What constitutes a long, healthy life? How do communities around the world find ways to extend their life expectancy? Dan Buettner, founder of Blue Zones—an organization committed to helping Americans live longer, healthier lives—talked about his findings from research around the world during the final Minneapolis Idea eXchange keynote address on Friday as part of the Westminster Town Hall Forum.
Buettner has teamed with National Geographic and the world’s best longevity researchers to identify lifestyle choices in specific parts of the globe where people live measurably longer lives. Their research has been published in his bestselling book, “The Blue Zones: Nine Lessons for Living Longer from People Who’ve Lived the Longest” as well as his most recent book, “Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People.”
So what’s the secret?
“Discipline is a muscle,” Buettner said. “And muscles fatigue.”
What he means is there must be a conscious effort by each individual as part of a community to try and create healthier lifestyle patterns. Only 20 percent of our longevity is determined by genes, Buettner said. The rest is determined by lifestyle, and that’s an important thing to realize.
He’s done research in five of the longest-living communities in the world—locations found in remote areas of Japan, Italy, Costa Rica, Greece and California. What he’s found is that there is no particular equation that equals a longer life, but there certainly is a structure by which people can work to try and create a healthier environment for themselves and others.
Food intake is a huge part of this process. Buettner said certain vegetable intakes like beans and other plant-based meals can be incredibly helpful. This doesn’t mean you need to cut down on all the foods you enjoy, but intake in moderation and balancing your diet to provide the right nutrient levels is important.
Another piece of the puzzle is finding ways to stay active. Many of these communities around the world he visited and studied do not work out in gyms, but they do have a certain level of fitness that they do in their day-to-day lives. We work so much behind desks in America that we don’t get that type of work-based fitness, yet we do not add in extra time to find ways to work out at home.
In the game of Nature vs. Nurture, surroundings do play a role in your longevity. Being around friends and influencers that have a healthy lifestyle by comparison to those who eat fast food each day, don’t work out and engage in other unhealthy activities play a role in long-term health.
Our environment is changing, and we need to do the same. Forty years ago in America, there was far less travel from home to work and far fewer ways to access unhealthy food. But more time in the car and more opportunities to consume fast food or unhealthy food has made it far easier to lose the discipline muscle in your day-to-day life.
Buettner’s keynote was complemented by having the YWCA of Minneapolis on site for the outdoor MiX event, which included conversations about health and fitness as well as opportunities to try out fitness activities ranging from core strength and rope workouts to stationary bike options. Becky Roloff, the YWCA of Minneapolis’ CEO, was the moderator for Buettner’s keynote. The Minneapolis Bike Coalition was also on site for the event.