Reading List: Blue Zones – How To Live Longer

Two books I have read recently are Blue Zones by Dan Buettner and The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer by Dr. Jonny Bowden.

Briefly, Blue Zones reports Buettner’s findings after studying the longest lived people on earth.  He condensed his findings down to nine factors that are common among these long-lived people.  “Blue Zones” are communities where common elements of lifestyle, diet and outlook have led to long, high quality lives.

Dr. Bowden’s book, on the other hand, is more of an instruction manual on how to live a long and active life.  He identifies the “Four Horsemen of Aging,” which is a nickname he has given to four dangerous processes that age our bodies.  The Four Horsemen are:

  1. Oxidative damage caused by free radicals
  2. Inflammation
  3. Glycation
  4. Stress

For purposes of this article, I won’t attempt to explain each of those terms.  You’ll have to read Dr. Bowden’s book or do some additional research on your own.

However, Dr. Bowden also discusses his “Seven Pillars of Longevity.” What I want to do in this article is to demonstrate some commonalities between the 9 factors Dan Buettner identified in the Blue Zone and Dr. Bowden’s 7 Pillars of Longevity.

The Blue Zone Power Nine

So, without further ado, let’s have a look.  First, I’ll summarize Mr. Buettner’s “Power Nine” for creating your own personal Blue Zone and link you to a video of a Ted Talk he did:

  • Move naturally.  Buettner points out that the 90-100+ year olds he studied did not belong to health clubs, run marathons, compete in triathlons, or join aerobics classes.  What they did do, however, is engage in regular, low intensity, physical activity throughout their lives (including their old age), often as a part of the daily job or routine.
  • Eat less – Cut calorie intake by 20%.  Buettner found that long-lived Okinawan elders habitually stop eating when they are no longer hungry – rather that when they are full as most of us in the West do.  This painless tweak to one’s eating habits generally results in about a 20% reduction in total calorie intake. Eating less is believed to reduce cellular damage caused by free radicals  (remember the Four Horsemen?).
  • Avoid excess meat consumption and processed foods.  Rely more on plant based nutrition, especially that produced locally and without genetic modification or pesticides.
  • Drink red wine in moderation.  This recommendation is primarily based upon the belief that a daily glass or two of wine reduces stress and the damaging effects of inflammation (another Horseman!).
  • Have a purpose or goal in life.  In other words, as you age you need to continue to have a “reason to get up.”  To reach a point in life where you no longer have an acknowledged purpose or goal is to invite decline and death.
  • Take time to relieve stress.  Whether that’s through meditation, contemplation, prayer, or simply developing the habit of serenity in your life, its critically important to relieve stress (another Horseman).
  • Participate in a spiritual community.  The type of spiritual practice doesn’t seem to matter.  Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or other practices seem to provide the beneficial results of increased longevity.
  • Make family a priority.  This may be a correlate to “having a purpose or goal in life.”
  • Belong to the right tribe.  Surround yourself with people who share “Blue Zone” values.

There you have it.  Nine lessons from the Blue Zones of the earth.  Mr. Buettner’s Ted Talk is below.

Dr. Bowden’s 7 Pillars of Longevity

Now let’s take a look at Dr. Bowden’s 7 Pillars of Longevity to see how they compare:

  • Diet high in fruits and vegetables.
  • Take  supplements, especially a multivitamin.
  • Detoxification.  Engage in the practice of detoxification periodically to give your system a much needed rest.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.
  • Manage your stress.  Stress kills!
  • Have strong family and social connections.

As you can seen, there is a very strong correlation between the longevity factors discussed by Daniel Buettner in the Blue Zones and those discussed by Dr. Bowden in his book.  There is every likelihood that this is not a coincidence.  These principles are, indeed, what research shows to be the best controllable longevity inducing factors.

Here’s a little pep talk video from Dr. Bowden to help keep you in a positive frame of mind about your health, especially if you haven’t lived a “model life” healthwise up to this point.

Of course good genes are a help, but we have little control over them.  The principles discussed by Buettner and Bowden, on the other hand, are directly within our own control.  Upgrading Seniors take heed!  Do you want to live a longer and more active life?  Re-read these principles and take them to heart.

Final Observations

One final observation, which is going to run contrary to the mindsets (mine included) of most of us who are interested in health, fitness and longevity.

We’ve discussed Buettner’s “Power Nine” and Bowden’s “7 Pillars.”  Now, if I may be so presumptuous (in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way), I’d like to suggest Bob’s “Absent Eight.”

Dan Buettner pointed out the most common longevity-related characteristics observed among long-lived people.  He didn’t mention some characteristics that were not observed – things that are noticeably absent from the lifestyles of these long-lived people.

The populations who live the longest and remain fully functional into their 90s and even 100s DON’T:

  • Chronically stress out about what they should and shouldn’t eat
  • Obsess about their weight (more stress)
  • Force themselves to do mindless hours of boring cardio workouts on devices guaranteed to contribute to or cause aches, pains and injuries from unnatural repetitive stresses inflicted upon the body
  • Consume “miracle” weight loss supplements
  • Experiment with every new fad diet based on the latest “guru” book release
  • Spend untold numbers of hours sitting in front of televisions and computers
  • Consume diets consisting primarily of processed foods
  • Take prescription drugs to mask (not cure) conditions that could be eliminated with exercise, weight management and improved nutrition.

I’m just saying, if the shoe fits . . . .



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