9 Secrets From People Who Live the Longest

These nine principles can add years to your life.

a happy couple of older White adults smiles as they ride their bicycles through the forest on a sunny day

Updated on July 11, 2024.

The secrets to a long healthy life may not be as elusive as they seem. In 2024, an estimated 101,000 Americans lived to be at least 100 years old. That number is expected to rise to more than 420,000 in 2054, according to projections from the U.S. Census Bureau.

So, what might these people be doing that we aren’t?

Dan Buettner, National Geographic Fellow, bestselling author and the creator of the Blue Zones, traveled the globe to identify the places in the world with the highest populations of people living beyond 100 years of age. He dubbed these places “Blue Zones.” These locations include:

  • Sardinia, an Italian island in the Mediterranean Sea
  • Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
  • Ikaria, Greece
  • Loma Linda, California
  • Okinawa, Japan

Common themes among the Blue Zones include these nine principles. These pillars of a long, healthy life are known as the Power 9 principles.

Your Guide to the Power 9

Move naturally

The benefits of regular exercise are seemingly endless. Physical activity boosts weight loss, improves mood and more, but you don’t have to rush to the gym or run a marathon to reap these benefits. Instead, residents of the Blue Zones allow their environments to help them move in the garden, washing dishes and more.

Live with purpose

Let’s face it, going through the motions of your day-to-day life can be exhausting, and even a bit boring. Luckily, something as simple as finding your sense of purpose can add up to seven years to your life. And that’s not all. A sense of purpose can improve your heart health and protect your brain from disease.

Looking for simple ways to find your purpose? Decide what you’d love to do most, set specific goals, and meditate.

Destress

We all experience stress—even people who live in Blue Zones. Not all stress is bad, but chronic stress can take a toll on your health, leading to conditions like depression, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Take a page out of the Blue Zones book and find a way to decompress.

The Sardinians, for example, enjoy happy hour to relax, while Ikarians take a nap. If you’re feeling stressed, take a walk, try meditating or spend time with your family and friends.

Follow the 80 percent rule

About three out of four American adults are considered overweight or obese. Excess weight is linked to higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers, all of which shed years off your life. It can be hard to manage portion sizes and understand hunger cues. 

One approach: For a longer life, eat until your stomach is about 80 percent full—you should not feel hungry, but you shouldn’t necessarily feel full either.

Take a plant slant

Plant-based diets are a popular in the Blue Zones, but you don’t have to live in these regions to reap the benefits of a veggie-rich diet. On average, people in Blue Zones eat five small servings of meat, primarily pork, per month. Rather than eating meat, they load their plates with plant-based proteins, like beans and lentils. People who eat less meat have lower rates of heart disease, the leading cause of death among both men and women in the United States. 

Imbibe in moderation

Are you a lover of a nightly glass of wine? Moderate drinking—categorized as one daily drink for women and two for men—has been linked to longevity. Studies suggest that moderate drinkers live longer than those who drink more heavily and even those who don’t drink at all.

That said, health experts caution against starting drinking to try to reap health benefits. In other words, if you don't already drink, it's probably healthier not to start. If you do drink, keep your intake to a moderate level. 

Belong

Faith is an important part of life in Blue Zones, regardless of denomination. Members of faith-based communities—a group of individuals who unify around a specific religious or spiritual belief—who attended services four times each month can expect to add between four and 14 years to their life. 

Take care of loved ones

Those with close-knit families may be destined to live longer. The most successful members of these Blue Zones are married (which can up your life expectancy by three years), live near aging parents and grandparents, and invest time in their children.

Socialize

A motivational speaker named Jim Rohn famously professed that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Research suggests he might be right.

Take the Okinawans, for example, who create small groups—called moais—that are committed to one another for life and tend to share the same healthy behaviors. Spending time with people who smoke, are unhappy, or have unhealthy eating habits will make you more likely to do the same.

Article sources open article sources

Schaeffer, Katherine. U.S. centenarian population is projected to quadruple over the next 30 years. Pew Research Center. January 9, 2024.

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