The #1 Best Blue Zones Rule for Living to 100, from the World’s Expert

Updated: Jun. 28, 2024

Renowned longevity expert Dan Buettner shares how to nourish your body, mind, and soul for a fulfilling journey to 100...and beyond.

Man on top of a mountain photographing volcanoes in Sao Miguel, Azores
© Marco Bottigelli/getty images

At some point, we’ve all wondered how long we’ll live—and how to enjoy those years with vigor and health. For me, this topic hits close to home. Having lost both my parents by the time I was 28—my father, a family doctor, in a tragic accident during his daily bike ride, and my beloved mother, a nutrition coach and fitness teacher, who passed from pancreatic cancer 12 years later—I often find myself wishing they could have experienced the fullness of a century. They were deeply in love, prioritized their health, had six kids (three of us who became physicians, like our dad), and they cherished life. Fate had other plans.

As my fiancé and I prepare to start our own family, my journey has fueled an interest in aging and longevity. After binge-watching the Blue Zones docuseries on Netflix, I was excited for the chance to interview the host and founder of the Blue Zones, Dan Buettner. Buettner is a renowned explorer and the New York Times bestselling author of The Blue Zones Secrets for Living Longer and seven other Blue Zones books.

Buettner’s exploration of the Blue Zones—regions in the world where people live exceptionally long and healthy lives—offers groundbreaking insights into longevity. His research not only brings to light the lifestyles of centenarians but also provides practical tips for those of us aiming to join their ranks.

How to live to 100

1. Here’s the #1 food for longevity:

blue zones best food longevity beans
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Buettner’s number one diet recommendation might surprise you: Beans. That’s right, the humble bean takes the crown in the quest for a longer life: “Consuming just a cup of beans daily is linked to an increase of about four years in life expectancy,” Buettner says.

This is because beans are a fantastic source of protein as well as the much-needed dietary fiber that many Americans lack. Moreover, beans are packed with various micronutrients that are essential for health.

Buettner prefers the homemade touch when it comes to his personal bean preparation. His go-to recipe? The Blue Zones minestrone, a staple in his daily diet (and in the diet of the world’s longest-lived family, who reside in Sicily and reportedly eat minestrone for lunch every day). This simple yet nutritious dish represents a perfect blend of longevity-boosting ingredients, like tomatoes and chickpeas.

Beans, however, are just one part of the equation. Four other key pillars form the foundation of every longevity diet globally. Buettner says these include:

  • whole grains,
  • an array of greens and garden vegetables,
  • nutrient-rich tubers like sweet potatoes (in the Netflix series he says he’s particularly a fan of purple sweet potatoes),
  • and a variety of nuts.

This range of foods provides nutrition like vitamins, antioxidants and fiber that can keep the system young.

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2. Here’s the #1 exercise for longevity:

blue zones best exercise
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Stepping into physical activity, Buettner’s top exercise recommendation for a long and healthy life is delightfully straightforward: Walking. He notes a data point from his research: “If you’re sedentary right now, you can raise your life expectancy by about three years by just walking 20 minutes a day.”

While walking holds the prime spot, Buettner says other activities can increase lifespan, too. He encourages adding different forms of exercise to your routine as long as they motivate you to get moving, whether it’s strength training, a gentle yoga session, or a dance class. The goal is not just to move but to find joy and consistency in the movement, making it a sustainable part of your journey toward longevity.

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3. Here’s the #1 sleep tip for longevity:

blue zones best sleep longevity
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Buettner’s observations from the Blue Zones reveal a consistent pattern for sleep: The importance of a regular bedtime routine. He notes that the world’s longest-living populations “tend to go to bed early and are not watching TV before bed.” In these communities, the bedroom is reserved for just two purposes: Sleep and intimacy, making a tranquil and undisturbed sleep environment important.

Buettner says he sleeps in a completely dark room, free from the intrusive glow of electronics or outdoor lights.

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4. Here’s the #1 mental health tip for longevity:

Best Ways Friends For Decades Maintain Their Bond
Flashpop/getty images

Buettner’s top advice for nurturing mental health and enhancing longevity is to be selective about your social circle. “I would say upgrade your circle of friends,” he says. “Most Americans do not have three friends they can count on [on] a bad day.” He says making a new friend who has a positive outlook to your immediate social network can increase your chances of happiness by 15%.

Buettner also mentions the intricate connection between diet, mental health, and social interactions. He points out that a lack of dietary fiber is a significant driver of anxiety. Many neurotransmitters, like serotonin, which influence our mood, are synthesized in the gut. A fiber-rich, plant-based diet feeds the gut bacteria essential for this process.

Here’s where friends play a vital role again: Our eating habits are often influenced by those we spend time with. Therefore, he suggests having friends who follow a healthy diet rich in plants can indirectly boost mental health, even apart from their loving support.

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5. Here’s the #1 relationship tip for longevity:

Multi generational family standing around barbecue
10'000 Hours/Getty Images

Buettner’s recommendation for fostering relationships that contribute to longevity is deeply rooted in family values: “Invest in your family,” he says. In particular he advocates for keeping aging parents close: Placing elderly parents in retirement homes can potentially reduce their life expectancy by two to six years, depending on the circumstances.

He adds that in the Blue Zones, many people work to provide for their families. This mindset, where one’s motivation is deeply intertwined with the welfare of loved ones, plays a significant role in longevity.

Buettner also notes the importance of investing in your partner. The practice of nurturing intimate relationships is evident in the Blue Zones, where staying married is a common trait. The correlation here has been backed up by research: Coupled individuals generally have a longer lifespan.

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What is the biggest takeaway in how to live to 100?

The unifying principle in unlocking the secret of living to 100, as Buettner suggests, lies in a blend of environmental adaptation and the pursuit of ‘Ikigai’—a Japanese concept often described as the reason you wake up in the morning.

The Ikigai approach centers on reshaping your surroundings, rather than solely focusing on changing personal habits. While individual behavioral changes tend to wane over time, an environment that subtly nudges you toward healthier routines can have a profound and lasting impact. This method involves incorporating easy-to-maintain habits into your daily life: Engaging in regular physical activities, residing in a walkable community, consuming a diet abundant in whole, plant-based foods, and nurturing meaningful social connections.

By thoughtfully modifying your environment to support these practices, you’re laying the groundwork for a life rich in health and longevity. And when you intertwine this with the pursuit of your Ikigai—your life’s purpose, or the joy that drives you each day—no matter what fate has in store, you’re moving toward a life that’s deeply fulfilling.

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