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Beyond Netflix: Secrets to Living Like the Blue Zone

By Skye Sherman  •   October 9, 2023
•    Medically Reviewed By Dr. Christine Bishara, MD - Dec 13, 2023

Photo Credit: by cottonbro studio, Pexels.com
Photo Credit: by cottonbro studio, Pexels.com

If you’ve never heard of a Blue Zone before, prepare to get familiar with the term. Netflix recently released a series titled Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones. In this four-episode series, viewers are transported to five unique communities where people live extra long and vibrant lives.

As Healthline puts it, “Blue Zones are geographic areas with lower rates of chronic diseases and a longer life expectancy. Diet, fasting, and exercise are factors associated with Blue Zones.”

Some places with Blue Zones include Italy, Greece, Japan, Costa Rica, and the US. These unique locations are home to some of the world’s oldest people. And it’s not like these locations are magical portals to long lives or some hereditary inheritance:

“A number of studies have found that these areas contain extremely high rates of nonagenarians and centenarians, which are people who live over 90 and 100, respectively. Interestingly, genetics probably only account for 20–30% of longevity. Therefore, environmental influences, including diet and lifestyle, play a huge role in determining your lifespan,” reports Healthline.

In these seemingly magical locations, there’s less of a reliance on blood pressure, anti-anxiety, depression, heart, and cancer medications and more of an emphasis on diet, lifestyle, relationships, and activity level as a way to stay well even through old age.

It’s not about genetics or willpower but about making the right choices (like brushing and regularly flossing your teeth). People in these areas regularly live past 100 and even tend to avoid dementia in the process, so their quality of life stays high even as they age well past the global norm.

We all know that diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices such as maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking are essential factors in living long, healthy lives. But what else can our friends in the Blue Zones teach us about staying well and living beyond the normal life expectancy?

Read on to learn more about the secrets of Blue Zone living.

The basics of Blue Zone living

Of course, diet and lifestyle choices are a major part of living a long life. Some common habits of Blue Zoners include:

● Eating a diet primarily made of whole plant foods, like vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and fish (but not very much red meat). Most animal protein comes from fish and is not consumed daily.

● Avoiding too much dairy, meat, processed foods, cooking oils, fruits, and sweets in the diet

● Periodic fasting, eating at a slight calorie deficit every day, and stopping eating when they feel 80% full

● Consuming alcohol only in moderation

● Building exercise into daily life and leading active (not sedentary) lives. It doesn't even have to be strenuous and studies show that those who lived in neighborhoods where they could easily take walks were also more likely to live till 100.

● Getting plenty of sleep and sometimes taking daytime naps

● Maintaining strong social connections also play a large role in the health of the inhabitants of the Blue Zones.

But beyond these healthy lifestyle choices, what else do Blue Zone inhabitants do differently?

The secrets of life in a Blue Zone: life purpose, socializing, and relationships

Some of the other big impacts on living a long life go beyond diet and exercise, including:

● Being religious or spiritual

● Having a life purpose

● Older and younger people living together

● A healthy social network

As you can see from all of the above, one of the other main factors in how long you live is the quality and quantity of your relationships. Blue Zones are typically religious communities and people who live in these zones tend to have a strong sense of purpose to their lives.

Both of these traits are associated with a lower risk of death, which may be due to the strong network of social support, the lower rates of depression, or the higher sense of psychological well-being.

If you are a grandparent, you may want to take this as a sign to start spending more time with your grandchildren, or even moving in with your children or grandchildren! According to Healthline, “In many Blue Zones, grandparents often live with their families. Studies have shown that grandparents who look after their grandchildren have a lower risk of death.”

Don’t guilt your descendants into it, but consider being more willing to help out with the childcare and getting involved with the lives of the younger people you love. It might do you some good.

If strengthening your family relationships isn’t an option for you, don’t lose heart. Healthline also reports that your social network can have the same beneficial effects on your lifespan: “Your social network, called ‘moai’ in Okinawa, can affect your health. For example, if your friends are obese, you have a greater risk of being obese, possibly through social acceptance of weight gain.”

Blue Zones reports, “Studies have found that loneliness can increase the odds of early death by 26 percent — which is an influence comparable to smoking and greater than that of obesity. Social isolation is also associated with cognitive dysfunction and … a 50 percent greater risk of dementia. Loneliness also affects the immune system. It can increase our susceptibility to viruses, impede our ability to heal from an infection, and even reduce the likelihood of an effective immune response to a vaccine.”

As you can see, the people around you can have a major impact on how long you live, so choose wisely, and nurture the relationships that nurture you.

The secrets of life in a Blue Zone: having sex in old age

Believe it or not, another secret of Blue Zone living is enjoying a happy marriage and an active sex life even in old age.

Well+Good reports that in the Blue Zone region of Ikaria, Greece, “more than 80 percent of people between ages 65 and 100 are still having sex. Eighty percent! That’s twice as much as one 2018 study that suggested only about 40 percent of seniors aged 65 to 80 are getting busy.”

This might be partially due to fewer case of erectile dysfunction due to dietary changes. The article continues, “Good health seems to inform a longer sex life which in turn informs a longer life in general; it’s a very uplifting loop. … There’s even research pointing out that men who eat less red meat and lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains have less erectile dysfunction.”

Other studies suggest that frequency of orgasm in women was correlated to a lower mortality rate, and regular sexual encounters were linked to higher immunity. If you suffer from ED, you might need Cialis or Viagra to help you out, but it sounds like it’s high time to get busy. A vibrant sex life can also strengthen those all-important social bonds, especially with a long-term partner.

The secrets of life in a Blue Zone: a positive outlook

Another important factor to living a long life is doing so with a good mindset and an uplifted outlook.

CNBC writes, “Being emotionally aware is also a commonality among centenarians … This means they don’t bottle up their emotions, and make an effort to communicate how they feel to those around them.”

The article also shares, “Prioritizing peace and happiness is often touted for its benefits on mental health, but perhaps it can also help you live longer. Most centenarians in the longevity study had positive attitudes.”

These long-lived people were often described as optimistic, easygoing, and extroverted. Is this how others describe you? If not, start working on lightening your mental load. Do more things to seek joy every day and build the habit of looking on the bright side. Start a gratitude journal or eliminate stressors and downers in your life.

Some people who suffer from clinical depression might require antidepressants like Wellbutrin XL, Trintellix, Effexor XR to feel their best. Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional about whether this route is right for you (but keep in mind they may shorten lifespan).

Obviously, all of these efforts will also result in improved relationships and stronger social bonds, which we already know contributes to adding years to your life. As you can see, it’s a cyclical pattern of positive habits that all affect each other and combine to add more years to your life (and more life to your years).

If you want to live a long life, you’ll need to focus on making sure it’s a happy one, too.

What else can you do to live to 100? Share your ideas with us!



The purpose of the above content is to raise awareness only and does not advocate treatment or diagnosis. This information should not be substituted for your physician's consultation and it should not indicate that use of the drug is safe and suitable for you or your (pet). Seek professional medical advice and treatment if you have any questions or concerns.