A guide to living a longer, healthier life in the ‘Blue Zones’

Date: September 14th, 2022
Author: Billie Bradshaw

First off, the obvious question: What are "blue zones"? This term came from a national geographic project to reverse engineer longevity. Only twenty percent of our longevity is determined by our genes. The other eighty percent is something else.

The longest-living peoples in the world were found to live in Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; The island of Ikaria, Greece; The Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, and among the Seventh Day Adventists in the United States. Once that was discovered, the project spent the next ten years searching for the common denominators between those groups to discover what their secret to longevity is.

In his book, The Blue Zone Challenge, Dan Buettner discusses nine powerful changes that can be made to our lives that will bring us, not only a longer life, but a more fulfilling one. Some of the changes might be things we're familiar with, others are a completely new approach. Watch the full video to learn more.

And joining us now is dan buettner the new york times best-selling author and founder of blue zones it's an organization seeking to provide people with the tools to live longer healthier and happier lives thanks so much for joining us tonight dan from miami i'm delighted well in your new book the blue zone challenge you provide a four-week guide to those looking for a longer better life and that's pretty much all of us you model your guide off of so-called blue zones can you first break down for us what those blue zones are yeah so it was a national geographic project to reverse engineer longevity and because only 20 of how long you live is dictated by your genes the other 80 is something else we found the statistically longest lived places in sardinia italy okinawa japan the island of ikaria greece the nicoya peninsula of costa rica and among the seventh-day adventists in the united states here and then over the next decade we searched for the common denominators or the correlates and we believe we found a pretty convincing set of guidelines and and wisdom distilled from people who've achieved the outcomes we want and we're just clicking through some of the images of you hanging out with those clearly long-lived people in these various parts throughout the globe you begin your book by breaking down the power of nine that you described to be the habits of the world's healthiest and longest living people and these are people as you mentioned from people from greece japan costa rica what are those commonalities that you discovered in your research yeah so these are people who are not suffering from diabetes and heart disease and many of the cancers that are foreshortening our lives and you see they don't exercise as much as they live in environments where they're nudged into movement every 20 minutes or so so walkable communities they have gardens out back their houses aren't full of conveniences they have sacred daily rituals to reduce the stress of everyday life 65 of of their dietary intake comes from complex carbohydrates this is largely a whole food plant-based diet and by the way eating this way can confer about six extra years of life expectancy over eating the standard american diet so less processed food clearly now give us a sense of some of those rituals that you talked about that's intriguing to me what are those things that that help with longevity yeah so every time you're in a hurry or feel worried or stressed it triggers the inflammatory response and inflammation is at the root of every major age-related disease so in okinawa they spend a few minutes every day remembering their ancestors where they came from in costa rica what we're looking at now they tend to take a nap same with greece what we're looking at right now taking a nap uh five days a week is associated with about a third uh lower rate of cardiovascular disease and then in uh the advent just say just say prayer they tend to start their day and their meals with the prayer and that in its own way is meditation as well uh the sardinians just do happy hour which believe it or not is a good way to downshift this is sardinia right here i see and i see you know the happy hour wine cooler behind you i see you're taking your practice as well absolutely and so what do you think makes these places so special is there anything scientifically different about these blue zones you know they say they have the same genes we have they have the same level of discipline and self-control but what they have that we don't is environments that make the healthy choice the easy choice and this is the big insight because we tend to think especially with the holidays coming up that we're going to make new year's resolutions and get on a new diet and no diet in the history of the world has ever worked for more than three percent of the people after two years the reason people in blue zones are living a long time is because the the healthiest food is cheapest and most successful i'm dying to know how you suggest we inject purpose into our lives but short of moving to greece which after looking at that video i want to do you ask readers to give the plan 30 days what specific things can people do in 30 days that you think will help people live longer yeah the first i i'm not going to ask them to dip into self-control i'm going to ask them to shape their surroundings and the big thing though is to really pay attention to your immediate social circle those three or four friends that you spend the most time with we know that if your three best friends are obese and unhealthy there's a hundred and fifty percent better chance that you'll be overweight yourself so we're going to show you how to curate your social circle to have a few more friends whose idea of recreation is walking or playing pickleball uh it's eating plant-based and people who care about you on a bad day and that's probably the most powerful thing you can do for the future uh to change your healthy habits because when it comes to longevity there's no short-term fix there's no pill there's no supplement there's no superfood if you're not going to do something for years or decades it's not going to add years to your life and the blue zone challenge takes you over the course of four weeks holds you by the hand and shows you how to engineer your surroundings so you will unconsciously make the better choice all day long i have to say that with the new year right around the corner many of us are going to make resolutions to live a healthier more meaningful new year and yet so often people struggle to make that lasting change right what advice would you give someone who's looking for long-term change in the new year well it goes back again to not thinking you're going to change your behavior we never successfully change your behavior but uh shaping your environment so again we're asking the engineers surroundings not trying to change your mind not asking you to be disciplined not asking you to exert inhuman self-control well dan i've been scribbling notes the entire time you've been talking thank you dan buettner your new book the blue zone challenge is available wherever books are sold thanks for joining us hi everyone george stephanopoulos here thanks for checking out the abc news youtube channel if you'd like to get more videos show highlights and watch live event coverage click on the right over here to subscribe to our channel and don't forget to download the abc news app for breaking news alerts thanks for watching