Emotional Health

In the Blue Zone: The Happiest Places on Earth

Dan Buettner is a tanned, fit man in his mid-fifties who has made a career out of studying places where people flourish. His book about this, published in 2008, was called The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, and focused on five different communities where a high number of the people live past their 100th birthdays. Not only that: they remain healthy and active, so Buettner wanted to learn their secrets. The spots include the islands of Icaria and Sardinia; Okinawa, Japan; the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica; and Loma Linda, California. In the latter place, the people are mostly Seventh-day Adventists who rely on a vegetarian diet that is heavy on nuts, beans, oatmeal, 100 percent whole-grain bread, and avocados.

He decided to visit all of these places, to study in depth what habits and lifestyle factors might be contributing to their populations’ good health. Obviously, these are very different communities, but he came up with a list of common elements that seem to be important to long life. Buettner boiled them down to this list:

The nine lessons:

  1. Move naturally. Don’t do marathons or pump iron; work around the house, garden, walk, cycle, walk when talking on the phone.
  2. Know your purpose. Have a reason for waking up in the morning.
  3. Kick back. Find ways to shed stress, whether it’s praying, napping, or going to Happy Hour.
  4. Eat less. Stop eating when you are 80 percent full.
  5. Eat less meat. Beans are a cornerstone of most centenarians’ diets.
  6. Drink in moderation. The Seventh-day Adventists in California didn’t drink; the other populations had one to two glasses a day.
  7. Have faith. Denomination doesn’t seem to matter, but attending faith-based services (four times a month) does.
  8. Power of love. 
Put families first, including committing to a partner and keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby.
  9. Stay social. Build a social network that supports healthy behaviors.

For example, in Okinawa, Japan, Buettner discovered that individual residents formed a moai—small groups of about five friends who commit to supporting each other for the long term. He subsequently started Blue Zone community projects in towns and cities across the United State, encouraging them to adopt habits and environmental changes like these, including moais of friends who frequently gather for walks and vegetable-heavy potlucks.

Join the conversation

  • Roz Warren February 6, 2018 at 6:10 pm

    I had beans for lunch. And I enjoyed them. That’s a start.

    Reply