1-Page Cheatsheet: Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones

blue-zones-dan-buettnerHere’s my 1-page cheatsheet to Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones: 9 Lessons For Living Longer From The People Who’ve Lived The Longest [Amazon].

Why Blue Zones

I chose this book because #1 living longer is a strong personal interest, #2 this book is frequently mentioned in longevity journalism, and #3 you can tell Dan’s genuinely enthusiastic about the subject.

In Blue Zones, Dan explores 5 regions of the world where people live much longer than the norm. His team attempts to understand why this occurs, examining everything from diet to family structure to genealogy to culture, with a focus on field research + interviews.

From Dan’s Wikipedia entry…

Dan Buettner is an American explorer, educator, author, public speaker and co-producer of an Emmy Award-winning documentary who also holds three world records for endurance bicycling…during his bicycling trips, Buettner became interested in demographics and longevity and began his research into “blue zones,” his term for the regions on Earth with the longest life expectancy, disability-free life expectancy or concentration of persons over 100.

Lessons and Highlights

There are 5 blue zones. I’m going to focus on less-common advice unique to each region (eg, we all know eating vegetables is a good thing).

Zone 1: The Barbagia region of Sardinia, Italy

All the centenarians I met told me la famiglia was the most important thing in their lives—their purpose in life…some 95 percent of those who live to 100 in Barbagia do so because they have a daughter or granddaughter to care for them.

Maria estimated that her father drank a liter of Sardinian wine every day of his adult life, and more during festivals, when he tended to be the life of the party.

When compared to cow’s milk, goat’s milk delivers a powerful nutritional punch: One glass contains 13 percent more calcium, 25 percent more vitamin B6, 47 percent more vitamin A, 134 percent more potassium, and 3 times more niacin

Walk a lot, every day: shepherding offered the best profession. The work was neither stressful nor strenuous, but it did require miles and miles of walking a day.

Zone 2: Okinawa, Japan

“Eat your vegetables, have a positive outlook, be kind to people, and smile.” – Kamada

Sweet potatoes are a delicious way to pack in vitamins and minerals. High in fiber, vitamin A, potassium, vitamin C, and folic acid, “sweets” are also easy to prepare. Prick one with a fork, microwave it for about five minutes, and just season with salt and pepper.

Before each meal she takes a moment to say hara hachi bu, and that keeps her from eating too much.” “Hara hachi bu?” I repeated. “It’s a Confucian-inspired adage,” Craig chimed in. “All of the old folks say it before they eat. It means ‘Eat until you are 80 percent full.’

Okinawans eat an average of three ounces of soy products per day. Tofu, their main source of soy, may play a role in reducing the risk of heart disease. Greg Plotnikoff recommended that consumers select fermented soy products over nonfermented soy products whenever possible. “The medical literature demonstrates comparatively much better nutritional content in fermented soy,” he said.

“Roles are very important here in Okinawa. They call it ikigai—the reason for waking up in the morning.”

Zone 3: Loma Linda, California

We found that nut eaters also had a two-year advantage, which seemed to relate largely to heart disease.

Religion has provided Adventists with the extra nudge that seems crucial for turning intentions into habits. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” For Adventists, healthiness is next to Godliness.

Zone 4: Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

Jorge Vindas, who was with me, had interviewed about 650 seniors in Nicoya and calculated that 75 percent of the men had had sex outside the marriage. He told me that Faustino was just being Nicoyan.

The Nicoyan diet featured portions of corn tortillas at almost every meal and huge quantities of tropical fruit. Sweet lemon (Citrus limetta), orange (Citrus sinensis), and a banana variety are the most common fruits throughout most of the year in Nicoya.

Zone 5: Ikaria island, Greece

One day at work, Stamatis, now in his early 60s, felt short of breath. It seemed to be happening more and more often. He fatigued quickly. Climbing stairs was a chore. Often he was forced to put down his brush by midday. His doctor took x-rays and quickly concluded that Stamatis had lung cancer, perhaps from years of inhaling paint fumes or his three-pack-a-day smoking habit. Stamatis wasn’t sure why. Four more doctors confirmed the diagnosis. They gave him six to nine months to live. Sensing the end was near, he decided to reconnect with his religion. On Sunday mornings, he forced himself out of the house and hobbled up the hill to a tiny Greek Orthodox chapel where his grandfather had once served as a priest. When his childhood friends discovered that he had moved back, they started visiting him regularly. They would talk for hours, invariably bringing him the locally produced wine, which he sipped all day long. Today, 35 years later, he is 100 years old and cancer-free. He never went through chemotherapy, took drugs, or sought therapy of any sort. All he did was move to Ikaria.

