by Kim Keller
I recently stumbled upon an article on a technology website — don’t ask me how I got there — called “12 TED Talks That Every Human Should Watch.” Since I’m human and I hate to miss anything that sounds so important, I decided to check it out.
There were lots of fascinating topics. But, given that I write about health issues, I was particularly drawn to the talk by Dan Buettner called “How To Live To Be 100+” (you can watch it below). Buettner is a National Geographic writer and explorer, and a New York Times best-selling author. He founded a company called Blue Zones, which is dedicated to helping people live longer, happier lives. In partnership with National Geographic and the National Institute on Aging, Blue Zones began a quest to locate and study cultures that seemed to have already found a formula for longevity.
Buettner claims that lifestyle is the key. He says that, based on his research, “10 percent of how long the average person lives, within certain biological limits, is dictated by our genes. The other 90 percent is dictated by our lifestyle. So the premise of Blue Zones is, if we can find the optimal lifestyle of longevity, we can come up with a de facto formula [for a longer life].”
So the search began for what Buettner calls “Blue Zone cultures” — communities where the inhabitants live consistently long lives. The first one they found was a tiny area in the highlands of Sardinia, a small island off the coast of Italy. The second was discovered 800 miles south of Tokyo, on the northernmost tip of the main island of Okinawa, Japan. The third Blue Zone was found in Loma Linda, a small California town located about halfway between Los Angeles and Joshua Tree National Park. Buettner explains that his editor at National Geographic insisted on finding an American Blue Zone, which brought their team to Loma Linda, where they “found America’s longest-lived population, among the Seventh-Day Adventists . . . [who are] conservative Methodists.”
Once these three communities were pinpointed, the research teams looked to unravel their secrets, and found — surprisingly, given the geographic diversity — nine common denominators:
1. Move Naturally — There is no high-impact aerobics for these folks. Instead, the people who live in these communities have built regular movement into their lives — they walk a lot, ride bikes, use the stairs, garden . . . you get the idea. Natural movement is just a part of their everyday existence.
2. Downshift — They take time each day to slow down and reflect on something positive and larger than themselves, even if it’s just for 15 minutes a day. Dan Buettner explains that stress and a hectic pace can set off what he calls “inflammatory responses, which is associated with everything from Alzheimer’s disease to cardiovascular disease.”
3. Sense of Purpose — Each day when they wake up, the residents of these communities seem to have a clear mission for their lives. Each person is different, but the core value is the same: to have a meaningful purpose and to actively live out that personal mission.
4. Drink a Little Bit Every Day — Yes, that’s right, a glass of wine is good for your health. (Some of us already knew that one!) Of course, the key is moderation.
5. Plant-based Diet — This doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a vegetarian, but just allowing for a predominance of fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts is one’s diet.
6. Eat in Moderation — They all had strategies for not overeating. For example, using smaller plates for portion control, or not keeping food on the table while eating (serve the food, then put it away). Mindful eating is the key.
7. Loved Ones First — Our bonds matter, and families come first in these communities.
8. Belong — These communities are all grounded in a spiritual base. According to Buettner, research indicates that belonging to a faith-based community, such as going to church or temple, is “worth between four and 14 extra years of life expectancy if you do it four times a month.”
9. Right Tribe — This is thought to be the most significant distinguishing feature: surrounding yourself with people who are positive forces in your life. A supportive community — whether you are born into or seek it out — is essential to good health and long life.
For me, these nine “guideposts” for better and longer living are terrific reminders of how I should be living my life. I like the direction they provide. Like most people reading this blog, I haven’t been able to commit to living this recommended lifestyle in a full and uncompromising manner. However, now, for example, I will be a little more committed to my recent transition to a plant-based diet. But, on the other hand, I doubt this knowledge will stop me from having that second glass of wine. It did make me appreciate the importance of my friendships, though, and it also introduced me to a new and valuable concept: having purpose in my life is beneficial to my health. I like that. That moves me.
I should mention that there were two more Blue Zones discovered by Buettner’s team — in Nicoya, Costa Rica, and in Ikaria, Greece. Not surprisingly, researchers found that the nine keys to a longer and healthier life held true in these communities as well.
The lesson? Keep your body moving, find peace, have purpose, eat mindfully and treasure your connections with family and friends. Stay the course, and chances are good, according to Dan Buettner, that you’ll have a long, vibrant life.
Kim Keller is the Co-Founder of In Care of Dad. She lives and works in New York City.