Lessons From the Blue Zones: Part 2

A long life should also be about an engaging life you enjoy living, expert advises
August 6, 2020 Updated: August 6, 2020

Last week, we talked about Dan Buettner’s research on the Blue Zones, the five places in the world where people are the healthiest and live the longest. It’s important to remember that our genes dictate 10 percent of our longevity and lifestyle controls the rest.

You may have already read Buettner’s best-selling books, “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest” or “The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People.” Perhaps, you are one of the more than 300 million viewers of his TED Talk “How to Live to Be 100+.”

In 2008, Buettner designed a plan with AARP to apply the Blue Zones guidelines to U.S. towns. The first chosen area was Albert Lea, Minnesota, and the plan of attack was to create a healthy environment rather than try to dramatically alter or overhaul individual behaviors. Part of the challenge of turning a community from “normal” to “health-promoting” included building newly connected sidewalks and trails that reach the downtown area, local hospitals, neighborhoods, and parks.

By adding as little as 1.7 miles of sidewalk, residents were able to cycle, skate, or walk to destinations rather than drive.

According to Buettner, 18 other U.S. cities hope to be included in the Blue Zone project, which has already been shown to help residents lower their body mass index, stop smoking, exercise more, and make healthier eating choices. Cities such as Albert Lea also save on health care costs when they adopt a Blue Zone lifestyle and focus on the ecology of wellness—which includes healthy natural foods and a more physically active way of life.

While Buettner was researching longevity in the Blue Zones around the globe, he found some interesting data. For example, in Okinawa, Japan, about 6.5 people out of every 10,000 live to age 100. In the United States, that rate is only 1.73 in 10,000.

One of their unique approaches to health is they make sure to eat something from the land and something from the sea every day. Unlike the other Blue Zones, their “longevity foods” include brown rice, green tea, shiitake mushrooms, and tofu. Researchers concluded that their lengthy lifespans are because of a healthy natural diet, as well as regular activity and movement rather than competitive exercise.

According to Buettner, vitality is the intersection of long life and active life. It’s not only living for a long time but also being able to live in an engaging way so you enjoy your life. Here are five parameters of living to which Buettner wants all of us to aim:

  • Being physically fit
  • Being cognitively aware
  • Living out our passions and values
  • Having a sense of contribution
  • Having a never-ending feeling of achievement

For Blue Zone activity, the goal is to keep moving throughout the day. That means less sitting. Your activities don’t have to be strenuous, but they should be continuous. And when it comes to food, a modified Mediterranean diet—beans (especially black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans, and lentils), fruit, honey, olive oil, vegetables and small amounts of meat, dairy products, and alcohol—seems to work best.

Buettner has reverse-engineered longevity for all of us through hard work, travel, and number crunching. Lucky for us, he’s more than willing to share his findings with anyone who is curious.

Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker, and journalist in both the U.K. and the U.S. She is the author of “The Self-Empowered Woman” blog and the award-winning memoir “One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes.” She can be reached at marilynwillison.com. To find out more about Marilyn and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at creators.com. Copyright 2020 creators.com