There are, according to explorer and educator Dan Buettner, five regions in the world where you’ll find the largest collection of centenarians. These so-called Blue Zones can be found in Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California. You may think this is down to the luck of a pool of good genes. But no. The Blue Zones residents’ longevity, Buettner told Insider, is due to an "interconnected web of characteristics that keep people doing the right things for long enough, and avoiding the wrong things."
So what are these interconnected characteristics? “None of them have better discipline, better diets, better individual responsibility, they don't have better genes than us,” said Buettner. Instead, "they live a long time because longevity happens to them.” Blue Zones residents, explained Buettner, turn healthy choices into rituals of daily life that people don't have to think about or use willpower to maintain. These people stay active each day, live with purpose, and have a well-established network of family and friends. However, said Buettner, the key to living longer and healthier is not to change your behaviours, “because that never lasts for the long run. Think about changing your environment.”
Buettner has trialled his holistic approach to healthy living in cities and towns across the United States. In 2009, he piloted his first Blue Zones Project in Albert Lea, Minnesota. The town’s 18,000 residents were pushed to do more daily movement through citywide changes that made healthy lifestyle choices easy to adopt: 16 kilometres of footpaths and bike lanes were built, and local businesses made it easier for people to buy healthy food. As a result, residents collectively shed more than 3,600 kilos of weight and smoking rates fell four percent during the first five years of the program.
Since then, dozens of US cities have tried Buettner’s ‘ecosystem approach’ to health and longevity. But, “when it comes to longevity,” said Buettner, “there's no short-term fix. There’s no pill or supplement or hormone. If you're not going to do something for years or decades, don't even bother with it.”
ABOVE Kame Ogido, 89, of Okinawa, holds a handful of edible seaweed. The Japanese island is one of the five Blue Zones.
PHOTO David McClain/National Geographic