By Anupum Pant
In his ted talk, Dan shares the story of Ellsworth Wareham, a 100 year old multi millionaire who lives in Loma Linda, California. The story goes…
One day Mr. Wareham wanted to get a fence made. And to get it done professionally, he began talks with a contractor who asked for a hefty price of $6000. This wasn’t agreeable to him. So he decided to go ahead and do the arduous task of carrying heavy wooden raw material and building it himself – all alone. The next day, he ended up in the ICU. The twist in the story comes when you find out that he wasn’t in the ICU as a patient, instead as the 100-year old heart surgeon. Dr. Ellsworth Wareham is one of the first persons to ever have performed open heart surgery and his experience still is invaluable.
At the age of 100, Wareham still does all of his own yard work and climbs up and down the stairs in his two-story home. – via FoxNews
Who doesn’t want to live a long and healthy life? It’s not as hard as you think. Of course some part of how long you live is dictated by your genes. But majority of it is dictated by the kind of lifestyle you live. This fact that 90% of the chance of you living longer is dictated mostly by your lifestyle has long been scientifically established by the Danish twin study 1996 which was a massive study with 2872 participating Danish twin pairs born 1870-1900. [Link to the paper]
Dan Buettner (Twitter handle), the founder of blue zones (an organization) is working to create a de-facto formula to help Americans achieve this lifestyle and add about a decade of healthy years to their lives.
How long will you live? To find out, depending on the kind of lifestyle you live, you can use this test to find out. (Needs registration).
In his ground breaking work with the National Geographic led him to identify certain geographical areas all across the world where people go on to live a healthy and long life – areas where the percentage of centenarians (people of age 100 and more) is unusually high. These geographical areas are said to be blue zones (the concept). Formally defined on Wikipedia as:
A concept used to identify a demographic and/or geographic area of the world where people live measurably longer lives.
The areas they identify are as follows (in the world map image below):
- Nuoro and Ogliastra provinces in the second largest island of the Mediterranean Sea – Sardinia, Italy.
- About 800 miles south of Tokyo – Northern part of the main island of archipelago of Okinawa.
- Loma Linda, California – People mostly belonging to a conservative religious group, Seventh-day Adventists.
- and others – Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Icaria, Greece.
By carefully studying how the people live in these different areas of the world, Dan Buettner has created a list of nine principles that can help you add at least 10 healthy years to your life.
Now, the principles also include a mention of certain activities that these people are hard-wired to do through their unshakable following of religious principles. These mentions in his nine principles are bound to elicit eye rolls and deep sighs by the “atheists” and “scientists” of the day. But the part to remember is that “soul”, “spirituality” etc. aren’t necessarily words that belong to a certain religion. These are a common teaching of all religions in the world and have their scientifically proven good-sides. It’s worth listening to what Dan has to say by not letting the sighs divert your attention because it’s not as trivial as hearing the word religion and turning your heads away.
It’s not about the belief in god. It’s about the hard wiring of lifestyles that has occurred among the people of blue zones due to their strong following of certain principles. It’s common among all blue zones and there has to be something good about what they do. It’s not a lie.
In the cover story of the December 2004 edition of the National geographic magazine, the article titled “Who’s best at living longest – The Secrets of Longevity” the secrets of living long mentioned are as follows:
1. Natural Movements – The people in these zones never go to the gym. Nor do they ever involve themselves in conscious exercise schedules. The concept of exercise in their culture is hard-wired like so many other things I’ll describe below. Their schedules, beliefs and the way of life push them to move naturally throughout the day to complete various activities. For instance, some like to grow gardens, other walk to work, or walk to anywhere, and others don’t have modern technological conveniences to process food, mix stuff and so on – It’s all done by hand. This involves natural and continuous movement. And that is what is required for a healthy long life.
For one, you could stop taking the elevator when there are steps (and your destination isn’t on the 80th floor). And get down one stop before your destination and walk for rest of the way. Or just walk, or bike to work, if it isn’t very far.
2. Living for a Purpose – While we may not have an exact word for it, Japanese call it “Ikigai” and the Costa Ricans call it “Plan de Vita.” Every one in their culture has a purpose they wake up for everyday. They don’t have retirement ages (a term which never existed before). They work for their purpose in life, love it and keep doing it for their whole lives. None of them are on a mission to lead a “happy life” in the future by doing the most boring thing in the present.
3. Practising Sabbath – While they love the work they do, they observe a weekly Sabbath, of about 24 hours. Remember the fourth commandment. During this time, they do not work. Despite how important it is, they push the work back to the next day. This is to assure they aren’t being slaves to money, work or something else. It also assures good time with loved ones which results in healthy relationships. Dan calls it “down shifting.”
4. Eating Slow and calorie restriction – Of course eating healthy is one thing and it’s discussed in the following principles. But eating slow is a very important concept in the blue zones. According to Ann MacDonald, an ex-editor of Harvard Mental Health Letter from (2007-2012), for the brain to register that your stomach is full, it takes about 20-30 minutes after your stomach is actually full [Citation]. Although it sounds like an urban tale, it’s actually true.
Also, Okinawan’s involve themselves in a culture of calorie restriction by reminding themselves of the confucian phrase “Hara hachi bu” – A teaching that instructs people to eat until they are 80 percent full. They also use small plates and other such practices which unknowingly and definitely reduces the amount of food intake.
5. Plant based diet – Most blue zone residents either avoid meat completely, or eat it only a couple of times in a month. It isn’t a part of their daily diet. Their daily diet mostly comprises of beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils etc. It’s important to note that their food has a spectrum of natural colours which indicates the presence of great amounts of anti-oxidants.
6. Drink Wine Everyday – Instead of involving themselves in binge drinking sessions every friday, 1-2 glasses of wine a day makes into their system through their daily diet. Usually, Cannonau wines of Sardinia.
7. Have Faith – among all of the 263 centenarians interviewed by Dan and his team, almost all (except 5 of them) belonged to some kind of a faith-group. They attend services with their faith-group on an average of one time every week. This is what probably helps them to be accountable to someone and stick to the lifestyle that keeps them going for 10 decades, and more.
8. Honouring Family – Unlike our cultures where we’ve come to a point where we warehouse our old men, and where the social equity of a person peaks at the age of 24, in blue zones the oldest people are the most respected ones. Wisdom is celebrated and the young one grow around the oldest in the family, while honouring the old. Wisdom is shared and as a base hundred years of experience goes into the tiny brains of of the little ones, and their own experience build on this shared experience.
9. Growing old together – Imagine having a friend for 100 years. Yes, that is what happens in the blue zones. People grow old together and share experiences throughout their lives. Normally this is a group of 5 very closely bonded people, outside family. These are their tribe members who are a go-to place for every trouble in their lives. Troubles are shared and minds are relatively stress-free.
I first heard about blue zones on the James Altucher show’s recent interview with Dan. In the podcast he talked about his new book The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People – which released last week. Go, buy it right away (I’m not being paid by this in any way).