Author + longevity guru
The fountain of youth may be real, after all….
…and Dan Buettner wants to help you find it. In his quest to determine what allows the oldest people to live longer, better, Dan has identified some common denominators in these age-defying regions he calls Blue Zones. He calls these commonalities the “Power 9″ in his best-selling book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. (Power 9 are listed after the Proust questionnaire below- #’s 3&6 might make you v. happy)
Dan initially revealed some of The Blue Zones when he wrote a cover story for National Geographic called “The Secrets of Living Longer,” which became the magazine’s 3rd best-selling issue of all time. From that, more exploration and the book were spawned, followed by countless tv interviews and speaking gigs.
There are foods and lifestyle choices that Dan cites which are accessible to us all and seem to be able to give us extra time way down the road, including goat milk, nuts and exercise. Interesting note on exercise: in this country we tend to think more is better, but when Dan and I met he said people in the Blue Zones engage in low key exercise (e.g., walking), and they commit to it regularly, whether as a function of their livelihood or by choice.
Community comes up as another important common denominator. As Dan points out, 15 years ago in the US we had an average of 3 friends; today, only 2. In the Blue Zones, strong in-person social networks exist. (sorry Facebook, it seems you won’t help us live longer.)
Dan’s Blue Zones website has tons of useful information, plus a fun and telling “Vitality Compass” – a tool that allows you to figure out your life expectancy based on your habits (it’s never too late to adjust your ways!)
What is a Blue Zone and where are the ones you found?
The Blue Zones are the geographic locations with the measurably longest-living people. We’ve revealed five so far:
Sardinia; Okinawa (Japan); Loma Linda, CA; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Ikaria, Greece
It seems every Blue Zone gets physical activity, but they don’t seem to have gyms in their towns. Can you talk about how physical activity factors in — how much and what kind of activity are people in the Blue Zones getting? Does any of it translate into activity that busy parents can work into their lives?
Many Americans exercise too hard. The life expectancy of our species, for 99.9% of human history, was about 30 years. The fact that medicine has pushed life expectancy to age 78, doesn’t mean our bodies were designed for three-quarters of a century of pounding. Muscles tear, joints wear out, backs go out. The world’s longest-lived people tend to do regular, low intensity physical activity, like walking with friends, gardening and playing with their children. The key is to do something light every day.
Most of the Blue Zones are smaller towns. Is it impossible for a city to be a blue zone?
Staying young and living long is mostly a function of your environment…and the good news is that to a great extent, we each have control over that environment. In the Blue Zones around the world, people live in places where walking is the main means of transportation; where they eat locally grown, organic produce; where there have established social norms that bring people together in supportive groups or clubs. It only takes little effort to set up your home, your social life and your work place in a way that can get up to 10 more good years out of life.
What do you think is the most egregious thing we Americans do that shortens the length and quality of our lives?
The most important thing you can do is build your own Right Tribe, which is to say you should hang out with people who support healthy habits. All of the world’s longest-lived people were born into — or consciously chose to associate with – the right people. The Framingham Studies show us that if your three best friends are obese, there’s a 50% better chance that you’ll be obese. The reverse is true too. If you dine with people who eat healthy food, you’re more likely to eat healthy food, and if the friends you spend most time with play a sport, you’re more likely to join them. As your mother said, “You’re known by the company you keep.” You’re also likely to resemble them.
Naps or rest periods during the day are a common denominator among the Blue Zone areas. Since American culture doesn’t lend itself to naps, do you have thoughts on what we could incorporate into our day that would serve the same purpose?
It’s important to take time every day to downshift. Chronic stress builds chronic inflammation which leads to premature aging. After smoking, stress is probably the most harmful thing to your body. Don’t make excuses for the stress in your life. Do something to make it better so you can be healthier, happier and around longer for those you love.
Last summer, you led the town of Albert Lea, MN, on the Vitality Project during which the town decided to make changes to their lifestyle, like walking more and serving food from the stovetop rather than at the table where second helpings can too easily find their way to plates. Have you followed them? Are the changes sticking?
The folks in Albert Lea have an amazing success story to share. They’re an inspiration to all of us. Not only are most of them sticking with the changes they’ve made, they’re taking small steps to continue to make changes, which is the whole premise of our approach to be more like a Blue Zone. Most of all, I’m impressed with their increased joy in living in their town and their gratitude for the people and opportunities they’ve had over the past year.
Can you offer up at least 3 realistic things we can do in our lives to help our longevity? (aside from sleeping longer…that one’s just impossible when you have kids of any age at home!)
I think the trend toward isolation is a mistake. Drive down any American street at 9:00 pm and you can see the greenish glow of the television or the computer in people’s window. We’ve become an increasingly isolated society. Fifteen years ago, the average American had three good friends. Now it’s down to two. We know that isolation shaves good years off of your life. Our Blue Zones work shows reconnecting with your religious community and proactively building friendships with the right people can make a big difference.
Proust Questionnaire for Dan Buettner:
My favorite snack is: a small handful of almonds
Don’t ask me to: pick up my yoga mat - I’m using it again soon anyway.
I would put in a time capsule my: photos of my children as they’ve grown up.
My favorite place is: the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota where I visit often with my father, uncles and brothers.
When I have a creative block I: send a few emails.
My favorite mantra is: “what now?”
The “Power 9″ – go to The Blue Zones website for more details:
- Move (find ways to move mindlessly, make moving unavoidable)
- Plan de Vida (know your purpose in life)
- Down Shift (work less, slow down, rest, take vacation)
- 80% Rule (stop eating when you’re 80% full)
- Plant-Power (more veggies, less protein and processed foods)
- Red Wine (consistency and moderation)
- Belong (create a healthy social network)
- Beliefs (spiritual or religious participation)
- Your Tribe (make family a priority)