The 5 things you should know about those who live longest

The good news is that, on average, people are living longer than ever. The sad news is it’s not everyone and not everywhere.

Yet there are places across the world where people are thriving well into their 100s – healthy and free from the conditions we’ve come to expect with older age. And these communities have much to teach us about what it takes to add healthy years to our lives.

These remarkable ‘living longer’ communities were identified by a major research project from National Geographic. Its leader, Dan Buettner, discovered 5 communities – he calls them Blue Zones – from around the world where people are living some of the longest, healthiest, happiest lives.

Having identified them, Dan and his research team went on to study the lifestyles of those living there. What they discovered offers valuable lessons for the way we live – in community and individually.

But first a caveat. What the research picked up was that the people were not trying to live longer. It was all about the way they naturally lived. Which points to the need for social change generally.

However, that doesn’t stop each of us hearing, learning and acting. So here’s the essence of what each of the 5 Blue Zones communities reveal about adding years to the life God has given us.

1.They eat less meat

This was a discovery from Sardinia, Italy, which is the home to the Earth’s longest living men. Here the common diet is heavy on plants, fish and pulses. With meat not that often on the menu.

Along with what is eaten is the setting in which it happens – often in a family or social setting. Lots of friends and social engagement fights stress and so reduces heart disease, strengthens resistance to infection and keeps our minds sharp.

2.They exercise without thinking about it

This is a lesson from Ikaria, Greece. It revealed people living longest are not those who take time out to exercise full-on. Rather they live in a setting that nudges them into moving every 20 minutes or so without making decisions to do so.

That’s how it is for those on this small Grecian island. The lifestyle, even for the very oldest, involves days of gardening or often walking to meet friends.

3.They have less stress

This take out is from Nicoya, Costa Rica. Here those living into their hundreds have grown up with strong social connections, with lots of visitors. Again, it’s not about doing things; taking action to destress. It’s about a social environment generates less stress in the first place.

4.They have a sense of purpose

This one comes from the community of Loma Linda, California – where the 9,000-members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church there comprise its core. Like so many churches they serve those around them and offer many opportunities for people to volunteer.

This infuses the community with those who have a sense of purpose – a meaning for their lives – with all the life-extending benefits that come from it.

5.They are part of a ‘tribe’ that is healthy

Here it was Okinawa, Japan – where women live longer than anywhere else – which offered the revelation. The community is very united, made up of groups of friends dedicated to each other for life.

It happens because parents cluster their children in groups of five, and send them through life together. These ‘tribes’ commit to providing financial support to others if they are in need. This offers the emotional security that comes from knowing others are always there for you.

And a little more

What might the learnings from the Blue Zones mean for us – those in our active retirement years? I’d suggest, two things.

First, there are great benefits from living a life that matches, as closely as possible, the characteristics of these 5 Blue Zones. Eating more veggies and less meat, keeping active as part of our daily life, minimising stress, having a sense of purpose, and enjoying supportive ‘tribal’ relationships.

Actually, there is a little more to take on board. Researcher Dan Buettner, also notes these long-living communities share some other characteristics. Those who drink wine, are part of a faith community and invest heavily in family relationships – keeping their elderly relatives close and giving their children lots of time and attention – live longer than those who don’t.

Second, any part we can play – actively, politically, or socially – to encourage and enable the communities we are part of to adopt a Blue Zones way of living will reap benefits for those who come after us.

Of course, social change like that takes time. But it has to start at some time and somewhere. And what a great legacy to leave.

Want to explore this some more and add some years to your life? Then head for the website of Blue Zones. It’s full of helpful advice for you and your community – and even has a three-minute online test on your life expectancy.

If this blog has helped you please share it using the links below. Thank you.

Peter Meadows

Peter is AfterWorkNet’s Programme Director. He’s still working part time in his 70s, helping churches and resourcing inter-church initiatives. This is alongside enjoying his eight grandchildren, escaping to Spain and spending his kids’ inheritance.



  1. Great. Food. ! (1) My wife was a domestic science teacher! Also I was child/youth of wartime rationing generation (1934-1952) Balanced diet (2) Exercise (cross country compulsory at Ulverston Grammar School) since youth; so 3-5 mile walk two or three times a week (3) At end of each day commit my/our cares to the Lord. “Do not let the sun go down upon your wrath”(4) Consider others and serve where possible. My wife, like me, 86 this year, not only takes Meals on Wheels (sometimes I go along) but organises rota of delivery for the area. Often we deliver to folk ten years younger than ourselves. My wife serves on a PCC, Standing Committee, and other church related groups;Presides over a W.I., etc. I, myself, am still physically and mentally active taking a church service once or twice a month; and seek to be a help-meet and encourager to my wife. (5) And I am an advocate of living in small, rural towns, as here in Cumbria, close/within reach of medical centre, shops, bus route(s) where one is known if only by sight; NOT in big, noisy, polluted conurbations.

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The word retirement is not even in the Bible. What is taught in scripture is transition. There is nothing that says you work most of your life and then get to be selfish for the next 20 years

Rick Warren, PurposeDrivenLife