A new docuseries dropped on Netflix last week called “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones”.
The series is conceived, produced, and hosted by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and New York Times Best-selling author, according to his Wikipedia page. He’s also the founder of Blue Zones LLC, a commercial organisation whose mission is to “empower everyone, everywhere to live better, longer”.
In the docuseries, Dan takes viewers on a journey across five regions in the world where people are living very long lives – but also very healthy lives, well into old age.
He visits five established Blue Zones -- Nuoro Province in Sardinia, Okinawa prefecture in Japan, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, Ikaria in Greece and Loma Linda, California and shows how these places support populations who enjoy lengthy lifespans and healthspans (more on this later).
He also explores Singapore which he identifies as a sixth Blue Zone. This is interesting to those of us urban dwellers because unlike the other five, Singapore has been “made” into a Blue Zone.
“in Singapore it's not about people trying to change their behavior nearly as much as the policies, & the environmental tweaks, & the cultural idiosyncrasies that are producing this healthy population" he says.
Indeed, Buettner’s exploration of Singapore offers insight into how Blue Zones can be engineered:
“It’s an engineered blue zone, instead of one that emerged organically like the other five,” Buettner says, noting how Singapore transitioned to an urban hub in the last few decades. “They have manifestly produced the outcome we want.”
Like many organisations promoting docuseries on Netflix, Blue Zones is a commercially savvy outfit. Go to their website and you can multitask with vigour – perhaps this is a factor in promoting longevity – by learning about centenarians in Sardinia, browsing recipes, and buying Blue Zone products which include apparel, books, “longevity foods” and other accessories.
We may not all want to live to 100 and some may balk at the term “longevity.” But the concept of healthspan (how long one lives in good health) v lifespan (how long one lives) which longevity enthusiasts like Buettner promote should be meaningful and desirable to most of us – who doesn’t want to live a healthy live until the very end? And as we build evidence on what contributes to enhanced healthspan, shouldn’t we embrace this and seek to embed its principles into the design of local places?
Blue Zones addresses this by providing services to “transform your community”
“For over 20 years, we have been on the ground in hundreds of American cities and organizations co-creating and implementing evidence-informed well-being transformation programs to create sustainable, systems-level solutions that improve population health and economic vitality” it says.
“We partner with public and private sector leaders to increase the well-being of communities leading to greater stability, reduced healthcare costs and disparities, and increased resilience.”
Many in the UK will be suspicious and perhaps cynical about this approach, but can we really afford to be so in an era of growing NHS waiting lists, chronic illness and health inequality? We ought to embrace the Blue Zone example and apply it to the development and regeneration of all of our cities, regions and localities, as it gives us real evidence on the impact our places, homes and communities have on our health.
We all deserve to live in a Blue Zone.
Listen to Locals
7 September 2023