In Netflix’s 2023 documentary, Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones, athlete and researcher Dan Buettner visits five small communities nestled in remote corners of the world.
Although seemingly random, each area is connected by one variable: they have some of the highest numbers of centenarians in the world.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Buettner finds that the Blue Zones’ secrets to long life do not centre around fad diets, gym memberships, and other activities that we often call “self-care”. Instead, he discovers that small habits and actions, all rooted in community, can be the vehicle for extending human life.
Keep reading to learn five unique tips on living to 100 from each of our world’s Blue Zones.
1. Okinawa, Japan – find your ikigai
Okinawa, often referred to as the “Hawaii of Japan”, is a small island in the south of the country.
Despite being ravaged by war and natural disasters throughout the 20th century, its residents are some of the longest-living people on the planet. Among many factors, one contributor that stands out is the Okinawans’ dedication to the Japanese philosophy of “ikigai”.
Although there is no word for ikigai in English, its loose translation is “a reason for being”. In Okinawa, many families live non-traditional lives in service of their communities, including pooling money and resources to serve more people equally, rather than just themselves.
In your own life, finding your ikigai could ward off symptoms of depression and anxiety – both of which can be life-limiting – by imbuing you with a sense of purpose every day.
Whether it’s saving and investing to provide the next generation with a prosperous future, or simply giving more time to a local cause, the Okinawans are living proof that having a purpose can help you live a longer, fuller life.
2. Ikaria, Greece – replicate mountain living
There are 227 inhabited islands in Greece, but only one stands out as having a huge number of centenarians living upon it.
Ikaria is an island with no natural ports – and until recently, its residents had an entirely self-sufficient existence. Plenty of their practices could be conducive to living longer, but one unique factor is simply that they live a traditional mountain life.
One resident in her 90s tells Buettner that she attends church every single day. This sounds common for a healthy woman of her age, except for the fact that her journey to church involves walking up a mountain road in the full heat of the day, which she does each time without complaint.
In fact, all Ikaria’s residents walk up and down the steep hills of the island each day to visit family, go to work, or tend to their livestock.
Indeed, studies show that regular movement, especially walking up and down hills, can improve balance, cardiovascular fitness, muscle tone, and mental health. The Ikarians believe that this “passive exercise” of living on a steep incline is their secret to longevity.
We can’t all live the mountain life of the Ikarians, but we can learn from their dedication to consistency and hard work.
Doing what is easy may feel fruitful in the short term, but an everyday commitment to your long-term health requires consistency. When you apply this to your finances, you may feel more motivated to stick to your long-term goals, rather than taking the easy route and only focusing on the present.
3. Nicoya, Costa Rica – eat simple whole foods
When Dan Buettner arrives in Nicoya, a small region of Costa Rica, he’s told he will meet a 102-year-old man.
Instead, he comes across an older gentleman, José, who spends most of his time on horseback, herding his cows up and down the uneven terrain. When he’s finished, he takes his axe and chops wood to heat his stove in the coming days.
Believe it or not, the gentleman Buettner meets is indeed the 102-year-old resident he’s been told about. So, what is José’s secret to becoming not just a centenarian, but a fully mobile and cognitively sound one?
His answer is simple: alongside regular movement, whole foods are the way to live longer.
For Nicoyans, most of the food consumed in the community was grown and harvested by its residents. They eat little meat, and their diet consists of a high density of corn, beans, squash, and bananas.
Of course, it’s hard to eat like a Nicoyan in the UK, with so many food options at our fingertips. Yet the lesson here is that simplicity is often key, and excess can lead to poor health in more ways than one.
So, whether it’s simplifying your financial plan, eating fewer sugary snacks, or cutting unnecessary fixtures out of your busy routine, prioritising simplicity could lead to a fuller, longer life.
4. Sardinia, Italy – invest time in your community (and they’ll return it to you later)
Italians are known for their excellent health, especially when it comes to the Mediterranean diet of good fats, pulses, legumes, and well-prepared carbohydrates.
As such, it may not surprise you that Sardinia, Italy, has many 100-year-old residents. However, the reason why could defy your expectations.
According to the Blue Zones documentary, Sardinia’s secret to long life is community care. The programme offers us an example of communities that treasure their elderly, rather than treating them as a burden.
This reverent attitude results in a totally different type of care to what we often see in the UK, including:
- Fewer care homes, with elderly individuals remaining in their homes and cared for by their close families
- Less elderly loneliness, which has been identified as a widespread issue in the UK after Covid-19, Age UK reports
- A better quality of life for older people, including home-cooked natural foods, plenty of activity, and love and support from those around them.
Although there are few scientific studies around the effects of this type of care on long life, Sardinia’s centenarians could be living, breathing examples of how remaining a central part of a community can help a person live longer and more healthily.
For us here in the UK, this could be the ideal reminder to live more like Sardinians and invest wisely in the things we care about – both financially and in our daily lives. The long-term returns you reap later could help you sustain your family’s health, wealth, and happiness.
5. Loma Linda, California – stick to your compass
Perhaps the most surprising Blue Zone featured in Dan Buettner’s study is Loma Linda. This is an area of California that is home to the Seventh Day Adventists, a sect of Christianity who are committed to community living.
The residents of Loma Linda have much in common with the people in the other Blue Zones: they exercise daily, eat mostly plant-based whole foods, and spend a huge amount of time in social groups even as adults.
On top of these variables, the Seventh Day Adventists’ secret to longevity is that they all have a compass they stick to no matter what.
In this case their compass surrounds their Christian beliefs, but if you’re a non-religious person, your compass may simply be an understanding that a certain amount of discipline can prevent you from straying into unhealthy habits.
Instilling a daily routine that consists of healthy food, exercise, disciplined financial habits, and social stimulation could make you feel more energised and confident.
Plus, later in life, these daily actions might serve you well – whether it’s having more stocked away in your savings or simply feeling stronger and fitter as you age.
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