One of the most fascinating books I’ve read this summer is Dan Buettner’s “Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People”. Buettner, a National Geographic Explorer at Large, is no lightweight. His research is data-driven and exceptionally well documented. For all this, his premise is amazingly simple: travel to the five areas of the world with the healthiest, longest-living people, find out what they eat, how they eat it, and who they eat it with.
The Blue Zones are a who’s who of happy and healthy populations the world over:
Loma Linda, California
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Not only do these areas have a much higher concentration of centenarians than anywhere else on the planet, they also have a precipitously lower rate of heart disease, cancer, dementia, and diabetes.
So how do they do it?
Buettner outlines the similarities he found across all five of the Blue Zones. Not surprisingly, it starts with food.
1. Eat Whole Food. Local, homegrown, organic food is a staple of virtually every population on this list. The tendency was to eat whole foods from plant sources as a majority of the diet.
95% of food comes from plants, including whole, sprouted grains, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats
daily helpings of legumes
small servings of fish
plenty of fermented foods
very little meat (once or twice a week, serving size no bigger than a pack of cards)
very little dairy
even less sugar
It’s important to note this was the everyday norm. It didn’t include holidays or special occasions (remember the 80/ 20 Rule)
2. Move. Exercise Daily. Walk. Run. Jump. Play.
3. Have a Sense of Purpose. Research shows that having a ‘plan de vida’, as the Nicoyans say, translates to greater happiness - and greater longevity - in every population.
4. Relax. Daily meditation, naps, or simply relaxing with friends are a foundation of each of the Blue Zones.
5. Wine at 5. One to two glasses a day with friends and/ or with food. Data shows that moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers (as Buettner points out, “No, you can’t save up all week and have 14 drinks on Saturday!”).
6. Find Your Tribe. Community can’t be overstated; we are social animals, after all. The world’s longest living people surround themselves with people who are like-minded and supportive.
7. Family First. Parents, grandparents, and children live nearby or in the home, and are a cornerstone of daily life. Though this one may be tricky for many of us in our modern lives, it’s an important reminder to stay in touch, keep your friends close, and your family closer.
Buettner's beautiful conclusion is that people around the world age gracefully by living simply and enjoying the journey. Eat well, stay active, have a purpose, practice balance, surround yourself with people you love…. if ever there was a common sense prescription for living long and well, this may be it.