Adopting a Blue Zones Way of Life: What You Need to Do To Survive The Challenges We Face Today

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Dan Buettner is a man who dreams big. He was born on June 18, 1960, in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He is an educator, explorer, National Geographic Fellow, and author of numerous books including his most recent, The Blue Zones: Secrets for Living Longer—Lessons From the Healthiest Places on Earth.

“In the early 2000s I set out to reverse engineer longevity,”

says Buettner.

“Rather than searching for answers in a test tube or a petri dish, I looked for them among populations that have achieved what we want—long, healthy lives and sharp brains until the end.”

            In the chapter, “Rules to Live Longer By,” Buettner says,

“Since 20 percent or so of how long we live is dictated by our genes rather than our environment, I reasoned that if I could find the places where people lived the longest and discern the lifestyle factors common to all of them, I’d have something that resembled a formula for longevity.”

Recent research in the field of epigenetics shows that even our genetic heritage is not fixed, but is influenced by our thoughts, feelings, and lifestyles.

            After locating the world’s blue zones areas, Buettner and National Geographic took teams of scientists to each location to pinpoint lifestyle characteristics that might explain the unusual longevity. They found that though the blue zones communities are located in vastly different parts of the world, their residents share nine specific traits that lead to longer, healthier, happier lives. They call these the Power 9.

  • 1) Move Naturally— “The world’s longevity all-stars don’t pump iron, run marathons, or join gyms,” says Buettner. “Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it.”
  • 2) Purpose—“People in the blue zones don’t wake up feeling rudderless. They’re interested in family, keeping their minds engaged. The Nicoyans called it plan de vida and the Okinawans called it Ikigai. For both, it translates to ‘why I wake up in the morning.’”
  • 3) Downshift—“Even people in the blue zones experience stress. But what the world’s longest-lived people have that we don’t are routines to shed that stress. Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians do happy hour. Costa Ricans have a knack for creating happy moments every day.”
  • 4) 80% Rule—“Eat until you’re 80% full. Unlike most Americans, who keep eating until their stomachs are full, traditional Okinawans stop as soon as they no longer feel hungry.”
  • 5) Plant Slant—“Until the late 20th century, the diets of every blue zone consisted almost entirely of minimally processed plant-based foods–mostly whole grains, greens, but, tubers, and beans.”
  • 6) Wine@5— “People in the blue zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. The trick, if you do drink, is to drink one to two glasses per day with friends and food.”
  • 7) Belong— “Healthy centenarians everywhere have faith. All but a handful of the centenarians we’ve interviewed belonged to a faith-based community. Denomination doesn’t seem to matter.”
  • 8) Loved Ones First— “Successful centenarians in the blue zones put their families first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home.”
  • 9) Right Tribe— “One of the most profound, measurable, and long-lasting things you can do to adopt a blue zones lifestyle is to build a social circle around yourself that supports healthy eating, activity, and emotional well-being.”

Beyond these “power 9” that Buettner’s research has found in Blue Zones throughout the world, I would add one more trait based on more current history.

  • 10) Resist the modern shift towards domination and authoritarian rule.

Social systems scientist Riane Eisler, one of the most original thinkers of our time, first wrote about “dominator and partnership system” in her book, The Chalice & the Blade. In her recent book written with anthropologist Douglas Fry, Nurturing Our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape Our Brains, Lives, and Future, they say, “Every relationship in a dominator society, whether between parent and child, husband and wife, political leader and citizen or citizen and noncitizen, is authoritarian and coercive, whereas in a partnership society, relationships are life-sustaining and egalitarian.”

“Further, dominator societies—the canonical example of which is Nazi Germany,”

says Eisler, 

“are warlike and propelled by trauma, whereas partnership societies are more caring and peaceable. And childhood experiences help explain how such societies arise and perpetuate themselves.”

In recent history, we see the rise of authoritarian leaders using dominator practices arising in the U.S. and throughout the world.

Dr. Lee McIntyre, Research Fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University, and author of the recent book On Misinformation: How to Fight for Truth and Protect Democracy, describes the present threat of domination and authoritarian ways of thinking in the United States:

“The storming of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, was an American tragedy. It was also completely predictable. The ‘patriots’ in face paint—who carried sharpened flagpoles, bats, and zip ties into the Senate chamber—were the inevitable result of seventy years of lies about tobacco, evolution, global warming, and vaccines. After the ‘truth killers’ provided a blueprint for how to deny scientific facts that clashed with their financial or ideological interests, it was a small step for unscrupulous politicians to figure out how to use this strategy to lie about anything they wanted, such as the baseless claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and that the January 6 insurrectionists were actually ‘peaceful protestors’ or Antifa in disguise.”

