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What is the Blue Zones Exercise Regimen?  (Hint: They Don’t Have One!)

Posted by Tim Roberts on Mar 12, 2024 7:26:38 PM

Four rural female farmers walking with beautiful terrace step rice fields in the background

Ever since the Blue Zones documentary dropped on Netflix, there has been a lot of interest in the lifestyle habits of the world’s longest-living people. The longevity secrets of these Blue Zone regions have been unveiled -- surprisingly (and encouragingly), it's not all about genetics! Meta-analysis shows the majority of factors that contribute to a long and healthy life can be controlled through an individual's choices related to environment and lifestyle.


Blue Zone Exercise Research

Asian lady moving naturally on a ladder up a coconut palm

When examining Blue Zones secrets, researcher Dan Buettner discovered a set of habits and environmental factors that were common contributors to the health and longevity wellness of their inhabitants, producing results such as low rates of heart disease and excellent core strength among older adults. Naturally, one might ask what kind of blue zones fitness strategies these people tend to practice. Do they hit the gym seven days a week? Nope. Do they jog for miles a day? Negative.  

So what is the secret Blue Zone exercise routine?

The answer is…they don't have one!

Centenarians residing in Blue Zones don't achieve their healthy longevity with Instagram-worthy feats at a gym, but rather by incorporating natural movement into their lives so seamlessly that it becomes an almost subconscious (yet highly effective) part of their overall fitness and health.


Power 9 Habit: Move Naturally

Asian craftswoman showing Japanese tie dye technique while painting textile, an example of moving naturally

At the core of Dan Buettner's Power 9 Habits of the Blue Zones lies the concept of "moving naturally," which is deeply ingrained into the lifestyles of people who live a long time. This principle emphasizes integrating physical activity into daily routines through natural movements like walking, gardening, and manual labor, rather than structured exercise alone.

In the Blue Zones exercise, individuals engage in regular, low-intensity activities as part of their daily lives, contributing to their exceptional longevity. Whether it's walking to visit neighbors, tending to crops, or participating in communal activities, these natural movements not only promote physical health but also foster a sense of community and purpose. By incorporating movement into everyday tasks, Blue Zone residents maintain active lifestyles well into old age, underscoring the vital role of natural, continuous movement in promoting longevity and overall well-being.



A group of hikers walking a trail up towards a mountain peak in Sardinia, one of the world's five blue zones where people live the longest

The world’s five blue zones are located in Okinawa, Japan, Ikaria, Greece, Loma Linda, California, Nicoya, Costa Rica, and the Barbagia Region of Sardinia, Italy. Most of these regions have hilly terrain and the cars are not a typical mode of transport. Instead, residents largely get by on foot, which has wide-ranging health benefits.

Let’s take Ikaria, for example; the longest-living inhabitants of this Greek Island live inland in the island's highlands. They get their exercise simply from visiting their neighbors to stay connected (another Power 9 secret), gardening, and walking among the steppes. Another example is that many of the seniors in Sardinia, Italy still work well into their old age herding cattle on the mountains.

So the next time you’re faced with a hill to walk up, don’t complain... it's adding years to your lifespan!



Mother and daughter crouching down gardening togetherGardening is a common thread seen throughout the blue zones. Take a moment to consider what gardening involves -- repeated bending, crouching down, and getting back up again. Whether it's digging soil, pulling weeds, or planting a new tree, gardening involves constant natural movement, and some say that, due to the connection with nature, it’s very good for their mental health as well. As such, if your goal is to achieve greater physical fitness and an extended lifespan, this could be a good time to test out your green thumb.


Farming and Agriculture

Old man using a traditional spade to prepare soil for farming in a plantation

Closely related to the above, many Blue Zone regions work in agriculture or live off the land, which sees them on their feet for much of the day. Moreover, the Blue Zones tend not to use advanced special equipment for their farming, instead doing many tasks with their bare hands or using traditional tools, thus incorporating the physical activities of agriculture into their everyday lives. The cultivation of nutrient-rich, locally sourced produce forms the cornerstone of their diets, emphasizing whole foods and plant-based eating. This heart-friendly diet combined with consistent moderate physical activity contributes to a high level of overall cardiovascular health.


Opting Out of Modern Conveniences

Grandmother teaching grand daughter how to use a roller on cookie dough

Many inhabitants of Blue Zones tend to take care of household chores without the help of modern conveniences. They hand-wash their laundry, knead their own bread and press their own grapes, use hand-operated tools, wash their dishes by hand and much more. This not only burns tons of calories but also requires the body to use muscles that might not otherwise be engaged as we get older.


