How to LIVE LONGER and enjoy doing it: Dan Buettner's Blue Zones
I had the privilege of getting to hear Dan Buettner speak yesterday at the University of Minnesota on Longevity. He's a National Geographic Fellow, writer and researcher and has published a NYT best-selling book about the Blue Zones in the world -- the geographical places where the likelihood of living to 100 and above is much higher. He studied why life is long in those places. Some of the main things: The people have a purpose that gets them out of bed each day, they eat mostly plant based diets, they belong to faith communities, they are close with family or friends who support each other and they never stop working. In one part of Japan there's literally no word for retirement. They have lifestyles or professions that keep them on their feet or moving and they are not sedentary. The other reason they live so long is because they are not lonely -- in some of these communities people are assigned to small groups of 4 or 5 people who they grow up around (not just family) who always have their back. It’s community in the purest form. Here is a screen shot from Wikipedia of the first 5 Blue Zones that Dan and his team studied:
And here is a screenshot from Wikipedia of what Dan and his team found are most common principles among people living longer:
It was so amazing to hear the research and data. With all that Dan and his team discovered, there were 9 clear principles that led to longevity so they defined them as a blue print for living better lives! It’s called The Power 9: Essentially, the top 9 life sustaining and longevity producing facets of people’s lives who live the longest. Here’s an image from Dan’s Website and you can click on image to read more about them:
With what Dan and a ton of other researchers have learned, they came up with a way to implement "Blue Zone" strategies into cities that will naturally benefit people...They work with governments and municipalities to make realistic changes that seamlessly draw the community into activity (more parks, sidewalks, and bike paths). They work with restaurants to make menus more healthful by resetting defaults (sandwiches comes with fruit, if you want fries, you have to ask). They work with zoning and policy makers to make sure there are no fast food restaurants opened near schools. In schools they have veggies first in the food line so kids load up on that first. They actively set people up into peer circles so they have a sense of belonging and community — remember, not being lonely makes for a longer life. The concept is, if you offer something, people will do it.
In Albert Lea, MN — the first Blue Zone city test project (started in 2009) they paved 7 miles worth of new sidewalks and very naturally, the community became more active. It becomes the natural/easy choice when it’s there. They opened up new restaurants downtown—an area which was dwindling. It became a destination and there were walking paths that made it easier for people to walk downtown. There are less fast food restaurants now, so fast food isn’t the “easy choice”. It’s like they are intentionally creating a mindful community and people just gravitate into it. The Albert Lea, MN project was launched almost 10 years ago — here are the current stats of community successes taken from the website I linked above:
The following progress indicators were reported by the City of Albert Lea in 2015, dating back to 2009 if the data was available. Impact of Community Design Improvements
• Added more than seven miles of new sidewalks and three miles of bike lanes
• More than a dozen businesses relocated to downtown Albert Lea
• Outdoor dining facilities created by three restaurants
• 68% increase in pedestrian traffic on Broadway from 2014 to 2015
• 38% average increase in biking and walking throughout the community since 2009
• Ranked above the national and state average for people feeling active and productive according to the July 2014 Gallup-Healthways Well Being Index®
• More than $1.5 million invested in downtown building permits since 2013
• 25% increase in property value in the downtown area
• Year-over-year increase in lodging taxes due to an increase in visitors
•Increase sales of 130.35% from the Health Market, 12% from produce, 35.31% from frozen fruit and vegetables, 52.3% from water, and a decrease of 4.66% in soda sales at the Hy-Vee grocery store from 2009 through 2015
• 18% increase in concession sales from 2014 through 2015 at City Arena after healthy options were added
• 60% increase in breakfast participation from 2014 to 2015 in schools where the Grab-n-Go breakfast program was implemented
• 17% increased participation in the Healthy Snack Cart program in the 2014 – 2015 school year
• Dan also said the community has lost a combined total of about 2 tons of weight as a result of the changes above in the last 10 years.
Blue Zones have Taken off:
The Blue Zones projects have taken off all over the country. There’s currently about 25 or more cities in the US and US Territories that are already Blue Zones or becoming Blue Zones and the results are astonishing: Less sickness, less smoking, losing weight, higher sense of purpose. Just google “Blue Zones living” or get the book!
Here’s a map of existing Blue Zones and I believe there’s 20 or more in development:
Hearing a motivational speech like that makes me take a look at my own life to evaluate where I'm winning and where I need some work. I do have a faith community, I have really great friendships, a strong connection to my family and a loving husband, a dog that keeps me moving and I meditate and work on mindfulness. Where I need to work: I don't eat enough fruits or veggies at all. And while I do have a purpose I'm passionate about, I don't feel like I work toward that every day. My soul is searching for more meaningful work connections, so hearing Dan speak was the perfect reminder that this is a key ingredient in life. I moved to Minnesota 3 years ago and most of my work still comes out of New York -- I'm in a long distance relationship with my career. I work from home and sometimes feel isolated, I don't always reach out and the true reason I get out of bed each morning is because my dog drags me out! When I have cool things to do like hear someone speak, I rise and shine and get excited. I felt so moved by what I learned yesterday, that I leaped to my computer this morning to write it all down to share with you! That’s a purpose for sure! So, here's to me doing more of these things, sharing them with my readers and finding meaningful consulting work in MN — so that I can blissfully move into my personal Blue Zone!!
Have you ever heard of Blue Zones? OR, what are some key ingredients in your life that you feel are enabling you to feel happy and like your life could last forever?? Where are areas you’d like to shift in your life/family/community? What will your next step be?? Write to me or put in comments below!!