‘Secrets of the Blue Zones’ on Netflix Wants to Help You Live to 100

What Are Blue Zones?

Working with various anthropologists, demographers, dieticians, and historians to find them, Buettner’s Blue Zones are individual places where people live significantly longer than the rest of the world. Buettner began by expanding on the work of demographers in The Journal of Experimental Gerontology. The Blue Zones aren’t bound by a single diet, faith, or lifestyle, but, according to Buettner, they have more in common than not.

“They’re living vibrant, active, happy lives, and perhaps the biggest takeaway is that they’re living longer without trying [to],” Buettner says in the first episode of the new docuseries, titled “The Journey Begins.”

There are a few more specific definitions of what a Blue Zone is—including one used by Michel Poulain, Anne Herm and Gianni Pes, the original demographers who coined the term—but Buettner’s definition is relatively straightforward. Per the Blue Zones official website, a Blue Zone should “show a statistically significant higher longevity compared to national levels and display various features related to their lifestyle, nutrition, genetics and both human and physical environmental conditions that might be considered as determinants for living longer and better.”

What Makes the Blue Zones Special?

Known as the Power 9, there are nine evidence-based common denominators that unite life in Blue Zones.

  1. Move naturally: According to Blue Zones lore, the people who live longest don’t abide by strict fitness schedules or engage with intense athletic activity much at all. Instead, their lives require them to move around naturally—like having to walk to a market for produce, or step outside and tend to a garden in the afternoon.
  2. Purpose: Blue Zones research suggests that purpose—known as ikigai in the Okinawan Blue Zone or plana de vida in the Nicoyan one—can add up to seven years of life expectancy.
  3. Downshift: While their methods for achieving this “downshift” are very different, all Blue Zones natives know how to destress when needed. Consistent stress can lead to chronic inflammation, which is connected to all age-related diseases.
  4. 80 percent rule: Blue Zones natives eat plenty, but they stop before they’re uncomfortably full. Okinawan Blue Zone natives live by the 2,500-year-old Confucian mantra hara hachi bu which specifies eating until you’re 80 percent full.
  5. Plant slant: The people in the Blue Zones are not vegetarian, but meat seems like more of an infrequent side dish than the star of every meal. Instead, it’s beans, lentils, fava, soybeans, and so on that make up the core of Blue Zones protein intake. According to Buettner, meat protein (which is mostly pork in the Blue Zones) is eaten about five times a month.
  6. Wine at 5: This may come as a surprise, but all Blue Zones residents, bar the Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California, drink alcohol regularly, albeit in moderation—usually just one or two small glasses of wine daily. Buettner says it’s best to do this with the company of family or friends (more on that later).
  7. Belong: According to Buettner’s research, only one out of nearly 300 centenarians interviews in the Blue Zones did not belong to a faith-based community. There isn’t a specific denomination or religion that connects the Blue Zones, but the presence of faith-based groups is common throughout.
  8. Loved ones first: Another common thread throughout the Blue Zones is a commitment to family—children housing and caring for elderly parents within their own homes, families helping young couples with child rearing, and so on. Time spent with a life partner as well as children also plays an important role.
  9. Right tribe: This basically means finding community and friendship that supports a healthy lifestyle. Because so much of our own health is dictated by our environment, it stands to reason that, should your friend group enjoy hiking and cooking healthy food for one another, you probably will too.