Blue Zones: A Review of the Netflix Documentary

10-second takeaway: This Netflix documentary tackles Blue Zones, areas of the world with the highest life expectancy. There are common themes of purpose, good nutrition, physical activity in daily routines and community, which we can embrace for ourselves and our patients.

There are places in the world where living to 100 is not just common, it’s expected.

In the Netflix documentary Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones, author Dan Buettner explores five areas of the world where communities live remarkably longer, more vibrant and happier lives. These areas are known as Blue Zones- but what can we learn from these communities?

In this article, we look at four key Blue Zone takeaways that healthcare professionals can apply to themselves and their patients for richer, longer and more fulfilled lives. 

Blue Zone takeaway 1: Outlook – Finding your purpose

Blue Zone communities shared a clear value of purpose; from the Okinawan concept of ‘Ikigai’, which refers to purpose of both the mind and body, to ‘plan de vida’ (reason to live) from Costa Rica’s Nicoya, these communities embrace purpose in their daily lives

Establishing a purpose and a strong will to find meaning has been shown to sustain health and well-being. Research has suggested that establishing your purpose can improve health outcomes including life expectancy, satisfaction, and mental and physical health. Purpose also brings critical motivation and serves as an important component of healthy identity formation.

Blue Zone takeaway 2: Eat Wisely – Establishing a varied and nutrient-rich diet

Blue Zone inhabitants embrace variety and diversity on their plates, with a combination of nutrient-rich foods. This opposes the common notion that ‘superfoods’, a marketing term with no medical definition, are responsible for optimised health and longevity. This is also backed up by the literature, with the consensus that no single food is so nutritious that it should be referred to as a ‘superfood’.

While the nutritional aspect is fairly straightforward, the documentary does tackle a controversial topic: alcohol. Or, more specifically, red wine. There are some existing studies that suggest light to moderate wine intake is associated with reduced mortality, and it is a component of the Mediterranean diet which is considered to be one of the healthiest dietary approaches. 

However, there are very few studies available assessing alcohol and longevity, and it’s important to note that binge drinking has an inverse relationship to longevity and increases mortality. In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) states that no amount of alcohol is safe and declares alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen, clearly identified as a cause for some of the most common cancers. The documentary states that it is the high quality grapes found in some of these areas that create “better quality” wine higher in polyphenols, but the World Health Organisation have stated that any beverage containing alcohol, regardless of its price or quality, poses a risk of developing cancer.

Blue Zone takeaway 3: Move Naturally – Improving health through movement

The health benefits of physical activity are well-understood, but an interesting observation across the Blue Zone communities was a common practice of regular movement and exercise within their natural environment. This included squatting, bending and balancing during gardening and engaging core stability and improving cardiovascular health through daily walks on steep paths in their local villages. In support of this, research has suggested a link between everyday movements/activities and successful aging with social and productive activities shown to improve health, increase longevity and provide a sense of engagement in life.

The documentary highlighted that that there is currently an over-reliance on technology and transport to complete tasks previously done by hand, such as housework, cleaning or making food. Activities that move the body naturally, without the requirement of exercise equipment, can also contribute to a sense of purpose and open opportunities for connection and time with others. Natural everyday movements that often go unnoticed could be implemented into daily routines to improve health and longevity, for example taking the stairs rather than the lift or escalator.

Blue Zone takeaway 4: Connect – Creating and maintaining supportive relationships

The centenarians within Blue Zones all maintain strong relationships and connections, providing an effective support system that boosts longevity. Research has shown that there is a strong link between enhanced social relationships, particular those that involve leisure activity, and better health in older adults. High-quality couple relationships are also linked to high levels of overall wellbeing, while a lack of stable relationships is linked to health complaints and mortality rates. Humans have a fundamental need to ‘belong’; our evolutionary past demonstrates the importance of establishing and maintaining relationships for increased survival. Taking time to connect and interact with others can be an enjoyable experience while also benefitting your health and wellbeing.

Summary

This is an enjoyable and informative documentary to watch. There are some clear principles that we can all incorporate into our lives and encourage our patients to pursue, especially evidence-based approaches like physical activity, community and nutrient-rich, diverse diets. 

Of course, this documentary serves as an observation of Blue Zone inhabitants, so we can’t say for certain whether mimicking their daily routines would have the same impact on our lives and our patients. Some advice is potentially misleading for viewers, such as alcohol being categorised as a core element for longevity. 

Overall, this is an insightful and wholesome documentary with some beneficial take aways, demonstrating that “the things that make you live longer, are the things that make like worth living”.

Key takeaways

  • Blue Zones are areas of the world where people live the longest, which has sparked interest into what we can learn about longevity, fulfilment and vitality
  • There are some takeaway principles that we can use for ourselves and our patients, which include purpose, diverse and nutrient-rich diets, physical activity built into everyday routines and nurturing relationships
  • Overall the Blue Zones Netflix documentary is an entertaining watch and raises insightful questions about the impact of modern lifestyles on our health

Written by Charly Kelly (Sheffield Hallam University Nutrition and Dietetics Student)

 

Looking for more high-quality lifestyle medicine education? Make sure to explore our free CME-accredited webinars and the latest series of our Nutritank podcast.

 

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