Healthy Mind

What the Longest-Living People in the World Do for Fun in Their Free Time

Stocksy/Ani-Dimi
If there’s one universal truth about longevity we can glean from the Blue Zones—aka the places around the world where people live, on average, the longest, healthiest lives—it’s that there’s no single magic trick for thriving into your 100's. Folks who've studied these centenarians have found that everything from what they eat to how they move and the ways in which they cultivate relationships can serve as unique building blocks within their longevity-boosting lifestyles. And, as it turns out, the leisure activities they do are no exception, bringing a set of powerful benefits for longevity all their own.

A common theme among many of these leisure activities for longevity is some sort of social component, according to Blue Zones founder Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones Challenge: A 4-Week Plan for a Longer, Better Life. And given that maintaining an active social life and finding community are two of the nine key pillars that Buettner identified across all Blue Zones, that’s not entirely surprising. “Though we tend to get hyper-focused on superfoods and certain types of exercise, there’s now a surplus of evidence showing the longevity benefits of just socializing with friends in a positive environment,” he says. “And it’s during certain leisure activities where social bonds are built and maintained, and their benefits are accrued.”

Below, Buettner shares the most common leisure activities for longevity that he’s spotted at Blue Zones around the world.

Here are 5 leisure activities common among the longest-living people on Earth

1. Playing pickleball

Because it’s low-impact, easy to learn, and often played among social groups, pickleball—the badminton-tennis hybrid that’s been having a pandemic-era glow-up—has become a beloved leisure activity among folks in Loma Linda, California, the only Blue Zone in the United States. “There’s a huge pickleball contingent there, made up of people well into their 80's,” says Buettner.

It’s easy to see how this leisure activity could double as a longevity-booster, too: Not only is it physical in nature, but also it’s a natural stress-reliever. “I see the joy that people have when playing pickleball and the community that builds around it,” professional pickleball coach Mark Renneson previously told Well+Good. “Whether it's coping with loss, dealing with health issues, entering a new phase of life, or even battling addiction, I know many people whose lives have been changed by playing pickleball.”

2. Going on social walks

You might know that taking a daily walk can bring a whole host of health benefits, including cardiovascular upsides and stress relief. But for many of the longest-living people in the world, that walk is typically social in nature. “It’s very common for people in the Blue Zones to get together and take a stroll, as opposed to strap on their step trackers and try to power-walk their steps in, like many people do here [in the United States],” says Buettner, who notes the therapeutic benefit to sharing that time with loved ones instead: “People end up chatting and working through issues with their spouse or challenges with their children while they’re walking.”

3. Gathering for high-energy parties

Though social events are common across the Blue Zones, there's perhaps no group of people who do it in a more fun, frequent, and lively fashion than the folks in Ikaria, Greece. From May to September, every couple of nights (totaling to about 90 every summer), each village hosts a community party called a paniyiri—a ritualistic festival of music, singing, and dancing arm-in-arm (most often, a heart-pumping group dance called Ikariotikos), accompanied by lots of freshly roasted goat and red wine.

“People of all ages will come together and dance from around 10 p.m. and keep it up until as late as 10 a.m. the next morning,” says Buettner, highlighting the longevity-boosting stress release that can come from getting together just to have a good time and a good meal.

4. Tending to an edible garden

Buettner has long espoused the benefits of growing your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs for longevity as a triple whammy: The act of gardening requires regular bursts of movement (think: weeding, watering, and harvesting); spending time around greenery is naturally stress-relieving; and the end result of gardening is, of course, freshly grown plants that you can incorporate into your diet. For any and all of these reasons, tending to an edible garden is one of the most common leisure activities for longevity across the Blue Zones.

5. Laughing with loved ones

We now know there’s some real truth to the phrase, “laughter is the best medicine.” Laughter is linked to lower levels of cortisol (aka the stress hormone) and higher levels of feel-good endorphins, all of which can help ease you through life’s daily struggles more effectively—a key part of living healthier, for longer. But since giggling on demand by yourself isn't necessarily the easiest or most natural thing, in the Blue Zone of Okinawa, Japan, folks gather in groups to flex their laughter muscles. “Friends and family members will circle up soon after sunrise, stand around, and just laugh,” says Buettner. “Soon, one laugh begets another laugh, and the whole group is belly-laughing.”

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