top of page

Can the Blue Zones model improve my early retirement?

I've just watched the documentary series, Live to 100 - Secrets of the Blue Zones, in which Dan Buettner scours the world for places where people live much longer than average. He comes up with a diverse list:

  1. Okinawa, Japan

  2. Sardinia, Italy

  3. Ikaria, Greece

  4. Nicoya, Costa Rica

  5. Loma Linda, California

Having found the locations, the next step is to look for the reasons why people from these places live much longer than the average person in other locations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he discovers some common denominators which he calls Blue Zones Power 9: Lifestyle Habits of the World's Healthiest, Longest-Lived People.

Healthy and long is exactly what I want my early retirement life to be, so the Blue Zones Power 9 sounds interesting. In addition, the people in the Blue Zones were active. Am I doing the right things to achieve that healthy, long and active retirement or should I consider making some changes? And does the Power 9 lifestyle sound like a life I'd like to lead - would it be enjoyable?

So, what are the Blue Zones Power 9: Lifestyle Habits of the World's Healthiest, Longest-Lived People?

  1. MOVE NATURALLY: This is about living in environments that constantly nudge us into moving without thinking about it, things like gardening, housework etc without using effort saving gadgets (it's not about joining the gym or running marathons).

  2. PURPOSE: The thing that makes us excited to wake up in the morning.

  3. DOWNSHIFT: Living with less stress. People in the Blue Zones have routines that shed stress.

  4. 80% RULE: Don't overeat, in fact, stop when 80% full to help maintain a healthy weight.

  5. PLANT SLANT: In the Blue Zones, meat is eaten on average only 5 times a month (and the portions are 80-110 grams or 3-4 ounces). Instead, it's lots of beans, lentils, and vegetables.

  6. WINE @5: 1-2 glasses a day with friends and/or food. But no saving it up for a big session.

  7. BELONG: Almost all the centenarians interviewed in the Blue Zones belonged to a faith based community.

  8. LOVED ONES FIRST: Committing to a life partner and keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home.

  9. RIGHT TRIBE: Research has shown that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. Surround ourselves with a social network that provide positive behavioural influences.

My first thoughts as I watched the series was that it seemed pretty obvious. Eat well, exercise/be active and have something that makes you excited to wake up for - tick these boxes and you'll live longer than people who don't do these things. But, as the list above shows, there's more to it than that. I must admit that I wouldn't have come up with nine different things, so perhaps it wasn't as obvious as I first thought. There's more to it than just eating well, exercising, and looking forward to getting up in the morning.

Despite there being more categories than I first imagined, I figured I'd score well with my lifestyle habits. To prove it, I had a go at scoring myself against the 9 lifestyle habits:

  1. MOVE NATURALLY: 6.5 out of 10. I'm giving this score because of the running, cycling, and skiing that I do, but I suspect I'm too sedentary outside of this in the moving naturally category.

  2. PURPOSE: 8 out of 10. Perhaps I've scored this a little optimistically, but I find a variety of mini purposes and I'm always looking forward to the day ahead.

  3. DOWNSHIFT: 10 out of 10. Exercise is my main routine to shed what little stress I might have.

  4. 80% RULE: 4 out of 10. Room for improvement here. I don't know that I've ever stopped eating at 80%, too often it's at 110%.

  5. PLANT SLANT: 8.5 out of 10. I eat entirely plant based, but I do want to increase my wholegrain and fruit intake.

  6. WINE @5: 0 out of 10. I haven't drunk alcohol for the last four years, but if there is a target to miss, I'm thinking this is the best one to fail on.

  7. BELONG: 0 out of 10. I'm not religious so don't belong to a faith based community.

  8. LOVED ONES FIRST: 5 out of 10. A significant reduction because I live in a different country to my kids, father, and sisters.

  9. RIGHT TRIBE: 8 out of 10. I mostly hang around with healthy and happy people.

I score 45 out of 90, so just 50% which doesn't seem so good. Before watching the Blue Zones documentary, I'd have guessed my lifestyle habits score for living healthy and long would have been in the 80-90% plus range.

