Centenarians: The Power of 9

UPDATED: May 14, 2024
PUBLISHED: May 9, 2013

"Blue Zones" are regions containing the highest concentration of people 100 or older. How do they do it?

› No. 1—Move naturally.
People in the Blue Zones didn’t set out to live a long time. It happened because their environment was set up the right way: They walk all day because they don’t have a car, and they live in a place where the grocery store, or their friend’s house, or their church, are all in walking distance. Make sure you have comfortable walking shoes, and if health is important to you, longevity researcher Dan Buettner recommends finding a place to live that will favor physical activity and connectivity.

› No. 2—Know your purpose.
Instead of a word for retirement in Okinawa, there is ikigai—why do I wake up in the morning? In Costa Rica, it’s plan de vida—reason to live. This is easily articulated for people in the Blue Zones. It’s worth about seven years of life expectancy, according to Buettner’s research.

› No. 3—Find a de-stressing ritual.
“These people have the exact same stresses we do,” Buettner says. They worry about their children, their health and financial future. But they deal with the stress through various daily rituals, including prayer, happy hour with friends or taking a nap.

› No. 4—Follow the 80 Percent Rule.
Before each meal, Okinawans old enough to recall famines recite the Confucian adage “hara hachi bu,” a reminder to eat only until they are 80 percent full.

› No. 5—Learn to love vegetables.
“In the Blue Zones, you’re eating a plant-based diet because that’s cheapest, and that’s what local recipes call for, as opposed to our society, where the cheapest foods are often the worst for you,” Buettner says. The diet is heavy on beans and nuts, with very little refined sugar. Meat consumption is limited to about five servings a month.

› No. 6—Pour a glass.
Socializing in the Blue Zones often includes a little daily drinking. The antioxidants in wine are known to reduce the risk of heart disease, certain cancers and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. To keep from outweighing the health benefits, daily intake should be limited to one glass for women and two for men.

› No. 7—Find the right tribe.
Centenarians in the Blue Zones often have a core group of friends—positive influences they committed to at an early age and stuck with throughout life.

› No. 8—Be part of a community.
“There’s a profound sense of belonging [in the Blue Zones],” Buettner says. “It’s not, I’m on my own and I’ve got to make it in this world; it’s more, I belong to this place. People around here care for me, care about me. There’s an expectation of people caring for one another. There are social constructs that are the key to happiness. A faith is often part of the belonging. Most importantly, they have very developed social networks.”

› No. 9—Put loved ones first.
A positive, committed relationship can add six years to life expectancy, according to Buettner’s research. And the more time and love you give your children, the more likely they’ll be to care for you when you need it.

Read the full story on Dan Buettner and his research on SUCCESS.com.

Josh Ellis is the former editor in chief for SUCCESS magazine. Before joining SUCCESS in 2012, he was an accomplished digital and print sportswriter, working for the Dallas Cowboys Star magazine, the team’s gameday program, and DallasCowboys.com. Originally from Longview, Texas, he began writing for his hometown newspaper at 16.