The Blue Zone - Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest

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What if you could add 10 years -- 10 good years -- to your life? A new book investigates the mysteries of human longevity around the world and reveals a revolutionary, cross-cultural and easy-to-implement formula for living longer, better.

You will not find longevity in a bottle of diet pills or with hormone therapy, but by embracing this a la carte menu of a few simple but powerful habits, and by creating the right community around yourself.

Here's some good news: The average American can look younger, feel younger and avoid about 70 percent of the things that foreshorten his or her life.
Studies show that habits -- as opposed to genes -- determine up to 90 percent of our life expectancy. Only 6 percent of how long we'll live is explained by our parents' longevity. Adopting the optimal lifestyle, experts say, can give us up to 10 more good years of life. But what is the optimal lifestyle?

In a new book from National Geographic, THE BLUE ZONE: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest (National Geographic Books; March 25, 2008; ISBN 978-1-4262-0274-2; $26), world-renowned explorer Dan Buettner leads teams of researchers across the globe to uncover the secrets of the Blue Zones -- four geographic regions where small populations are living remarkably long, full lives. In addition to sharing his extraordinary accounts of the oldest people on the planet, Buettner examines how their unique lifestyles correlate to their extraordinary longevity. Finally -- and most importantly -- Buettner details exactly how to incorporate these powerful lifestyle characteristics into your daily routine so that you, too, can live in the Blue Zone.

Partially funded by the National Institute on Aging, Buettner and his team of demographers and scientists embarked on what would become a massive, seven-year effort to identify and meticulously research the world's longevity hotspots. So far, they have confirmed the following four regions as Blue Zones: the Barbagia region of Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; the community of Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, Calif.; and the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. In each Blue Zone, Buettner and his team found that people reach age 100 at rates significantly higher than the rest of us, and on average, they live longer, healthier lives. They also suffer a fraction of the rate of killer diseases found in America.

In THE BLUE ZONE, Buettner recounts how these four different cultures have taken their unique paths to longevity. He introduces longevity all-stars like Ushi Ukushima, who grows most of her own food and is a frequent party hostess at 104 years old; Giovanni Sannai, who, at 103 beat Buettner in arm wrestling (for real!), and Dr. Ellsworth Wareham, a practicing surgeon who still performs open-heart surgery at 93.

Working with the world's top longevity experts, Buettner describes the origin and nature of the unique lifestyle habits of the larger community in each Blue Zone, such as drinking a glass or two of red wine daily, growing a medicinal garden of mugwort, ginger and turmeric, and drinking unusually hard water. He then distills these myriad lifestyle elements into nine common lessons that are the underpinnings of daily life and ritual in each of the Blue Zones -- what he calls the "Power 9"-- that positively impact lifespan. Examples include moving naturally (being active without having to think about it), cutting calories by 20 percent, eating a more plant-based diet, participating in a spiritual community and finding your "ikigai" or "plan de vida" -- your purpose in life.

Of course, this information does no good unless it is put into practice. In THE BLUE ZONE, Buettner works with leading behavior experts to offer an action plan to put this cross-cultural distillation of the world's best longevity practices to work in your own life. Encoded in the world's longevity cultures are millennia of observed human experience. Buettner writes, "It's not coincidence that the way these people eat, interact with each other, shed stress, heal themselves, avoid disease, and view their world yield them more good years of life. To learn from them, we need only to be open and ready to listen."

Buettner also tackles the realities of aging to understand some basic principles. What are the chances of actually reaching 100 years old? Is there any truth to claims that some pills and cosmetics can reverse the signs of aging? What promises do vitamin supplements, hormone therapies and genetic intervention offer? To answer these and other questions, Buettner enlists the help of leading scientists in the fields of biology, geriatrics and the science of longevity. Each agrees that the only proven "fountain of youth" is found in emulating the key elements of those who are living longer in the Blue Zones.    

THE BLUE ZONE also points readers to a powerful online tool called the Vitality Compass. Created in conjunction with the Minnesota School of Public Health, the Vitality Compass gives you a starting point against which to measure your longevity lifestyle. Timed to the book's publication, it will be live on Buettner's Web site, http://www.bluezones.com, on March 25, 2008. The Vitality Compass asks a series of questions and, based on the answers given, calculates 1) your potential life expectancy at your current age; 2) your healthy life-expectancy -- the number of good years you can expect to live; 3) the number of extra years you are likely to gain if you optimize your lifestyle. It offers a customized list of suggestions to help you with that plan.

Buettner explains, "You will not find longevity in a bottle of diet pills or with hormone therapy, but by embracing this a la carte menu of a few simple but powerful habits, and by creating the right community around yourself." In THE BLUE ZONE, he blends his lifestyle formula with the latest longevity research to inspire lasting behavioral change and add years to your life.

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Laura Reynolds

Amy Tomczyk
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