skeletal muscle (known as aerobic endurance).


A moderate intensity is a level that keeps your heart elevated to the point where you can hold a basic conversation but are slightly out of breath[13]. A great way to gauge this intensity without a heart rate monitor is by measuring your perceived exertion on a scale between 1-10.

With 1 representing the exercise being very easy and 10 representing your maximum effort; moderate exercise would fall between 5-6 on this scale. This is the approximate equivalent of 60+% of your maximum heart rate[14][15].

Enjoy yourself

If circuit resistance training really doesn’t float your exercise boat, don’t sweat it. It’s far more important that you do something you enjoy. Blue Zone residents were found to do tai chi, martial arts and dancing because they found these activities pleasurable, with some able to find joy even in the physical hard work of chores.

With that in mind, why not try cycling, boxing, dancing, fast walking, yoga or skipping? Anything you find fun will mean you’re more likely to want to carry it on.

And although you wouldn’t find many Blue Zoners using a Fitbit, tech that tracks your daily physical activity can be a beneficial way to build enjoyment and commitment because receiving instant feedback on the results of your hard work is so satisfying. 

A large review in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness suggested that weight loss interventions using tech to track activity may reap better results and compliance than the standard weight loss program.

Most smartphones have step tracking options. But beyond your phone, there are numerous activity trackers, from the expensive high-tech options like the Oura Ring and Garmin Pro watches right through to cheaper wearables like clip-on pedometers.

But what should you track? Well, we previously discussed the power of NEAT and its importance, so tracking this aspect of non planned movement by measuring your daily step count is a great (and easy) way to start. Aiming for over 10,000 steps a day will help you create a consistent Blue Zone style approach to energy balance (calories v calories out).

If your tracking application also has the capacity to add your planned exercise (workouts) you can log your runs, yoga, circuit training etc. These planned workouts together with your steps (NEAT), show you the combined total of your exercise energy output each day and most importantly track its consistency.

As a side note, total physical activity equates to approximately 30+ % of your total daily calorie output (calorie burning). The rest of the calories used comes from your body’s energy to run itself (what I call keeping the engine running), known as BMR or basal metabolic rate. BMR accounts for approximately 60% energy output leaving the final 10% used in digesting your food[16][17].

Tracking could include checking you achieve both your NEAT goals of over 10,000 steps per day and your 22-30 minutes of planned workouts. Most importantly, tech tracking can be used to gauge and motivate consistency of all of your physical activity as consistency is key.

Are you ready to create your own Blue Zone lifestyle?

As we can see from the long-lived residents of the Blue Zone, improving your mental and physical health with exercise could be the key to longevity. It’s all about creating daily habits which add up to meaningful change.

There are no quick fitness fixes, but with a relatively small amount of commitment you have the capacity to experience the effects of exercise as medicine for the mind and body which helps you live a little better each day, something I like to call vital aging.

While starting is the hardest part, you don’t have to be good at exercise to start doing something you enjoy.

Here are some final tips to get you started:

1. Set a firm intention and start date.
2. Commit to a six-week plan which gives enough time to get results and embed good habits.
3. Choose the exercise that you enjoy because fun and feeling good are far greater motivators than fear and loathing.
4. Practically plan your workout space, equipment and outfit.
5. The same way you would schedule an important event, plan the 22-30 minutes of exercise into your daily routine.
6. Find a workout buddy. You can partner up with any friend or family member who is willing to commit to become your workout buddy either in person or online. This will support motivation, enjoyment, and compliance.

In the words of a well-known sports brand… just do it!

Find a Blue Zone lifestyle that suits you

The Blue Zone lifestyle sounds idyllic. But what if you can’t swap your nine-to-five with a life spent napping, pottering and tending your own vegetable patch? Although no substitute for a healthy diet of whole foods, supplements like our Advanced Omega 3 Fish Oil and our 25-ingredient Advanced Multivitamin will ensure no nutrient deficiencies stand in the way of your optimal wellness and vitality. 

Clinician-made, we only produce products that we believe to be of real benefit to your health. Made of all-premium ingredients at clinical doses, they’re free of fillers or additives and based on sound science. Click here to find out more.

If you enjoyed reading this article, you might like Easing ’manopause’ symptoms is the key to optimal male vitality as you age.


(1) Anderson E., Durstine L. J. (2019). Physical activity, exercise, and chronic diseases: A brief review, Sports Medicine and Health Science, Volume 1, Issue 1, 2019, Pages 3-10, ISSN 2666-3376,


(3) Levine J. A. (2002). Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Best practice & research. Clinical endocrinology & metabolism, 16(4), 679–702.

(4) Villablanca, P. A., Alegria, J. R., Mookadam, F., Holmes, D. R., Jr, Wright, R. S., & Levine, J. A. (2015). Nonexercise activity thermogenesis in obesity management. Mayo Clinic proceedings, 90(4), 509–519.







(11) Pedersen, M. T., Vorup, J., Nistrup, A., Wikman, J. M., Alstrøm, J. M., Melcher, P. S., Pfister, G. U., & Bangsbo, J. (2017). Effect of team sports and resistance training on physical function, quality of life, and motivation in older adults. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 27(8), 852–864.


(13) Kelley, G. A., Kelley, K. S., & Pate, R. R. (2019). Exercise and adiposity in overweight and obese children and adolescents: a systematic review with network meta-analysis of randomised trials. BMJ open, 9(11), e031220.

(14) Mays, R. J., Goss, F. L., Nagle, E. F., Gallagher, M., Schafer, M. A., Kim, K. H., & Robertson, R. J. (2014). Prediction of VO2 peak using OMNI Ratings of Perceived Exertion from a submaximal cycle exercise test. Perceptual and motor skills, 118(3), 863–881.

(15) Nebiker, L., Lichtenstein, E., Minghetti, A., Zahner, L., Gerber, M., Faude, O., & Donath, L. (2018). Moderating Effects of Exercise Duration and Intensity in Neuromuscular vs. Endurance Exercise Interventions for the Treatment of Depression: A Meta-Analytical Review. Frontiers in psychiatry, 9, 305.

(16) Cheatham, S. W., Stull, K. R., Fantigrassi, M., & Motel, I. (2018). The efficacy of wearable activity tracking technology as part of a weight loss program: a systematic review. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness, 58(4), 534–548.

(17) Levine J. A. (2005). Measurement of energy expenditure. Public health nutrition, 8(7A), 1123–1132.


Post author

Gideon Remfry

Gideon is a nutrition, functional medicine and fitness expert. With 25 years experience, he was selected as one of the top 25 trainers in the world by Men’s Fitness. His client list includes A-list celebrities, elite athletes and he’s also wellness director for world renowned luxury health clubs KX & KXU. Gideon regularly lectures on sports nutrition and has written for the likes of Vogue, Men’s Health, and The Sunday Times.

Instagram @gideonjremfry

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