Be Well

Let’s Talk Blue Zones

I have been fascinated, borderline obsessed, with ‘Blue Zones’ over the past few years. Blue Zones is a  term coined by explorer and author Dan Buettner – places and spaces around the world where citizens live longer, healthier, happier lives reaching over a 100years of age 😍

In 2004, Buettner joined forces with National Geographic and the National Institute of Aging to try to “reverse engineer” longevity. The team identified parts of the world where people were living measurably longer lives, then worked to find out why people in such communities lived longer.The five original blue zones are: Ikaria (Greece), Okinawa (Japan), Nicoya (Costa Rica), Sardinia (Italy) and Loma Linda (United States)

Our near-neighbour, Singapore, is the very latest Blue Zone to be announced. Rather than a naturally occurring phenomenon based on centuries of a particular cultural diet and lifestyle, Singapore have quite intentionally engineered their way to a Blue Zone

So how did Singapore do it?

Buettner and his team identified the “Power 9” — core factors that represent the habits of the world’s healthiest and longest-living people. These nine principles are: moving naturally in everyday life; having purpose; keeping routines to de-stress; stop eating when 80% full; eating more plant-based foods; consuming alcohol moderately and regularly; being part of a community; keeping loved ones close; and being surrounded by people with healthy habits.

Building on these principles, here is how Singapore has built preventive health habits into the policy environment for the long term health of their society.

Walk don’t ride

Singapore taxes cars, petrol and the use of roads and invests heavily in walking path, bike tracks and public transport.

To buy a car in Singapore, you must first get a license to own a car, which can cost more than the car itself.

Keep loved ones close

Research shows that people in Blue Zones prioritize their loved ones and keep them nearby. Singapore’s Proximity Housing Grant financially incentivizes people to live with, or near their parents and children.

As Dan Buettner observes:

“Instead of warehousing old people in a retirement home, as we do in the United States, the older people in Singapore— they stay engaged with the family. More often, they get better care from the family, so this is all favoring the life expectancy of older people,”


Belonging to a faith-based community of some kind can correlate with longer life-expectancy, the research found. To quote Dan again,

“All but five of the 263 centenarians we interviewed belonged to some faith-based community, Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy.”

Almost 80% of adult Singaporeans are religiously affiliated, according to the Pew Research Center. Also, a 2014 Pew Research study ranked the city-state as the most religiously diverse country in the world.

Make heathy easy

Singapore has done well in making “healthy food cheaper and more accessible than junk food,” said Buettner. The country has created incentives for food establishments to provide healthier options such as brown rice and wholegrains. The Health Ministry has also created a labeling system that shows citizens which food stalls have healthier food options.

Accessible health care

Like Australians, Singaporeans enjoy universal health care which means residents have access to quality medical care, including health services such as prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care. The Singapore government has worked to create policies that subsidize health-care costs.


Its one thing to know what to do, its another to actually do it.

Singapore is known for its strict laws. The ban on chewing gum or the hefty fines for eating on public transportation are just a few interesting examples! Guns or drug offenses result in serious penalties. Overall, there is a culture of compliance to government directions, which are generally accepted as beneficial. Where Australia sits in this regard, I will leave to you to judge!

Lifestyle medicine, the driving philosophy behind Be Well’s focus on health and longevity, is the premise of all the Blue Zones around the world. Singapore shows you can engineer this into the fabric of the way a modern society lives and works.

I wonder what it would take for Hawthorn or Melbourne to be the first ‘Blue Zone’ in Australia? We need to rethink investment into a preventive health focused system in Australia to move us from ‘sickcare’ to ‘healthcare’ for ourselves, our children and future generations.

Meanwhile at Be Well we’re already living inside the ‘Blue Zone!

Here’s to living longer, healthier and happier.

See you again soon at Be Well.

Be Well is the first-of-its- kind urban health, wellness and lifestyle club in Melbourne, Australia.  Informed by the science of longevity, Be Well nurtures the relationship you have with yourself and others, to optimise your lifestyle, and live your longest, best life.