Increasing Life Expectancy by Learning from Blue Zones

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The final episode in the Netflix Series “Live to 100 – Secrets of the Blue Zones” asks whether we can change our future based on the wisdom gained from the Blue Zones. These unique pockets where a high concentration of Centenarians exist provide a template for the rest of us to consider our lifestyles and what we could be doing differently in order to live a long and healthy life.  

Common Themes Amongst All The Blue Zones

Move Naturally

People who live in Blue Zones experience a vast amount of exercise in their day-to-day activities. They walk, garden, and do their own household chores. They don’t have to spend hours in the gym because they expend a significant amount of energy with unconscious movement. 


Eating in the Blue Zones is often a social gathering, and people enjoy delicious foods. Staples tend to be plant-based, wholes foods like grains, greens, sweat potatoes, nuts, beans, teas…even wine. People who live in Blue Zones don’t mindlessly overeat processed, high sugar foods. 


People who live in the Blue Zones put family first and value the elderly. They get together often with their social circle. They gather, laugh, dance, and enjoy time with those they love.


Those living in the Blue Zones value a work/life balance. They work hard but also take the time to rest, relax and unwind. They often have a strong faith and a purpose, even in their later years. 

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So, the question becomes ‘can we adopt these practices in our communities and change the health trajectory and life expectancy?’ The Blue Zone Project has set out to do exactly that across the country.

Communities Adopting Blue Zone Practices

Albert Lea, Minnesota

This community set out to methodically change their environment. The experiment split the city into groups and then challenged them to walk together for the next 10 weeks. Nearly half of all these friendships lasted after the experiment. The city set up volunteer groups. They added gardening, healthy restaurants and healthy grocery stores. They created walking paths and bike lanes around the local lake and towards downtown. The result added 3.1 years to life expectancy for the town. 

Fort Worth, Texas

The city set out to make permanent or semi-permanent changes to the environment, so the healthy choice is the easy choice. Childhood Obesity rates dropped 6% and it was estimated that the city saved $250 million dollars in projected Health Care Costs. 


Singapore provides another example for how to use Blue Zone wisdom to change our society. Less than a generation ago, Singapore was a fishing village with a lower-than-average life expectancy. Over the last few decades, it has recreated its society and the environment to produce one of the happiest, richest, and healthiest places on the planet with the highest life expectancy, possibly creating a future Blue Zone.

How Did Singapore Do It?

Singapore teaches us that we can shape healthy behaviors through policy and by incentivizing people to adopt healthy behaviors.

The government determined that peoples’ diets weren’t healthy and comprised of junk food, fast food, oils, and sugars. So, the government took action and….

Subsidized the production of brown rice to make it more affordable and accessible.

Capped the amount of sugar allowed in soda.

Created a program for vendors to offer and advertise healthy choices.

Prioritized funding for public transportation, so it is very convenient to use. Wherever you live, you can walk to a train station in 15 minutes resulting in 50% of the population using public transportation compared to 5% in the USA.

It’s expensive to purchase and drive a vehicle in Singapore so that only 11% own vehicles compared to 80% in the USA. This causes people to walk more and rely on public transportation, which increases daily activity and fosters engagement.

Sponsors exercise programs that build community, friendship, and connection.

Provides a Proximity Housing grant for parents and children who live close together, which provides a healthy living environment for the elderly in the community.

Imposes severe penalties for drug usage.

Singapore has learned that policy is critical to creating the environment that can make transformational changes to overall health and longevity

Identifying where Blue Zones exist is helpful, but applying this wisdom into our own communities and lives is where the power lies. Ask yourself ‘what simple things can I implement into my life from the four Blue Zone themes to improve my longevity?’ If you hold a position in government, start to examine and alter the policy in your city or state to promote more healthy behaviors. Not only will you save money in the long run for your region, but more importantly you will create happier and healthier residents. 

Previous Blogs In This Series:

The Okinawan Way to Health and Longevity
The Italian and Loma Linda Way to Health and Longevity
The Greek & Costa Rican Way to Health and Longevity

Yours in health & fitness,
Sherri McMillan


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