In some parts of the world people live up to 100 years while staying active and full of energy. What are their longevity secrets?
Last updated: February 20, 2024
Longevity Secrets from Around the World
“How this tiny bone can hurt so much?” My great-grandmother, well into her 80s at that time, could not believe that a tooth could cause severe physical pain. Polashka, as everybody called her, lived a long life, good ten years or so above what was considered normal life expectancy in Eastern Europe in the 1980s.
With modern medicine and preventive care, live expectancy has increased almost everywhere in the world. But ironically, more people die from heart disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer – conditions that were not as widely spread 60-100 years ago as they are today.
Yet somehow, there are some lucky ones that live long, happy, and full lives up to their late 90s and even 100s.
Are they really that lucky?
Centenarians have been subjects of curiosity for centuries. How can people live for over a century, stay active in their bodies and young at heart while their neighbors on another island age fast and ungracefully?
Multiple studies have been conducted to dissect longevity secrets of the longest-lived people on Earth. Over the years, the researchers have identified six areas, or as Dan Buettner calls them blue zones in his series of books describing diets and lifestyles of centenarians around the world. In these six blue zones, people live longer, are happier, and even at the age of 90 enjoy health that their counterparts have in their 60s.
6 Blue Zones Where People Have Discovered Longevity Secrets
Every country in the world has its own unique secrets that allow its citizens to live longer. You can find strong elderly men and women that approach or are past their 100 year mark in rural areas of America and bustling cities of Europe.
Longevity secrets are not confined to only the six known blue zones. But segregated from the rest of the world by some geographical, economical, and cultural boundaries, a significantly larger number of people in these areas reach their ripe old age while still keeping their vitality and spiritedness.
Six villages in the heart of the Italian island of Sardinia have long been known as a hotspot for longevity. It’s not rare to meet a person here who has lived to see her 100th birthday. Their longevity secrets are a simple diet, with lots of vegetables that often come from their own gardens, daily walks, and strong family and social ties.
Nicoya, Costa Rica
Isolated from the rest of Costa Rica, the Nicosia Peninsula was one of the poorest areas of the country. Yet one of the happiest. Despite their limited resources and diet that mostly consisted of three staples – corn, beans, and squash – the people in Nicoya were the healthiest, most joyous and lived longer.
Centenarians still live in one of the sunniest and driest parts of Costa Rica. The life expectancy is 85 years, one of the highest in the world. Nicoyans live on average 7 years longer than their countrymen and nearly 9 years longer than people in the United States.
Yet gradually replaced by modern traditions, the longevity secrets from Nicoya are being slowly forsaken. This, in turn, shrinks the number of years an average Niconyan gets to walk on this planet.
Loma Linda, California
Enclaved by the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California, Loma Linda, a small community of about 9,000 people, greatly outperforms the rest of the country based on its longevity and vitality.
The community consists mostly of conservative Seventh-day Adventists that, along with their faith and deep involvement in the community, keep active and take great care of their bodies according to eight natural remedies left by Ellen G. White, one of the founders of the Church.
Isolated from the rest of the country, Ikarians have always relied on their own resources and fields to grow their own food and sustain themselves.
Unlike people in the other blue zones, the Greek islanders live more remotely, on their parcels of land, where they tend vegetables in their gardens or grow vineyards. After the day’s work is done, Ikarians usually walk to a nearby village to socialize and catch up on the latest news.
Ikaria is world-known as an island where “people forget to die”. The Ikarians live longer, stay active all their lives, and eat predominantly homemade food. You won’t find any Americanized fast-food restaurants on the island. Instead, you will be treated to authentic, mostly plant-based Ikarian dishes while dining out on the island.
Once a number 1 place with high life expectancy, Okinawa, while still one of the blue zones, rapidly diverts from its ancient traditions, brimmed with longevity secrets, to a modern lifestyle. Consequently, life expectancy decreases on this Japanese island.
In fact, a place with more than 55,000 U.S. military personnel and their families, the area reminds more of a typical American town. Popular fast-food restaurants, such as McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and Red Lobster, displace traditional Okinawan restaurants and dominate the dining scene.
As a result, the obesity level among younger people under 55 is higher than anywhere else in Japan. Cases of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes have increased as well. At this point it looks like when the current older generation that still thrives on the traditional lifestyle dies, Okinawa may cease to be a blue zone.
Despite its draconian laws that govern even the most trivial things, Singapore ranks among the healthiest, happiest, and longest-lived places in the world.
It hasn’t always been like that. A young country that was founded in 1965, at one point Singapore focused on creating a healthy and encouraging environment for its senior residents to exercise more, eat healthy, and guard themselves against depression with close social relationships.
