These places offer an interesting opportunity to figure out the explanations for people being able to survive in greater proportions, and presumably in better health, than most of us can currently expect to do. Genetics probably explains about one-third of this, as Caselli and Luy note, but are there lessons beyond "choosing your parents well" that can benefit the rest of us? Dan Buettner has become a successful writer of NYTimes bestseller books by trying to answer that question and his latest book, The Blue Zones Solution, offers the recipes (both figuratively and literally):
No one thing explains longevity in the Blue Zones. It's really an interconnected web of factors--including what we eat, our social network, daily rituals, physical environment, and sense of purpose--that propels us forward and give life meaning. But food is at the center of that ecosystem, and food may be the best starting point for anyone seeking to emulate the health, longevity, and well-being found in the world's Blue Zones.Buettner then summarizes those major components of health and well-being and provides what amounts to a cookbook of 77 recipes (and, no, I don't think that there is any magic in that number!) that emphasize a diet that is largely, but not necessarily exclusively, vegetarian, emphasizing things like beans, lentils, and nuts--along with a glass or two of wine with dinner. This is essentially what we typically call a "Mediterranean diet."
Diet is an important thing to change in our lives, but there are other elements to this potentially healthier lifestyle, as described by Buettner. His list of the "Power Nine" includes (1) moving naturally (natural exercise, rather than a forced workout at a gym), (2) having a sense of purpose in life, (3) trying to limit stress in your life [and see this piece in today's Washington Post for more on this topic], (4) stop eating when you are 80 percent full, (5) have a diet with a "plant slant", (6) have one or two (but no more than that) glasses of wine in the evening with friends and/or food, (7) choose your friends carefully (you can do that, even if you couldn't choose your parents) because friends reinforce both good and bad behavior, and (8) commit to a life partner and have them come first in your life. In a very real sense, these are words to live by.