I'm not going to beat myself up, but it is a reminder that it can be good to take a pause and review if there are parts of my life that I might want to tweak to further increase my health, my life expectancy and also my happiness. The Blue Zones model can be a useful tool to help me do that.

I like the idea of stopping to check whether we're on the best track - it's so easy to simply keep doing the same things, either because:

  • of apathy. It feels simplest to do tomorrow, next week or next year the same as we did yesterday, last week or last year.

  • we just don't think about it. It doesn't cross our mind to consider something different.

  • we think we're too busy to set a little time aside to ask if there are alternatives that are worth considering.

I've used (perhaps unknowingly) all those reasons at some point, and I don't think they're good reasons.

I've now been retired for seven years, and it's great. On that basis, the simplest thing is to continue without considering any changes - keep doing the same things as I'm doing now. However, that might mean missing out on something even better. In fact, I already suspect there are a couple of things I'm doing now, simply because that's what I did last year and the year before, and watching the Blue Zones documentary has also made me wonder if there are a couple of gaps that I could fill and would make my life even better. I haven't yet figured out the answers, but stopping and making time to think about them is a good way to ensure I get the most out of my early retired life.


Recent Posts

See All


I'm interested in this as well, and reading your post made me sound extra- knowledgeable when the blue zones came up in conversation with a friend yesterday. 🤣

When I was in Spain I had lentils several times and liked them, and this post reminded me that I'd intended to learn to cook them when I got home... I scored pretty well but should probably cut back on the meat in my diet.

Replying to

I'm glad to have been of assistance with your conversation!🤣

Interesting to hear that you enjoyed lentils while in Spain, and equally interesting to hear that you intended to cook with them when you got home, and then seemingly forgot. It makes me reflect how often I have an intention which then slides by the wayside. I guess that's one the of challenges with today's way of life, there are often so many distractions, many of which are completely unnecessary. I have thoroughly enjoyed the additional consciousness that I've found during my early retirement so far, but it's an area in which I still have plenty of room for growth. Who'd have thought I could get all that from the…


Nov 18, 2023

Hi David,

We just finished watching it a couple of nights ago :-)

Here's mine: MOVE NATURALLY: 6/10. Was 10/10 in my previous city location. Now I have to drive to a number of places though I did settle in the most walkable area in my region.

PURPOSE: 6/10. Needs work. I’ve only recently retired, and have lost some of that purpose.

DOWNSHIFT: 9/10 - Even at work I used to handle stress well. In retirement it’s pretty much stressing about being lazy.

80% RULE: 6/10. It’s not a common event when I feel that I have over-eaten. Though pretty sure I am more than 80% much of the time.

PLANT SLANT: 5/10. I thought about giving myself less than 50%…

Replying to

Hi Tony

Very interesting to see your scores, and that many of them are close to mine. You did much better on the wine @5 one though, absolutely nailed it!🤣

I spent quite some time earlier in my retirement worrying about the purpose thing. It still crops up with me now and then, but on balance I've made my peace with it. What helped me was accepting that purpose didn't have to be a big, altruistic thing, but so long as I was excited with my day ahead, then enough purpose must be in there somewhere. I suspect my routines and targets have helped with this, and things like my exercise, blog and even simple things like life admin have…


Hi David,

I've seen similar type shows and will definitely watch this one, thanks for sharing.

I think the biggest thing for me that all these Blue Zones has, and which leads to the long lives, is community. A recent report by WHO compared loneliness as bad for people’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day! So the "Belong" (7.) above doesn't necessarily have to be faith based, but can be a close-knit community where people have active friendship and family groups in later life, eg which could mean parents, children, grandparents and grandchildren living together in the same house. Often they have regular community and village fetes and events where everyone gets together and mucks in and helps out.…

Replying to

That's a good point, I'm sure that good sleep must benefit physical and mental health during all stages of life, and imagine that in turn would also influence life expectancy.

I don't know whether this was seen/considered by the Blue Zones researchers, but I guess that doing well on a number of the Blue Zones lifestyles habits would result in good sleep, which would then feedback into improved mental and physical health - a virtuous circle. On a personal note, I believe my sleep is better since I retired (I don't think it was disastrous before, but work stresses would certainly keep me awake more often that I would have liked).

bottom of page