Dr. Leriadis mentioned wild marjoram, sage (flas-komilia), a type of mint tea (fliskouni), olive tree leaf infusions, rosemary, and a tea made from boiling dandelion leaves and drinking the water with a little lemon. “People here think they’re drinking a comforting beverage, but they all double as medicine,” he said. “The panacea here is honey,” he added. “They have types of honey here you won’t see anyplace else in the world.

Your kindergarten teacher may be onto something—napping is good for you. Any time you can rest and recharge is good, but a study by the University of Athens Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who took naps had lower coronary mortality than those who didn’t. The researchers defined “regular” naps as the kind that took place at least three times a week for about 30 minutes.

The Mediterranean diet is not a creation of some doctor or nutritionist; it’s a centuries-old eating lifestyle followed by the peoples living in southern Europe and northern Africa. It differs from country to country, but olive oil, fruits, vegetables, legumes, some fish, and wine comprise the building blocks.

The 9 Overall Lessons

Lesson 1: Move Naturally

Longevity all-stars don’t run marathons or compete in triathlons; they don’t transform themselves into weekend warriors on Saturday morning. Instead, they engage in regular, low-intensity physical activity, often as part of a daily work routine.

Lesson 2: Hara Hachi Bu

Hara hachi bu—a reminder to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. Even today, their average daily intake is only about 1,900 calories (Sardinians traditionally ate a similarly lean diet of about 2,000 calories a day).

Lesson 3: Plant Slant

Most centenarians in Nicoya, Sardinia, and Okinawa never had the chance to develop the habit of eating processed foods, soda pop, or salty snacks. For much of their lives, they ate small portions of unprocessed foods. They avoided meat—or more accurately, didn’t have access to it—except on rare occasions.

Lesson 4: Grapes Of Life

Epidemiological studies seem to show that people who have a daily drink per day of beer, wine, or spirits may accrue some health benefits.

Lesson 5: Purpose Now

Okinawans call it ikigai, and Nicoyans call it plan de vida, but in both cultures the phrase essentially translates to “why I wake up in the morning.”

Lesson 6: Downshift

Sardinians pour into the streets at 5 p.m., while Nicoyans take a break every afternoon to rest and socialize with friends. Remember Ushi and her moai? They gather every evening before supper to socialize.

Lesson 7: Belong

Healthy centenarians everywhere have faith. The Sardinians and Nicoyans are mostly Catholic. Okinawans have a blended religion that stresses ancestor worship. Loma Linda centenarians are Seventh-day Adventists. Ikarians have traditionally been Greek Orthodox. All belong to strong religious communities. The simple act of worship is one of those subtly powerful habits that seems to improve your chances of having more good years. It doesn’t matter if you are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or Hindu.

Lesson 8: Loved Ones First

The most successful centenarians we met in the Blue Zones put their families first. They tended to marry, have children, and build their lives around that core. Their lives were imbued with familial duty, ritual, and a certain emphasis on togetherness.

Lesson 9: Right Tribe

Seventh-day Adventists make a point of associating with one another (a practice reinforced by their religious practices and observation of the Sabbath on Saturdays). Sardinians have been isolated geographically in the Nuoro highlands for 2,000 years. As a result, members of these longevity cultures work and socialize with one another, and this reinforces the prescribed behaviors of their cultures. It’s much easier to adopt good habits when everyone around you is already practicing them.

Fun Facts

  • Scientific studies suggest that only about 25 percent of how long we live is dictated by genes, according to famous studies of Danish twins. The other 75 percent is determined by our lifestyles and the everyday choices we make
  • Most vitamin requirements are best achieved by eating six to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Very few people do that, so probably the cheapest, least expensive multivitamin you can buy is not a bad idea to help achieve them (I’m a big fan of taking lots of vitamins, will probably write a post about it!)
  • Jeanne Calment, the documented longest-ever lived person, attributed her longevity to port wine, olive oil, and a sense of humor :)
  • As he zeroed in on municipalities that had the greatest numbers of long-lived people, he circled the area on a map with blue ink—giving rise to the term “Blue Zone,” which was later adopted by demographers

Here’s a list of all 1-page cheatsheets, and a list of all books!

Thanks – I hope that was useful! What could be added or changed or removed? Which books would you like me to read and summarize?

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.