Updated 03 September 2014

People who live the longest

Ever wondered why some societies live longer than others, and why? We reveal Dan Buettner's Blue Zones with the secrets of the longest-living people and what they have in common.


While smoking, excessive drinking, stress, obesity and lack of exercise are lifestyle choices that can shorten your life, thanks to modern medicine you nevertheless have a really good chance to survive (albeit not feeling great) well into your 80s. 

But if modern medicine didn't exist, what are the factors that could see you into a healthy old age?

National Geographic writer and explorer, Dan Buettner, who studies the world's longest-lived peoples, travelled the world in search of an answer.

What he found is that the longest-living societies all share certain social, environmental and psychological factors. He calls the areas where these people live “Blue Zones”.

Read: I want to live forever - the science behind living a long, long life

According to the Beuttner in the New York Times they have the following in common: 

·         An environment  that encourages a healthy  diet and  plenty of exercise
·         Healthy relationships with other people and good psychological health
·         Looking after gardens
·         Having a spirit of cooperation
·         Easily accessible public health
·         Being valued as seniors by their families and communities  

These are the areas in the world where people live the longest, and why:

1. Okinawa, Japan

Okinawa has the world’s highest percentage of centenarians, and boasts both the highest life expectancy and the highest health expectancy on earth.

Their secrets: They spend a lot of time outdoors, tending their gardens, which provides them with exercise, sunlight and healthy food. They also have a policy of “eating till you’re 80 percent full” and no more. They also have social support, a sense of purpose in life and a positive attitude.

2. Sardinia, Italy

Sardinia is an island off the coast of Italy where especially the men have a very high life expectancy. Most of them are farmers or shepherds.

Their secrets:  Sardinians have a history of longevity, but they also follow the healthy Mediterranean diet with a lot of goats’ milk and cheese. They get a lot of exercise, but also have a lot of free time. They are very positive and have a great sense of humour.  

3. Loma Linda, California

Not far from Los Angeles, Loma Linda is home to a large group of Seventh-Day Adventists  - a religious community that focuses on a healthy lifestyle. They are vegetarians and frown on unhealthy habits like drinking alcohol and smoking.  

Their secrets:  Besides being vegetarians, Seventh-Day Adventists eat nuts, drink lots of water, get a lot of exercise and are not overweight. They emphasise the spiritual side of life and have strong family connections.         

4. Nicoya, Costa Rica

On the Nicoya peninsula, death rates among middle-aged people are remarkably low, and a man of 60 has double the chance of reaching 90 than an American man. They also have a very low cancer rate.    

Their secret: Their lifestyle encourages physical activity and they spend a lot of time outside. They get enough sleep and value family life and spirituality. Their diet consists of beans, fruit, corn and rice and the water they drink contains generous amounts of calcium and magnesium.

5. Ikaria, Greece

Ikaria lies off the coast of Turkey and boasts a large number of nonagenarians. Ikarians tend not to suffer from chronic diseases, have low rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease, and dementia is almost unknown.  

Their secrets: Ikaria has mineral springs, well known for their healing properties. Inhabitants enjoy an active lifestyle and spend a lot of time socialising. They also get enough sleep. They complement their Mediterranean diet with wild greens and a special herbal tea.

Read more:

How eating fermented foods can add years to your life
Lifestyle choices influence longevity
Scientists spot longevity gene
Mediterranean diet increases longevity in women
Can drinking donkey milk make you live longer? 

Image: Costa Rica's famous centenarian Panchita Castillo of Nicoya. Image from: The Costa Rica Star 

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