The positive results followed quickly. Life expectancy has grown by almost 20 years. An average Singaporean lives up to 85 years. It’s 6 years longer than in the United States.
Longevity Secrets from Blue Zones
Regardless of the continent they live in, centenarians in all six blue zones share similar daily practices. They may speak different languages, but the universal language of being present, having a positive outlook, taking care of their families and communities, and staying active unites all longest-lived people. These simple principles are secrets of their longevity and enduring health.
1. Eat Mostly Plant-Based Diet
The longest-lived people all over the world rely on a mostly plant-based diet. Stir-fried vegetables, sweet potatoes, and tofu have nourished and prolonged the lives of Okinawans.
On the Greek island of Ikaria, three staples – olive oil, lemons, and herbs – have been an essential part of the daily diet for centuries. In Nicoya, superfoods responsible for the health and longevity of the locals are beans, corn, and squash.
So, regardless of the location of the blue zone on the globe, the longest-lived people all around the world consume mostly a plant-based diet, with little to no meat or fish.
2. Fast Occasionally
Restricting calories is one the proven ways to keep your body vital and live longer. While the word fast may sound scary for outsiders, people in the blue zones don’t feel deprived or starve themselves on purpose.
One of the powerful secrets of longevity is to consume the heaviest meal at midday or breakfast. The longest-lived people normally eat light dinner early in the evening. Additionally, those who belong to religious groups (most centenarians in the blue zones name faith among their main longevity secrets) often fast for extended periods of time.
In Japan, older Okinawans eat only until their stomachs are 80% full. It takes about 20 minutes for the brain to send a signal to the stomach to let it know it’s full. So by slowing down and being mindful of the food you eat, you automatically eat less. 20% of food that the Okinawans don’t let enter their bodies is a difference between losing and gaining weight.
3. Stay Active
The majority of centenarians in different parts of the world have one more thing in common – a garden or a field where they grow their food and get their healthy dose of exercise. You won’t see the longest-lived people in the blue zones going to the gym to lift weight or run on a treadmill.
Their gym is their garden or vineyard where they “work out” daily, pulling out weeds and tending their plants. The treadmill is a trail along a steep hill that leads to a village where they meet their friends. The hike is a walk in the woods or along the shoreline while foraging for wild herbs or mushrooms.
Conquering rocky terrain of the island’s hills day after day keep Greek shepherds vital and active well into their 80s and 90s. After retiring from these daily “walks”, the older Ikarians adopt new passions, such as doing beekeeping or tending vineyards.
Working in the garden or sauntering along hilly paths ensure enough daily activities, provide the body with a wide range of motion, and reduce stress.
4. Have Positive Outlook
Happiness is contagious. The world’s longest-lived people seem to master this longevity secret. You hardly see a sad or obnoxious 90-year-old. Instead, he is the center of any gathering. She is the first to invite people on a dance floor. The centenarians are the ones to wake up with the expectation of good things the day has prepared for them.
In fact, there is not such a thing as a bad day for most of the elders in the blue zones. Any harshness is a life lesson, and not a reason to live in the past or dwell on dreadful experiences or events for the rest of the life.
5. Live with Purpose
On Okinawa, or everywhere else in Japan, it’s about finding your ikigai. The older residents of the island can always explain precisely why they get up in the morning. They have a clear purpose and responsibility that makes them feel needed and motivates to pursue their earthly journey.
For some, it’s a garden that provides food for them and their families. For others, it’s a passion project such as painting, writing, dancing, or pouring their love into community by planting new trees and renovating old fences and benches.
Centenarians in the other blue zones live similar purpose-driven lives. They feel needed and are eager to lend a helping hand to their family and friends and give advice, based on their life-long experiences.
6. Keep Your Family First
The longest-lived people all over the world put their families first. In the blue zones, the older members live near their grown-up children or often in the same house. They take care of their grandchildren while the parents work and take on roles of storytellers.
Women are often in the kitchens, cooking traditional dishes they’ve eaten since their childhood and passing on the recipes to the younger generations.
7. Build Your Secure Social Network
Social support is as important as strong family connections for living a long and happy life. In the blue zones, the centenarians live side by side, share a laugh with each other often, and support their neighbors, friends that they’ve often known since they were kids, in different ways.
Studies show that socializing promotes both longevity and happiness. Laughter reduces stress and improves your resistance to disease. The more you socialize, the happier and thus healthier you are.
Cultivating strong social relationships is closely related to finding your purpose. You fight disease, stress, and loneliness through service. By helping others, you help yourself. You realize your value and find a purpose to live a longer, healthier, and happier life.