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Longevity-prone geographic "Blue Zones" hold clues for how to live longer, healthier lives

"Blue Zones" hold clues for how to live longer, healthier lives
"Blue Zones" hold clues for how to live longer, healthier lives 03:49

MINNEAPOLIS — Not all communities see equal outcomes when it comes to living longer, healthier lives. And it's not necessarily about diets, gyms, supplements or superfoods.

Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; the Nicoya peninsula of Costa Rica; and Okinawa, Japan. They're all dots on the globe with vastly different cultures, but one unifying bragging point. People there live to 100 at one of the highest rates in the world.

Some call them Blue Zones, and Minnesota Native Dan Buettner, a National Geographic explorer, has spent decades trying to understand them.

"They live a long time, usually into their 90s, and then they die quickly after a very brief illness. Or they just go to bed one day and don't wake up and they leave a lot left over for their heirs. So it's exactly what we want," Buettner said. "There are people who do a lot better job than we Americans do. ... If we were in class, a worldwide class of health, we'd get a D."


Buettner's new Netflix documentary and New York Times bestsellers reveal the secret recipe to longevity.

"It's really what they're not doing. They're not doing anything consciously, and there's where we get it wrong," Buettner said. "We think we can resolve to get on the right diet, the right exercise program, supplement plan, superfoods, and get healthier. But it never works."

The lifestyle secret transcends cultures, but there are common elements.

"They wake up with the sun. They usually eat a big breakfast breakfast, 'like a king,' we say. It's with their family, not sitting in front of their favorite TV show," Buettner said. "They usually work. They have growing seasons, at least two to three growing seasons a year, so they work a little bit in your garden."

Buettner said that the "superagers" are also walking outside, having spontaneous conversations with the people they bump into, having a smaller dinner, and eating mostly a whole food, plant-centric diet.

What's more, they typically have a glass or two of wine at the end of the day, going to bed soon after sunset and getting a good night's sleep.

David McLain

The cornerstones of their experience are movement and socializing, but also a sense of purpose.

"We know that people who can articulate their sense of purpose live about seven to eight years longer than people who are rudderless," Buettner said. "It's knowing what you're good at, what you like to do, and an outlet for it."

Our stateside Blue Zone — in Loma Linda, California — is driven by Seventh-day Adventists, eating Garden of Eden-inspired whole foods and resting for Sabbath on Saturdays.

Buettner says Singapore is now a man-made Blue Zone, and they did it by prioritizing walking, public transit and healthier foods.

"It's a city government saying, yes, economic vitality is important, but our people are more important," he said.

Regardless of the place, the person and the method Buettner has seen is both an effortless and beautiful way to live better and longer, where the healthiest choice is also the easiest.

"The surprise is how joyous making it to 100 can be," he said.

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