Lessons from the Blue Zones: secrets of a long life

The parts of the world where people live longest may hold the key to the fountain of youth. We explore how to live longer and uncover the Blue Zones’ secrets of a long life.

There are five global hotspots where researchers have identified that people live longer, healthier lives than the rest of us. Known as the Blue Zones they are:

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

What’s their secret?

These communities each have a high rate of residents over 100 years old, suffer less of the diseases that commonly affect people in other parts of the developed world, and enjoy more years of healthy life.

The formula for these fountains of youth appears to be the following nine lifestyle habits. While some are obvious, others might surprise you…1

  1. Move: we all know exercise is good for us, but this isn’t about pumping iron or running marathons. It’s about staying active through regular, everyday movements like doing the housework, gardening and walking. 
  2. Have a sense of purpose: it could be anything, but knowing why you get out of bed in the morning is identified as a contributor to a healthier life can add up to seven years to your life expectancy.
  3. Reduce stress: it isn’t that Blue Zone residents don’t experience stress, it’s about what they do to relieve it. While their methods range from prayer to napping to practicing mindfulness, what’s common is that they prioritise stress relief. 
  4. Eat less: instead of overindulging, Blue Zone residents stop eating before they’re full. They also eat their smallest meal by early evening, and don’t eat for the rest of the day. 
  5. Eat less meat: this one comes as no real surprise given the links between meat consumption and cancer, but most of the Blue Zone residents are semi-vegetarian, favouring beans, legumes, fruit and vegetables over meats. 
  6. Drink alcohol: Blue Zone researchers found it’s ok to drink regularly, as long as it’s in moderation (1-2 glasses a day), and alcohol is consumed with friends and/or food. 
  7. Spirituality or religion: It seems the sense of belonging to a faith or belief-based community - regardless of the belief – is beneficial to health. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month can add from four to 14 years to your life expectancy
  8. Put family first: Blue Zone residents commit to a life partner – which can add up to three years to life expectancy, and have a strong sense of family, from caring for their aging relatives to nurturing their children. 
  9. Have a tribe: Be it your family or friends, having a social circle that combats loneliness and encourages good habits such as being active, positive and not smoking is good for longevity.

How do you compare?

If you’re aiming for a Blue Zone-type life expectancy, you might like to see how you’re travelling. Our life expectancy quiz can help.

Living longer means you might need more money to fund your retirement or you may need to stretch the money you have further. If you’re worried you might outlast your money, our retirement simulator can help you work out if you’re on track.

And if you find you need to make some changes, check out our managing your money in retirement education module, or articles on how to make the most of your retirement entitlements or avoid the money mistakes people in retirement make.

For more on making the most of your golden years, check out:

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