Have you ever heard that you’re the perfect combination of your five closest friends? While research on this topic is sparse, the people around you indeed play a pivotal role in your behavior and choices.
We are incredibly influenced by others’ habits even if we don’t notice it, Dan Buettner, founder of the Blue Zones LLC explains in his Netflix documentary, Living to 100. It’s one reason the global blue zones create the longest-living and healthiest people. After all, they are clusters of people who live, learn, and work alongside each other.
“Health and longevity are much more a result of the right environment than it is the right behaviors,” Buettner says in a recent interview on the podcast Live Purely. “Because behaviors don’t last. Environments do.”
In Buettner’s examinations of blue zone residents, it was evident that their communities were centered around longevity-boosting habits, like physical activity, heart-healthy meals, and social interaction. The Seventh-day Adventists of Loma Linda, California—America’s only blue zone—share the same values, including spending time outdoors, participating in the Sabbath, and spending 24 hours disconnected from work and technology. In Sardinia, Italy, inhabitants walk together, often up steep hills in their village to go to church. In the sixth and newest blue zone, Singapore, older adults gather at community recreation centers and to engage in exercise. These rituals get passed down through generations and ingrained in the culture.
“Health behaviors are contagious,” Buettner says in the documentary—and there is some research to back up this claim.
A 2023 study from the University of Zurich found that couples who maintain the same habits often feel closer to one another and keep them up to ensure a positive relationship.
Similarly, a 2007 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found an individual’s obesity risk rises by 57% if they have a friend who became obese within a specific time frame, 40% if it’s an adult sibling, and 37% for a spouse.
While obesity is the result of many factors—such as genetics, medications, and social determinants of health—lifestyle habits play a role. Getting exercise and eating a nutritious diet can help stave off obesity, and therefore, communities who prioritize these habits have lower rates of obesity and associated health conditions.
The blue zones offer many lessons about aging well. Maintaining strong social connections is part of the equation as it helps strengthen an aging brain. Feeling a part of a community also helps combat loneliness and isolation which can help protect against a number of serious health conditions, including heart disease, the number one killer of adults in the U.S.
“The most actionable of these lessons is getting yourself into the right tribe,” Buettner says in the documentary. “Surrounding yourself with people whose idea of recreation is gardening or walking has a measurable impact on what your habits are.”