Long and healthy lives
Good habits and good communities promote longevity
Every few years, it seems a story pops up in the newspaper about the oldest man or woman in the world, and readers eagerly parse their words of wisdom for something they can apply to their own lives.
Well, longevity expert Dan Buettner, author of the book The Blue Zones, has done all the research for you. After a marathon research trip around the world, Buettner released a second edition of his book. The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest is a completely updated version of the bestselling classic that launched community public initiatives around the country.
Buettner’s research is based on a simple principle: Living a long, healthy life is no accident. There’s no doubt that good genes play a role in how long — and how well — a person lives, but good habits and healthy communities are also integral components. Buettner came to that conclusion after he and a team of researchers traveled the world to find pockets of longevity, which he calls “Blue Zones.”
What they found by simply talking to people is that factors such as lifestyle, coping strategies, community and spirituality are just as important as diet and genetic propensities. Their stories come alive in the pages of Buettner’s book, and all of them add up to this: People live longer and healthier lives when they create the right community around themselves and when they embrace a few simple but powerful habits.
“This book is about listening to people … who live in the world’s Blue Zones,” Buettner explains in his preface. “The world’s healthiest, longest-lived people have many things to teach us about living longer, richer lives. If wisdom is the sum of knowledge plus experience, then these individuals possess more wisdom than anyone else.”
Take Nicoya, Costa Rica. About 15 years ago, a demographer documented the fact that Costa Ricans lived significantly longer lives than their peers around the world. A Costa Rican man reaching the age of 60 has about twice the chance of reaching age 90 than a man living in the United States, France or Japan. Costa Rica spends only about 15% of what the United States spends on health care, Buettner points out, yet its people appeared to be living longer, seemingly healthier lives than people in any other country on earth.
Why? Buettner takes readers through a compelling, detailed account of the research team’s trip to Nicoya, which lead to the identification of several longevity factors. Residents, he says, have a strong sense of purpose — they feel needed and want to contribute to a greater good. They drink hard water, which may explain the lower rates of heart disease. Nicoyans keep a focus on family, with centenarians commonly living with their children. They eat a light dinner, and eating fewer calories appears to be one of the surest ways to add years to your life. They maintain robust social networks, and they keep hard at work, finding joy in everyday physical chores.
Different communities have different factors that contribute to longevity, and in his final chapter, “Your Personal Blue Zone,” Buettner suggests ways to identify what could work in your community.
The book has inspired the Blue Zones Project, a nationally renowned well-being improvement initiative focused on helping communities change the places and spaces where people spend most of their time every day. (See page 1)
“The calculus of aging offers us two options,” he says. “We can live a shorter life with more years of disability, or we can live the longest possible life with the fewest bad years.
“As my centenarian friends showed me, the choice is largely up to us.”
Residents of Oregon and Siskiyou County, Calif., can get this book for free from the Select Books Program.