The Quad

The secrets to living longer, healthier lives

Maria Marabito, Special to the Quad

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If there were some useful secrets to a longer and healthier life, would you want to discover them? Dan Buettner did. Adventurer and author, Buettner has traveled all over the world and found specific communities where people live longer, healthier and happier lives. Buettner coined these communities as “Blue Zones” and has compiled his findings into books published by National Geographic, “The Blue Zones,” “The Blue Zones Solution” and “Thrive.” His fourth book, “The Blue Zones of Happiness,” is currently available for pre-order.

The concept of blue zones began through the work accomplished by Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain who recognized places in the world with very high numbers of centenarians, people who have lived to be at least 100 years old. Buettner built on Pes and Poulain’s work by applying their findings to “longevity hotspots” and determined specific characteristics that the blue zones shared. The five blue zones Buettner discovered where people live longer and healthier lives include Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece and Loma Linda, California. What traits do all five places have in common? The people in these blue zones all shared traits Buettner termed as the Power 9:

  1. Move naturally (no running marathons
    or weight training)
  2. Sense of purpose
  3. Routines to decrease stress
  4. 80 Percent Rule (stop eating when
    you are 80 percent full)
  5. Plant-based diet (meat is eaten five
    times or less a month)
  6. Drink alcohol regularly (1-2 glasses
    a day)
  7. Participation in a religious community
  8. Put your families first (live near
    family, have a life-partner, invest more
    time in your children)
  9. Loyal and regularly seen friends

What makes Okinawa, Sardinia, Nicoya, Ikaria and Loma Linda so much healthier than other places in the world? Buettner traveled to these places and observed what its people were doing differently:

Okinawa: Okinawa has been referred to as the land of immortals. The people there face considerably less cancer and diseases than Americans do. Okinawan women actually live longer than any women on Earth. Some things they are doing differently include relying on an almost totally plant-based diet. Okinawans also spend a lot of time gardening, staying active and being outside. Included in many Okinawan gardens are medicinal herbs like mugwort, ginger and turmeric. Most importantly though is their maintenance of lifelong friendships and family.

Sardinia: Due to their geographic and cultural isolation, Sardinians live a lifestyle similar to how their ancestors lived a century ago. Similar to Okinawans, Sardinians eat a majority plant-based diet with meat set aside for Sundays and holidays. They also place importance on family which creates lower levels of stress and depression. Most Sardinians walk a few miles a day which keeps them cardiovascularly fit. Fitting with their Italian home country, Sardinians also drink alcohol daily (one to two glasses of red wine).

Nicoya: Nicoyans’ longevity can be attributed to their strong sense of purpose in life as well as an intense focus on family and socialization. In addition, Nicoya’s water has a very high calcium content which gives its drinkers stronger bones and less heart disease. Nicoyans usually eat a light early dinner and stay active by doing physical work. They also spend a greater time in the sun which increases their vitamin D levels and leads to stronger bones.

Ikaria: Amazingly, Ikarians have extremely low levels of dementia and chronic diseases. One factor that contributes to their envious healthiness is how Ikarians are constantly moving and exercising. They also eat a Mediterranean diet which is filled with fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and olive oil. Similarly to Okinawans, Ikarians regularly drink herbal teas which can maintain your blood pressure and flush your system of extra sodium.

Loma Linda: This community, located in California, retains residents who live around ten years longer than most Americans. A community that is mostly Adventist, these Californians regularly exercise, don’t eat meat, drink plenty of water and socialize with like-minded people. Their Adventist faith works to reduce stress and strengthen their social bonds. Their strong faith also instills a sense of purpose and decreases the chance of depression.

In combination with the Power 9 traits, Buettner also researched specific ways to increase longevity, health and happiness. On his website, bluezones.com, Buettner has available a “True Vitality Test” to determine what age you will live to based on your current weight, exercise, stress level and similar information.

A “True Happiness Test” is also available to help you discover how to improve your environment to make you the happiest. Additionally, Buettner’s website features checklists for your home, kitchen, bedroom and tribe (friend group) in order to get people to make necessary changes to improve their health and in turn, increase their longevity. Below are some easy changes anyone can make to improve their overall well-being.

At home: Weigh yourself daily, own only one TV, create your own garden, own a pet (specifically a dog) and have indoor plants.

In the kitchen: Prepackage snacks into proportioned bags, use dinner plates that are 10” or smaller, remove the TV from your eating area, use hand operated kitchen gadgets and keep a fruit bowl out.

In the bedroom: Sleep at a temperature of 65 º F, face alarm clocks away from your bed, hang light blocking shades, keep a lavender plant next to your bed and remove your TV and computer from the bedroom.

Tribe: Use the quiz on his website to determine if your closest friends are positively influencing your life.

Using the research done about blue zones, Buettner has started the Blue Zones Project which involves blue zone team members going into communities and transforming the way they live, work, eat and play using the Power 9 traits. Communities such as Alberta Lea, Spencer, Waterloo and Beach Cities have experienced a decrease in obesity, smoking and BMI. These communities also saw benefits involving savings in healthcare cost and a decreased amount of employee absenteeism due to the work Blue Zones Project as done.

The project operates by implementing permanent and semi-permanent changes in areas like city streets, public spaces, schools, restaurants and companies. Communities can be a part of the project by going to the blue zones website and clicking the “Get in Touch” link to communicate their interest in the project through email.

West Chester could benefit from a program like the Blue Zones Project in terms of a more unified community, better health of residents as well as West Chester students and a possible increase in life expectancy. Blue Zones could also provide an intriguing research topic to students majoring in Nutrition or Kinesiology to discover more about the link between diet, fitness and longevity.

According to the Danish Twin Study, a person’s life span is determined by only 20 percent genetics. The remaining 80 percent is in your control. You have the power to live to be a centenarian but you have to put in the work to gain those extra years. Buettner has found the secrets; now it is your job to use them.

Maria Marabito is a first-year student majoring in English. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The secrets to living longer, healthier lives