Dr. McIntyre offers a warning as well as guidance for what we all can do to fight for truth and protect democracy. Our health and wellbeing depend on it.

“My regret, even in childhood,” says Dr. Mcintyre, “was that I’d been born too late to defend the things I loved: science, philosophy, and the power of reason.”

He goes on to say,

“Yet here I am today fighting for the same things I believed in as a boy. Because what I know now that I did not know then is this: the forces arrayed against the discovery of truth and the use of reason do not die, they wait. They are reborn into every age. It is like hammering mercury. They may disappear for a while, but eventually they gather.”

These Are Times of Great Challenge

            For those who have not fallen prey to disinformation, we know that humans are out of balance with the laws of nature. Domination is a pathway to suicide and only a return to our partnership roots can save us. The disinformation of the last seventy years has kept us from coming together in partnership to solve the problems that are an inevitable consequence of our separation from and domination of the natural world.

            We are in for a rude awakening and the next few years may well decide the future of humanity. There are many uncertainties, but this we know, the ancient practices found in the original Blue Zones and the modern adaptations of the Blue Zones Project offer real hope for our return to our partnership roots. But to put them into practice we have to fight the forces of disinformation. I will be 80 this year and I hope to live to 100. I look forward to the challenges ahead.

Blue Zones Projects

            Having travelled the world learning about best practices for living long and well, Dan Buettner and his team wanted to help communities throughout North America to create health and wellbeing in local communities. They created Blue Zones Projects. Blue Zones Project is a community well-being improvement initiative designed to change the way people experience the world around them. Because healthier environments naturally nudge people toward healthier choices, Blue Zones Project focuses on influencing the Life Radius® — the area close to home in which people spend 90 percent of their lives. Blue Zones Project best practices use people, places, and policy as levers to transform those surroundings. Our communities have populations with greater well-being, improved health outcomes, reduced costs, and increased civic pride, all of which support healthy economic development.

            Currently there are 72 Blue Zones Projects, which includes nearly 5,000 participating organizations, where nearly 5,000,000 lives have been positively impacted, including one where I live in Mendocino County, California.

Gender-Specific Medicine, Men’s Health, and the Moonshot for Mankind

            In the original Blue Zones as well as in places where Blue Zone’s traits are put into practice, there are health benefits for men and women. Yet, in every part of the world, males as a group, do not live as long or engage in healthy practices to the same degree as women do. Even in our local Blue Zones Project it was noted that

“Just looking at male vs. female statistics in those who utilize the Live Longer Better Rewards program, of the 43,753 onboarded members, only 24.5% of those members are male”.

            Nearly twenty years ago two clinical researchers Randolph Nesse, MD and Daniel Kruger, PhD examined premature deaths among men in 20 countries. They found that in every country, men died sooner and suffered from higher levels of disease than women and their shortened health and lifespan harmed the men and their families.

They offered three powerful conclusions:

  • “Being male is now the single largest demographic factor for early death.”
  • “Over 375,000 lives would be saved in a single year in the U.S. alone if men’s risk of dying was as low as women’s.”
  • “If male mortality rates could be reduced to those for females, this would eliminate over one-third of all male deaths below age 50 and help men of all ages.”

Men are not the only ones who are infected by the dominator culture, but they play a unique role. As the historian, Ruth Ben-Ghiat says in her book, Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present,

“Ours is the age of authoritarian rulers: self-proclaimed saviors of the nation who evade accountability while robbing their people of truth, treasure, and the protections of democracy.”

She goes on to say,

“They use masculinity as a symbol of strength and a political weapon. Taking what you want, and getting away with it, becomes proof of male authority. They use propaganda, corruption, and violence to stay in power.”

The comedian Elayne Boosler makes the same point in this humorous, but insightful quote.

“When women get depressed they eat or go shopping. Men invade another country. It’s a whole different way of thinking.”

Two years ago I invited a number of colleagues I knew were going good work to help men and their families to join me in what I called a “Moonshot Mission for Mankind and Humanity. I wrote a book, Long Live Men! The Moonshot Mission to Heal Men, Close the Lifespan Gap, and Offer Hope to Humanity. In July 2023, we offered a series of online training programs and invited interested individuals and groups to join us.

You can learn about our work at Moonshot For Mankind. We invite you to visit our new website, watch our short video, and join us if you share our goals. You can also learn more about the program and our desire to network with the thousands of organizations doing good work and the millions of men and women who recognize that it is time to heal our mental, emotional, and relational wounds. Together we can change the world for good.

If you’d like to read more articles like these, please join me at MenAlive.com and subscribe to our free weekly newsletter.

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