The series, premiering August 30, puts faces and names to the longevity insights around eating, exercise, sleep, and socializing that Buettner has shared over the years, following his conversations with residents in every Blue Zone, as well as in Singapore, which Buettner calls a “Blue Zone 2.0:” a place where the government has instituted policies designed explicitly to promote longevity—as opposed to one where people have long embraced cultural habits that just so happen to support healthy aging (more on that below).
Spotlighted in the series are the residents of Okinawa, who regularly enjoy plant-focused meals, and of Sardinia, who scale near-vertical hills on daily walks and always make time for dinner with family and friends, as well as the locals of the Nicoyan peninsula, who are known to embrace a plan de vida, or particular life purpose, as their north star. Another episode takes Buettner to apiaries in Ikaria; and another takes him to the pickleball courts, kitchens, and worship groups of residents of Loma Linda. It isn’t until the last installment of the series that Buettner makes his way to Singapore, which he sees as the model for creating additional Blue Zones through infrastructure and policy.
“The biggest opportunity with this documentary was to harness all of the scientific research that was done on the Blue Zones and metabolize it into a gorgeous story,” says Buettner. He was thrilled to work with director Clay Jeter, who directed episodes of Chef’s Table, to bring the people of the Blue Zones to life.
“We found people in the Blue Zones, and we distilled the science of why they’re making it to 100.” —Dan Buettner, longevity researcher
Buettner hopes that by getting to hear directly from the people who live and breathe the principles of longevity on a day-to-day basis, those who watch the series will better understand how and why they live so long, and feel inspired to adopt similar behaviors. “We found people in the Blue Zones, and we distilled the science of why they’re making it to 100,” says Buettner. But the power of the show is really in its storytelling around that science. “The best way to somebody’s brain is through their heart and by telling beautiful stories that move them emotionally,” he adds.
Why Singapore is deemed a “Blue Zone 2.0” in the new Live to 100 documentary series
In initially identifying each of the five Blue Zones, Buettner found that they were places where longevity-boosting habits have been passed down through generations and ingrained in the local culture—places where the environment naturally nudges the people who live there toward the actions that promote a long life. “The big insight with the Blue Zones has been that longevity ensues over time,” says Buettner. “It’s not something you have to try to convince people to pursue; rather, it happens where the healthiest choice is the easiest choice.”
But in the series, Buettner reveals that Singapore has become a longevity hot spot in its own right by very different means—through proactive policy changes and investment in infrastructure that supports a healthy lifestyle. “It’s not the same class as the original Blue Zones, but what’s unique about [Singapore] is they engineered a Blue Zone by shaping their environment so the healthy choice was not only easy, but in some cases unavoidable,” says Buettner, who first began investigating Singapore in his reporting for a 2017 National Geographic story about happiness.
For a couple examples, Buettner points out that Singapore’s government has implemented restrictions on sugary drinks like soda and offers subsidies to food businesses for including nutritious ingredients like whole grains on their menus.
Singapore also has universal health care, the quality of which has been deemed the best in Asia by the International Trade Administration. Medical facilities are also often incorporated right into housing complexes, many of which are designed to recreate a kampung, or “village” in Malay, where people can easily co-mingle—another longevity-boosting dynamic Buettner explores in the series. The government also offers credits of up to $30,000 Singapore dollars (about $22,000) to people buying homes with or near their parents or married children to encourage familial support.
Transportation and leisure infrastructure in Singapore has only added to its longevity power: Widely available and inexpensive public transit facilitates plenty of everyday walking, and lots of recreational parks—many of which offer government-sponsored exercise classes—make it easy and pleasant to spend ample time moving your body in fresh air, says Buettner.
Taken together, these government-directed programs and policies prove that a Blue Zone is possible to engineer from scratch, says Buettner, which has far-reaching implications for making longevity accessible to more people.
2 other key takeaways from Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones
1. Romantic partnership is a recurrent feature among the longest-living people
Buettner has long espoused strong social ties as a key tenet of Blue Zones living—but in filming the series, he found that romance, in particular, may be an especially important piece of that. “Visiting Ikaria this time, I had a really big epiphany around love,” Buettner narrates in the series. “The power of happy, committed partnerships may seem obvious, but we can’t underestimate how this type of connection can lead to a longer, more fulfilled life.”
One particularly touching vignette in the documentary series highlights Panagiotis Kouloulias (96) and Aleka Mazari (81), a couple living in Ikaria. These two found love later in life, when Kouloulias was a 73-year-old widower. “When my first wife passed away, I had lost my appetite to live,” says Kouloulias in the series. “I wouldn’t talk, I wouldn’t laugh, I wouldn’t eat… I fell into pieces, and [Mazari] brought me back.”
Kouloulias and Mazari’s relationships demonstrates the power of a romantic partnership to not only boost your happiness, but also, to encourage you to partake in healthy habits, says Buettner. Research has shown that we tend to mirror the lifestyle behaviors of our partners, so if we’re romantically involved with someone who’s engaging in longevity-boosting activities all day long, there’s also more of a chance we will, too.
2. A simple snack can have a big impact on your longevity
Though Buettner identified a plant-based diet as one of the original nine pillars of the Blue Zones, he’s found in the years since that one common piece of that diet may play an outsize role in longevity—and that’s nuts, in particular walnuts. Indeed, an observational study published in 2021 that assessed mortality in nearly 100,000 people over the course of 20 years found that higher walnut consumption was associated with greater life expectancy, likely because of the nut’s high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids.
In the series, nuts get their spotlight when Buettner visits Loma Linda, where many residents are members of the Seventh-day Adventist faith and thus eat a plant-based diet for religious reasons—which undoubtedly contributes to their longevity. In exploring the diets of locals in the episode, Buettner uncovers that “it’s not just the absence of meat, but the regular presence of whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and nuts [that makes a difference].”
On nuts in particular, Buettner emphasizes the importance of eating a handful every day to up your chances of living a longer life. And if walnuts aren’t your thing, know that there are health benefits to be gleaned from all kinds of nuts, which are rich in protein and healthy fats.
- Liu, Xiaoran, et al. “Association of Walnut Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality and Life Expectancy in U.S. Adults.” Nutrients, vol. 13, no. 8, Aug. 2021, p. 2699. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13082699.
- Nakaya, Naoki et al. “Spousal similarities in cardiometabolic risk factors: A cross-sectional comparison between Dutch and Japanese data from two large biobank studies.” Atherosclerosis vol. 334 (2021): 85-92. doi:10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2021.08.037
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