When he’s not setting world records in endurance cycling, Dan Buettner keeps himself busy by exploring parts of the world that are home to unusually high numbers of centenarians (people who live past 100 years). The logic is that to best understand longevity, you should study the people who already have it. To do this, Buettner focuses on so-called “Blue Zones” — areas of the world that produce 10 times more centenarians than average and where life expectancy is 10 years longer. Interestingly, there are certain cultural aspects that are common to all of the Blue Zones, despite the cultures themselves being incredibly diverse. You can watch the TED Talk here or read below for our main takeaways from the talk.
Move constantly. In all of the Blue Zones he found, Buettner noticed that the geographic terrain and daily habits of local people encouraged constant movement. Instead of sitting in chairs, for example, the men and women of Okinawa get up and down from the floor upwards of 30 times a day; the houses built in Sardinia, a Mediterranean island off of the coast of Italy, are vertically built, forcing both young and old to use stairs. Time and time again, Buettner found that daily movement is key to longevity.
Belong to the right culture. The cultures and social structures of Blue Zones were specifically found to encourage longevity. For one, it looks like societies that associate age with prestige show higher rates of centenarians. In Sardinia, for example, age is equivalent to respect, and elders are revered for their wisdom. In another instance, Okinawans don’t have a word for “retirement.” Unlike western cultures that divide their lives between work and play, the Okinawans only have “ikigai,“ a word that roughly translates to, “a reason to get up in the morning.” In other words, their “work” isn’t work to them; it’s another reason to live.
Have friends! According to Buettner, isolation kills. But while loneliness shortens a life, a strong community can extend it. In Loma Linda, Calif., for example, the Seventh-Day Adventists have an extremely strong church-based community (and plenty of centenarians). Okinawans, on the other hand, are automatically born into a group of five or six lifetime friends. These friends are expected to share the good times and the bad, and often, people travel through old age with their groups.
OK, by now, we imagine that you want to transplant your life into the middle of Okinawan culture, right? However, nothing so drastic has to happen to achieve the tenets of this centenarian-encouraging lifestyle. Take a minute to examine the list; it’s perfectly possible to have all of the habits of the Blue Zone inhabitants without moving a step (well you should exercise, but you get the idea).
Image Source: Ed Shipul under Creative Commons