Spending Time on the Floor

Young attractive Asian woman sitting on the floor working with hand-crafting designs

Another habit many people in Blue Zones have is sitting on the floor for various activities such as eating, praying, or socializing. "I sat for two days with a 104-year-old woman who got up and down off the floor 30 times..." Buettner reported when studying the population of Okinawa, Japan, "It makes for better balance and flexibility and probably healthier backs and fewer falls." The strength and flexibility required to get up and down from the floor multiple times a day is highly beneficial to core strength and retaining muscle, while injury prevention is an essential component of longevity.


Incorporating The ‘Move Naturally’ Principle Into Daily Life

So there you have it-- you can ditch the gym memberships and stop pounding the pavement. All you need is to move more. But these days, with so many of us earning a living by sitting in front of a computer versus tilling the land or herding cattle, how do we achieve this?


The Pomodoro Technique

Young woman seated at her desk with her back to us stretching her arms while taking a break from work

Not only is the Pomodoro technique excellent for productivity, but it can also get you moving more. The technique is simple: you split your work day into focused blocks of 30 minutes, but for 5 minutes of each block, you take a break. So, 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off, and repeat.

You will be amazed at how much you can achieve in these focused blocks. The important thing is to take that 5-minute break, and while it may be tempting to stay in your chair and check your phone notifications, the best approach is to get up and move around. Whether you engage in moderate activity such as household chores or something more strenuous like a set of burpees, any physical tasks are better than staying seated. Not only is it good for your health, it's great for your cognitive well-being and re-energizes you for your next block of focused work.


Standing Desks

A woman working from her laptop at a standing-desk, proven to burn more calories than sitting down

They say that ‘sitting is the new smoking.’ Employing a standing desk during work offers numerous advantages, notably enhancing posture by alleviating strain on the neck, shoulders, and back. Moreover, standing promotes increased calorie burning compared to sitting, facilitating weight management and fostering overall health. If you do not want to invest in a traditional standing desk, you improvise by finding a bench or shelf that should do the trick; the main thing is the elevation of your computer so you work in a standing position that doesn't strain your neck, back, etc.


Climbing Stairs

pexels-nora-1750352Make a rule to yourself that from now on if you are faced with the choice of stairs, escalator, or elevator, you take the stairs. Before you know it, you will be bounding up them two at a time and your future self will be thanking you.


Daily Walks

Young couple holding hands and carrying their children walking through a park, one of the simplest forms of blue zones exercise

One of the best things you can do for a healthier and longer life is simply taking a daily walk, preferably getting your heart rate up. Just half an hour each day can enhance cardiovascular fitness, fortify bones, decrease the risk of chronic disease, and elevate muscle strength and endurance. If you'd like to kill two birds with one stone, take nature walks - not only to get regular physical activity but also that all-important connection with nature that's proven to help people live longer.


Dancing, Tai Chi, and... Pickleball?

An older couple dancing in an European al fresco setting, a habit proven good for longevity

While dancing and Tai Chi are more structured than other types of movement such as bending over a garden or kneeling down for daily devotionals, it's important to note how prevalent they are among some of the world's longest-lived people in Blue Zones. Dancing in particular raises the heart rate, increases oxygen flow, and promotes social connection, as well as helping to maintain flexibility and balance.

In Loma Linda, California, the only Blue Zone where residents largely participate in structured exercise, one of the most popular ways they currently stay active is by playing pickleball. (If you are unfamiliar with the increasingly popular sport, think of splitting the difference between tennis and ping pong.) It's not only fun, but also keeps you moving, which is great for heart health, body mass index, and reducing the risk of chronic diseases. Joyful, entertaining activities like these prove that exercise doesn't have to be a chore and is something that can actually be the best part of your day.


Enough Reading... Get Moving!

We hope you found this article insightful and helpful about the blue zones fitness strategies. Keep an eye out for the rest of the series where we will cover each of the Blue Zones Power 9 Habits. Until then, go play in the garden, take a walk, go dancing... whatever you choose, get moving! 



The MV Narrative from Storylines is a pioneering luxury residential ship that redefines the concept of global living. Our innovative approach combines luxury travel with sustainability initiatives and a commitment to well-being. As a floating community, Storylines embraces the principles of the Blue Zones, incorporating habits associated with longevity into our residents' daily lives. Find out more here.


Topics: Health, wellness

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