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Video Interview: The Blue Zones Recipe for a Long Life

If you were writing a recipe for a healthy lifestyle, what do you think the key ingredients would be?  Dan Buettner traveled the world for National Geographic, exploring the people and places where healthy longevity is most common.  Dan’s best-selling book, The Blue Zones, gives you his recipe for a healthy lifestyle based on what he found.  When he was presenting the keynote address at a recent professional conference I was attending, Dan graciously agreed to an interview for me to share with all my blog readers.  Here’s Part One of our conversation…

So what are these Blue Zones of the world that researchers identified where people live so healthfully so long?

  • Sardinia, an island off the coast of Italy
  • Ikaria, Greece
  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Nicoya, Costa Rica
  • Loma Linda, California (yes, there’s an American blue zone!)

Here are the nine key lessons that Dan extracted from his time with the people of the Blue Zones:

~Move naturally….People don’t “exercise”, but they walk everywhere, most garden, and they tend to continue in physically demanding work long past the age of eighty.

~Eat until you’re 80 percent full….Another way to get at portion control, maintaining a healthy weight affects a whole slew of hormones and growth factors that impact our health.

~Choose a predominantly plant-based diet…. On the surface, meals in Okinawa don’t look like anything like meals in Costa Rica or Italy, but the basic proportions of food choices are very similar.  People eat red meat only on special occasions, with day-to-day protein needs met by plant options such as beans and nuts.  Specific choices of grains, vegetables and fruits differ, but they are important parts of the diet.

~Alcohol, often wine, in moderation….We know moderate amounts of alcohol are linked with lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.  I haven’t traveled to these spots, but it sounds like these people enjoy a little alcohol in the company of others, often with a meal.  Excessive consumption or binge drinking do not sound like the norm.

~Slow down…. These cultures have through the years built into the lifestyle times for everyone to decompress and relax. For some people it’s prayer or meditation, for others taking moments to be grateful, taking naps or enjoying time with family and friends.  How we do it doesn’t seem to matter as much as that we do it.

~Loved ones first….In his book, Dan talks about how elderly people in these cultures are respected as sources of wisdom, and they live with their family members, continuing as valued sources of help in the family cycle.  It must be quite a different experience to grow old in such a culture compared to ours, where one can so often feel outmoded and less-than-useful.

~Participate in a spiritual community….It doesn’t seem to matter for health what sort of community it is, but actively participating in a faith-based community (not just being a “member”) seems to bring wide-ranging benefits.

~Identify your life’s purpose….In these cultures, people can reportedly easily articulate theirs. Knowing that you have a reason to get up in the morning and that you have a valuable contribution to make in this life makes a difference.  Finding ways to use your abilities and gifts for things about which you are passionate gives life meaning.

~Hang out with the right tribe….People in the Blue Zones often have as part of their culture the norm of belonging to social circles where you know that people have your back.  Dan Buettner urges us to look at whom we hang out with.  He says, “Proactively surrounding yourself with the right friends will do more to add years to your life than just about anything else.”

This is fascinating stuff!  Check back for the next section of our conversation, when we explore how much we can do through individual choices, and how much of longevity is community-based environment.  Dan says, “I know this is not what you wanted to hear!”, and he was right!  Check it out and join the discussion.

Meanwhile, you can go to the Blue Zones website to learn more about the project.  While you’re there, take the Vitality Compass.  It’s a short online quiz that will give you an estimate of your longevity based on your current lifestyle, and based on your answers, suggest how you might improve your habits and environment to live even longer.

Let’s talk:  Dan Buettner advises that we pick the five easiest from his list of nine longevity-promoting habits.  Which would be the easiest for you?  If you’re already working on them, what changes are you trying to put in place? Please share your thoughts!

2 Responses to Video Interview: The Blue Zones Recipe for a Long Life

  • This is such a great message! In particular, I feel that focusing on a plant-based diet is such an important goal. I traveled in Japan, which has the highest longevity rate among industrialized nations, and was delighted to discover a plant-based diet emphasizing vegetables, seaweed, tofu, and more. And in the Mediterranean I found a delicious example of a plant-based diet with strong sciencie-based associations with health benefits. The closer we adhere to traditional diets based on minimally processed, whole plant foods–whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruits–the better our health, as well as the health of the planet.
    Sharon Palmer, RD
    Author, The Plant-Powered Diet (The Experiment, 2012)

    • Karen says:

      Thanks, Sharon, for sharing your traveling experience with Plant-Powered Diets. Isn’t it fun to see how the basic concepts of focusing our eating around vegetables, whole grains, fruits, beans, nuts and seeds can be accomplished in so many different ways? And all of them delicious in their own individual ways. I look forward to learning more delicious ways to do it when your book comes out.

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