Researchers have discovered places around the world where people constantly live past 100 years old. They call them “blue zones” and a pattern has emerged: Could a sense of belonging and social connection be the key to a long, happy life?
While it may seem obvious that we require social contact to stave off boredom, research indicates that the function of interpersonal connections goes deeper: Community can be key for increasing our health spans—the number of years we live in good health, free of chronic illness. These claims are supported by “blue zone” research conducted by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and New York Times-bestselling author, alongside a group of demographers, scientists and anthropologists. Together, they uncovered commonalities across various long-living populations around the globe: People who often live past the age of 100, also called “centenarians,” dwell in areas like Sardinia, Italy and Okinawa, Japan. According to Buettner’s research, long-living communities share these group-oriented themes:
- Belong. Almost all of the centenarians across the globe belong to some faith-based community.
- Loved ones first. Centenarians put their families first, meaning they keep aging parents or grandparents nearby, commit to a life partner, and invest in their kids.
- Right tribe. Centenarians’ social networks reinforce healthy behaviors.
Beyond these community-oriented themes, the research also referenced genetics, physical movement, moderate wine drinking, plant-forward diets, conscious eating, stress-control techniques and having purpose as contributors to long-living.
Community as a health priority
As the consequences of the loneliness epidemic become increasingly clear, and several large populations shift toward an aging demographic, society must make a concerted effort to help foster community. This includes factors such as urban planning. It’s important for consumers, policy-makers and business leaders to help build networks that increase people’s sense of belonging, prioritize familial ties and encourage healthy group activities.