If you are looking for a Fountain of Youth, forget pills and diet supplements. Adventurer Dan Buettner has visited four spots on the globe where people live into their 90s and 100s and outlines how they add years of good life in his new book, “The Blue Zones.”
The answer, Buettner says, includes smaller food portions, an active lifestyle and moderate drinking.
Buettner identifies four hot spots of longevity: the mountainous Barbagia region of Sardinia, an island off the coast of Italy; the Japanese island of Okinawa; a community of Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, Calif., about 60 miles (100 kilometers) east of Los Angeles; and the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica, in Central America. (The term “Blue Zones” takes its name from the blue ink Belgian demographer Michel Poulain used to circle an area of long-living Sardinians on a map.)
What Buettner found in his seven years of research and travel were common denominators among the vigorous super-elderly — close family relationships, a sense of purpose, healthy eating habits. He distills them into what he calls the Power Nine that readers can use to create their own Blue Zone.
“Picking half a dozen things off of this á la carte menu, and sticking to it, is probably worth eight to 10 (extra) years for the average American. And you’ll look younger and feel younger on the way,” says Buettner, a tall and lean 48-year-old who says he hopes to live until at least 100.
Buettner turned to probing the secrets of the longest-living cultures after leading three long-distance bicycle expeditions — from the tip of North America to the tip of South America; across the United States, Europe and the Soviet Union; and across Africa — in the 1980s and 1990s. He also used the Internet to take classrooms on interactive quests to solve everything from the collapse of ancient Mayan civilization to human origins in Africa.
Buettner made his first expedition to Okinawa in 2000 and eventually wrote a National Geographic cover story, “The Secrets of Long Life,” in November 2005. That led to National Geographic publishing “The Blue Zones” this March. The book debuted at No. 15 on The New York Times’ list of advice book best sellers but has since dropped off.
Living long is a human desire throughout history, says Dr. Robert Butler, president and CEO of the International Longevity Center-USA in New York. But Butler says he’s skeptical of claims of places of long-living people.
Buettner is aware of the skepticism, but says he and his team of demographers, which included Poulain, scrupulously checked birth and death records and vetted the ages of Blue Zone residents in his book.
“We have the numerical data that shows that these places (in ‘The Blue Zones’) are living longer. It’s not just anecdotal,” Buettner said.
While ranking populations by average life expectancy is nothing new, Buettner has “done a nice job putting faces to it and looking at some of the special characteristics — be it diet or happiness — that typify some of these regions,” said Dr. Thomas T. Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study and an associate professor of medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine.
Because of obesity and smoking, Americans are living about 10 years less than they should be, said Perls, co-author of the book “Living to 100.” He said if Americans embraced the healthy habits advocated by Buettner, the impact on public health “would be huge.”
|‘BLUE ZONES’ TIPS
FOR LONGER LIFE
Move Naturally. Be active without having to think about it.” Hara Hachi Bu. Painlessly cut calories by 20 percent. Plant Slant. Avoid meat and processed food. Grapes of Life. Drink red wine (in moderation). Purpose Now. Take time to see the big picture. Down Shift. Take time to relieve stress. Belong. Participate in a spiritual community. Loved Ones First. Make family a priority. Right Tribe. Be surrounded by those who share Blue Zone values.”