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National Geographic fellow offers advice for longevity
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Forsyth County News

Blue Zone Common Denominators

The nine power approaches to living a longer life:
* Move naturally: The world’s longest-living people live in environments that nudge them into natural, unconscious motion.
* Purpose: Knowing one’s sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy.
* Down shift: Implement routines that shed stress.
* 80 percent rule: Stop eating when your stomach is 80 percent full.
* Plant slant: Centenarian diets are high in beans and low in meat.
* Wine at 5: Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. The trick is to drink 1-2 glasses a day with food.
* Belong: Belong to a faith-based community.
* Loved ones: Put family first.
* Right tribe: The longest-living people on earth are in social circles that support healthy living.

GAINESVILLE — The secrets to a longer life are elusive, but simple.

Speaking at the recent Blue Zone Community Summit at the Brenau Downtown Center, National Geographic fellow Dan Buettner shared his nine tips for longevity and how he developed them from the five places on Earth where people live longest.

Buettner’s National Geographic expeditions led him to five locations with remarkably high longevity: Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, Calif.; the Italian island of Sardinia, the Greek island Ikaria and Costa Rica’s isolated Nicoya Peninsula.

“We worked with demographers and used worldwide census data to identify pockets around the world where people are living measurably longer,” Buettner said.

“They have the longest life expectancy, the lowest rate of middle age mortality or the highest centenarian population. These people have the outcomes we want.”

The five places were dubbed “Blue Zones” by Buettner.

“Remarkably, no matter where we went, we saw the same nine things happening over and over and over again,” he said.

On the island of Sardinia, for example, there are 11 times more male centenarians than in America — the highest population of centenarian men in the world.

Sardinians have a Mediterranean diet that was found in many of the Blue Zones. They drink red wine, produce pecorino cheese and eat sourdough bread made by the grandmothers in most families.

On Ikaria, a strict Mediterranean diet high in beans was also found, and residents of the island are one-fifth less likely to experience dementia in old age.

Buettner said no cow products were consumed in any of the Blue Zones.

In Loma Linda, Calif., a plant-based diet and active lifestyle were prevalent, plus a focus on the family in large Seventh Day Adventist populations.

The presence of a strong family and social circle was found in all five locations.

In Okinawa, residents also ate a plant-based diet high in sweet potatoes. They also had a ritual that gave residents a support system for life.

“When you’re 5 years old, your parents take you down to the village for a very serious ceremony,” Buettner said. “You’re coupled with four other 5-year-olds, and you are expected to travel through life together.”

These groups of friends are called “Moai,” and he met a group of four women who had been friends for 94 years.

From these observations and more, the nine “Blue Zone common denominators” were determined.

They include: move naturally, have a purpose, eat more plants, drink wine, belong to a faith, find the right tribe, support your loved ones, downshift stress and follow the 80 percent rule, which Buettner learned in Okinawa.

“They had a 2,500-year-old adage that reminded them to quit eating when they’re stomachs were 80 percent full,” Buettner said. “And it works.”

Buettner has delivered thousands of speeches worldwide, sharing what he believes are the best strategies for longevity and happiness based on his observations in the five Blue Zones.

He said the purpose of the nine tips isn’t to get people to try a new diet or exercise, but for communities to adjust their entire lifestyles.

“No matter where you go in Blue Zones, when you see these spry 100-year-olds, 95-year-olds, did any of them ever try to live a long life?” he asked. “No. They never bought a treadmill, joined a gym, ran a marathon or called the 800 number to buy the supplement that would make them live longer…. In Blue Zones, it was something that ensued. It was the result of the right environment.”