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October 9, 2017

Q&A: Longevity expert explains “Blue Zones”

“Globalization is destroying longevity worldwide,” says Dan Buettner, 57.
Health is much more a function of where you live than it is of how you intend to change your individual health.
“Path to Better” Event
• What: Free event featuring human longevity expert and bestselling author Dan Buettner, who will discuss “Blue Zones,” where people live the longest and healthiest and how they achieve that.

• When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12.

• Where: Highland School’s Rice Theater, 592 Broadview Ave., Warrenton.

• Sponsor: PATH Foundation.

• Details: Mr. Buettner has written four books on the “Blues Zones” concept. Each person who attends Thursday’s presentation will get a free copy of his newest book — “The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons from the World’s Happiest People,” which will be published Tuesday.

• Registration required: Click here
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
He subsists on a whole-food, plant-based diet, exercises daily and lives in a walkable community.

Human longevity expert, bestselling author and National Geographic fellow Dan Buettner believes those and other practices he learned from more than 250 centenarians, who reside in so-called “Blue Zones,” will mean healthier and longer lives for people who adopt them.

Sponsored by the PATH Foundation, Mr. Buettner will speak about the “Blue Zones” concept and ways to incorporate it into daily life at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12, at Highland School in Warrenton.

He will appear at the second annual “PATH to Better” event, designed to inspire citizens to adopt healthier lifestyles. The foundation last year brought celebrity fitness trainer Dolvett Quince, of “The Biggest Loser” fame, to Fauquier High School for a workout with 400 people.

Mr. Buettner and his researchers have identified just five “Blue Zones” in the world, including one in Loma Linda, east of Los Angeles.

But he considers their days numbered.

“Globalization is destroying longevity worldwide,” according to the 57-year-old vegetarian and Minneapolis resident.

Specifically, “the ‘Blue Zone’ phenomenon is getting wiped out by the standard American diet. Most of the ‘Blue Zones’ areas will be gone in a decade. They’ll be like everywhere else.”

Behavioral decisions significantly influence the length and quality of people’s lives, with genetics explaining about 20 percent of a person’s chances of reaching the 90s or beyond, he says.

“The real point of my presentation is most of how long you live, most of whether or not you make it to a healthy age of 92 (today’s First-World average life expectancy), is up to you.”

Mr. Buettner’s “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest” and “Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way” have remained bestsellers, along with his book “The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People.” 

He discussed the “Blue Zones” concept and related issues last Thursday in a 30-minute telephone interview.

• What’s a “Blue Zone?”
It’s a place in the world where we know people live the longest and then we use established methodology to explain what they do to make it to 100. In the simplest terms, the “Blue Zone” concept is learning the lessons of the longest-living people.

• How did you come up with the concept?
Developed it over time. It did not really exist. It required two separate sciences — working with demographers to identify geographically-defined and statistically-confirmed areas where people lived to 100 at the highest rates, or they have the highest life expectancy.

Once you defined that, then it was finding epidemiologists and medical researchers to analyze each of these areas and finding out what they do to live a long time.

• How many “Blue Zones” have you found?
Five: Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Hojancha, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and then in the United States, among the Seventh Day Adventists, Loma Linda, Calif.

• Besides Loma Linda, the United States has no other “Blue Zones?”
Right. And Loma Linda is a little bit of a faux Blue Zone, because it’s really only the Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda, not everybody in Loma Linda.

• How did you learn about “Blue Zones?”
I hired demographers. We went back about 100 years and looked at birth records for a whole population and then follow those people for 100 years. You keep track of how many people have died, or left. You also have to account for people who moved into the area.

It’s a really involved process, and you have to look at every country in the world. So finding a “Blue Zone” is very hard. The places we give the “Blue Zones’” certification have really been carefully checked.

• Do you continue to try to identify “Blue Zones?”
No. Because I don’t think there are any left. It’s simple math. In the United States, for example, there are no more largely because of our food environment, rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. So people aren’t living a long time in America.

You have infectious disease in Africa that foreshortens people’s lives.

Africa and Europe, for the most part, are importing the standard American diet.

Globalization is destroying longevity worldwide.

You have to have three things in order to have a “Blue Zone.” You have to have a population that has an exceedingly healthy environment. And I don’t mean just clean air. I also mean a good food environment and a good built environment. Then they have to have good public health. And then they have to be rich enough to be able to avoid infectious disease.

• After reading about Ikaria and Sardinia, one might conclude we should all be living like peasants.
I know what you’re saying, but I think there are elements of their lives that we should pay attention to. Like, we get into trouble when we engineer all physical activity in your lives. People who live in these “Blue Zones” areas, they tend to still knead bread by hand and cook their own meals and have a garden out back.

When they go to a friend’s home, it’s an occasion to walk. So while they’re not going to a gym, they’re moving every 20 minutes or so. It’s not like a workout; they’re just living their life. And by the end of the day, they’ve burned way more calories than they would have in a half-hour at the gym.

They take more time for people. They’re not caught up in the hurry, the worry and the electronic gadgetry of our lives. They’re going to take time to have happy hour or eat meals with their families. And I wouldn’t call that peasant lifestyle. But I would call it a lifestyle that’s simpler and slower and higher quality.

• How has the “Blue Zones” concept changed you?
Health is much more a function of where you live than it is of how you intend to change your individual health. So I have pro-actively moved to walkable neighborhoods, with easy access to fresh fruit and vegetables and a place where I have active neighbors, who thereby influence me.

I’m not a vegan, but I’m a vegetarian. And I’m 100-percent convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that the more plants and beans and legumes you eat, the longer you’ll live and the more energetic and healthy you’ll be along the way.

• So will you made it to 100?
There’s two answers for that. The maximum average life expectancy for humans living in the First World right now is about 92. That’s kind of the known capacity of the human species.

However, life expectancy has been growing on a straight-line curve at about two years per decade. Given that I’m in my 50s now, if I make it to 92 and we’ve added two years of life expectancy for every decade, that’s four decades from now. So I should get another eight years. So theoretically, yes, I could hit 100.

• Do you believe in immortality?
No. We haven’t figured out how to make an automobile that’ll last more than about 20 years. So how are we going to make a human being, which is infinitely more complex, last 200 years, 2,000 years.

At the end of the day, we’re mammals. And the only way a species evolves is when people have children, help get those children into the next generation and then move out of the way.

I think the quest for immortality is wrong-minded. But I do believe the quest for a high-quality, healthy 100 years is within the grasp of anyone reading this. And that’s what I want to help facilitate.
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