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Exploring Longevity Secrets: From the Blue Zones

What if we tell you that you can live your life to the fullest, be healthy, and also live very long? According to Dan Buettner, a National Geographic explorer-author who unearthed the “blue zones”, a few scattered parts of the world where people refreshingly live longer than the average person and are in good health without having to stick to strict diets, expensive supplements, or rigorous exercise regimes are some of the ways for doing so.

For over twenty years now, Buettner has studied these five communities: Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan, Nicoya in Costa Rica, Icaria in Greece, and Loma Linda in California. According to him, “longevity ensues” in these places because long-lived people are just simply “a product of their environment.”

In his latest book and Netflix series, Buettner circled back to those five blue zones and offered a sixth, Singapore. He shared the commonalities between these areas, which have led to the highest rates of longevity with ABC News Live.

According to Buettner, rather than the test tube or petrie dish being used to search for longevity, his group worked with demographers who identified pockets around the world with high percentages of people living between 90 and 100, without the diseases killing most Americans. Then scientists were brought in to find the common denominators or correlates.

“No matter where you go in Asia or Latin America, North America or Europe, essentially the same things are showing up over and over and over again at producing long-lived people,” Buettner says.

One of the major ones is diet. Buettner’s research found that in all of the five original blue zones, people overwhelmingly ate whole foods, plant-based diets rich in whole grains, greens, and tubers like sweet potatoes, nuts, and beans. Eating a single cup of beans each day will add four more years of life.

Exercise does play a role, but not in the way many might expect. “In blue zones, they’re not pumping iron or going to the gym,” Buettner explains. “They simply live in places where every time they go to work and on occasions they’ll walk. They have gardens out back. They don’t use all the mechanical conveniences that have engineered physical activity out of our lives.”

Perhaps most importantly, the longevity in these blue zones is not an active pursuit; rather, it “ensues” as a byproduct of the environment. Buettner has given evidence that in America, people took to seeking health and longevity through diets, supplements, and biohacking, but in the blue zones, “They don’t do any of that. Longevity ensues. They are simply a product of their environment.”

This environment does not refer only to diet and exercise but also to social interaction and community design. As Buettner mentions, “If your three best friends are obese and unhealthy, there’s about a 150% better chance that you’ll be overweight yourself.”

Singapore, what Buettner calls a “manufactured blue zone,” provides a potent illustration of how political choices at the top can produce a context in which people live a long time. It has added 25 years of life expectancy during my lifetime by subsidizing healthy food, taxing junk food and driving, cracking down on drugs, and incentivizing multigenerational housing.

Ultimately, the work of Buettner suggests that there’s no one discovery that has the overall secret to a long and healthy life. He suggests creating an environment in which the healthy choice is also the easiest, one that nudges people toward longevity without much conscious effort.

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