What Are the Secrets to Living Longer?

During my summer holidays, I read an interesting book called The Blue Zones: 9 lessons for living longer from the people who’ve lived the longest by Dan Buettner.

Buettner travelled to five geographical areas around the world where people lived healthy lives for the longest time. These five areas included Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan, Nicoya in Costa Rica, and the seventh-day adventist (SDA) population in Loma Linda, California.

Throughout the book, Buettner identified several essential lifestyle habits that could explain some of their excellent health and longevity outcomes. This included things such as how people connect, how they move, how they eat, and the outlook on life that they have. Let’s break down each of these habits in more detail:

1. Prioritise the connections that you have with others.

A deep sense of belonging does seem to be especially important to people that reach 100 in the blue zones. Over 98% of those identified and interviewed said they were active participants in a faith-based community.

The denomination you are a part of doesn’t seem to matter much. However, certain faiths, such as SDA, recommend that their believers adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Attending religious services once a week can add four to fourteen years to your life. Of course, belonging is still possible without religion. Still, achieving the same level of community, regular gatherings, and belonging in non-faith-based groups can be tricky.

Being active in social circles that support healthy living is also really important. Smoking, loneliness, inactivity, unhealthy eating and weight gain are more likely if a number of your friends are also going through this.

Fortunately, happiness, connectedness and movement can also be contagious if your friends live in specific ways and you associate with them regularly. Therefore, the people closest to you can impact your long-term health and happiness, whether you want them to or not.

Finally, people that live to 100 all tend to put their families first and have strong relationships with their partners, children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren. By prioritising a close and connected relationship with your children and grandchildren, they are more likely to care for you once you are older and need their love and support. In addition, living with younger generations makes the children less likely to be sick or die young.

You can live, on average, three years longer by having a life partner. It can significantly benefit males, who are more likely to become isolated or engage in healthy behaviours such as a poor diet or substance abuse issues. For females, having a life partner can also be helpful if you have a good-quality relationship. However, single women do better than those in long-term relationships with abusive or controlling partners.

Photo by Jan Krnc on Pexels.com

2. Move regularly as part of your daily life.

Most people that live to 100 in the blue zones are not regular gym goers or marathon runners. Instead, they make moving, particularly walking, a normal part of their daily life. It may be their work on their farms and gardens, or visiting friends and families. However, regular movement does seem to help people stay healthier for longer.

Photo by Dana Tentis on Pexels.com

3. Eat lots of plants in your diet.

Beans, soy, lentils and vegetables are crucial elements of the diets of people that live to 100 in the blue zones. They don’t tend to go on strict or regimented diets but don’t eat much processed or junk food either. They usually only eat small amounts of meat about once a week.

People living to 100 in the blue zones don’t tend to overeat too much and maintain a healthy weight. One way they do this is by aiming to eat until they are about 80% full rather than 100%. This can be the difference between gaining or maintaining weight over time.

Finally, an occasional red wine doesn’t prevent someone from reaching 100. On the contrary, it can lead to more longevity for people than those who abstain entirely. If you ever do drink alcohol, aim for no more than one or two glasses at a time, and try to do this only at times when you are socialising with friends or family if you want to so that you also get the benefits of connection and belonging.

Photo by Om Thakkar on Pexels.com

4. Find and strengthen your sense of purpose, even after you have retired.

Those who lived the longest continued to feel that they had meaning and purpose in their everyday lives. The Japanese call it their “ikigai”, and the Costa Ricans call it their “plan de vida”. It gave the people in each country a good sense of their main reasons for waking up each day.

Knowing what feels meaningful to you or gives you purpose can add up to seven years of life expectancy.

Finally, people who lived to 100 in blue zones knew how to downshift, relax, and process their stress whenever it was building up for them. Conversely, people who do not learn how to effectively manage or reduce their stress when it arises are much more likely to experience more inflammation and chronic diseases over time.

Some of the strategies those in the blue zone use are:

  • Taking a few moments each day to remember their ancestors and be grateful for what they have done
  • Praying to God daily for the things that they are thankful for and the things they hope for
  • Taking daily naps
  • Trying to stop working by a specific time each day and socialise and connect with friends and family over food or a drink.
  • Spending time out in nature

Some of the secrets of longer living in the blue zones are probably genetically based. However, not all of it is. Therefore, adopting some of the above tips and strategies could add a decade or so of good years to your life.

Are there any changes you could make that wouldn’t be too challenging for you to make? If so, would there be any downsides to doing this? Conversely, what could be the potential benefits?

No matter your age, there is still time left to make some of the changes that you would like to in your life. If you do, I’d love to hear about how it goes.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist


Published by Dr Damon Ashworth

I am a Clinical Psychologist. I completed a Doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology at Monash University and a Bachelor of Behavioural Sciences and a Bachelor of Psychological Sciences with Honours at La Trobe University. I am passionate about the field of Psychology, and apply the latest empirical findings to best help individuals meet their psychological and emotional needs.

12 thoughts on “What Are the Secrets to Living Longer?

  1. I enjoyed this post. I am a recently divorced mother of two adult children was in a controlling marriage was overweight and miserable for a little over a year and a half I have lost the weight. Have my own place. Went vegan. Walk as much as I can. But I am active. One of the many things on that list in the article, sadly, is I associate with a very sm amount of people ..very sm, and usually, they are negative or busy. And sadly, I am such a social person. Still trying to figure this one out on my new journey ☺️

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the comment. It sounds like you’ve made a lot of really positive changes lately! Do you know if they have any meetup.com groups in your area? I hope that you find some more positive people that are looking to connect in your area soon


  2. Im so glad I mostly have these elements in place, it took me a long time to do that but I’m now there….I would add one more Damon ‘be true to yourself’ maybe it wont make you live longer but will make you happier

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely. It reminds me of the top five regrets of the dying post that a palliative care nurse wrote once. She said that a lot of people wished that they could have lived a life that was more true to themselves.


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