Exploring the Blue Zones: NeuroReserve’s Q&A Interview with Dan Buettner
NeuroReserve had the honor of a Q&A interview with Dan Buettner, where he shares his personal journey and offers behind-the-scenes insights into his latest adventures in the world of longevity research.
Dan Buettner, an esteemed explorer, journalist, and bestselling author, is known for his groundbreaking discovery of blue zones worldwide, regions where people live exceptionally long and healthy lives. These zones include places like Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California. As a National Geographic Explorer, Buettner has traveled extensively to uncover the secrets of longevity, encapsulating his findings in his new book, "The Blue Zones Secrets for Living Longer." This book revisits these extraordinary regions and deciphers the keys to their residents extended and fulfilling lives, including factors like purpose, faith, community, relaxation, natural movement, and plant-based diets.
The theme of NeuroReserve’s September Special Offer focuses on the blue zones and their brain power, with each bundle coming with a copy of Dan Buettner's newest book, with an autographed note. Learn more about it by clicking here.
Next up, let's delve into an exclusive interview.
NR: We’re very excited about the release of your new book, as it covers some very interesting topics. Could you highlight a few key takeaways or messages you hope readers will gain from reading it?
DB: I'd be delighted to shed light on my new book. Over the years, I've had the privilege of exploring these remarkable blue zones in the world, uncovering their secrets to living longer, healthier lives. This book is part of a series that began with an exploration of the nine common lessons these regions offer, followed by an exploration of their diets, and then how they find happiness and purpose in day-to-day life. There are so many layers to these Blue Zones for us to understand.
In my latest book “The Blue Zones Secrets for Living Longer”, I take readers on a deeper journey into each blue zones location – with the goal of immersing them in the rich traditions and cultures that contribute to their exceptional longevity. This time, I approach it through vivid storytelling, so readers will gain a new dimension into the unique practices and lifestyles of these regions, discovering the profound impact of diet, community, stress management, and – very importantly – purpose on their longevity.
But it doesn't stop there. I want readers to not only understand the blue zones but to apply that wisdom to their own lives. It’s just as much about solutions, which I’ve written about before. That's why this new book includes a wealth of practical guidance, including recipes inspired by the top foods in these regions. Readers can savor the flavors of longevity as they try these recipes for themselves. Additionally, the book delves into the importance of finding a supportive “tribe,” nurturing social connections, and mastering stress management—crucial elements that underpin the blue zones' success.
And of course it includes superb photography from my colleagues at National Geographic that make it all come alive.
My deepest hope is that readers will be inspired to embrace these timeless principles and incorporate them into their own lives. Whether it's making healthier food choices, prioritizing physical activity, cultivating meaningful relationships, or crafting an environment that nurtures well-being, this book offers useful insights to help everyone create their own blue zones. It's about transforming your surroundings and daily routines to foster a longer, healthier, and more vibrant life.
NR: Can you share with us one of your most shocking insights from your visits to the blue zones? What was the “Ah Hah!” from that?
DB: Certainly. Perhaps one of the most striking revelations is how these remarkable communities prioritize finding purpose and managing stress in their daily lives. It’s very intentional.
In Okinawa, Japan, the concept of "ikigai" reigns supreme. It's a profound sense of purpose and meaning in life that often revolves around activities such as nurturing family bonds, imparting wisdom to younger generations, and even the act of gardening. This unwavering sense of direction provides a critical key to longevity: it’s a powerful wall of protection against stress.
Similarly, in Sardinia, Italy, where centenarians are abundant, there's a unique emphasis on the simplicity of life. Many Sardinians are shepherds who lead a rhythmic and predictable existence. This sense of consistency in their daily routine minimizes stress and fosters a deep connection with nature.
Over here in America, we can learn to prioritize purpose and stress management in our lives, even amidst the whirlwind of modern technology and daily pressure. I challenge people to rediscover their most basic passions, connect with our communities, and find activities that bring us genuine joy and fulfillment.
NR: What are the building blocks of a "blue zone"?
DB:"Blue zones" are essentially a region where individuals enjoy an extraordinary life expectancy and health. I established 5 blue zones around the world and my research led me to identify nine key characteristics that constitute a blue zones location, all of which were consistently present in these remarkable regions.
First and foremost, there's an emphasis on moving more naturally, integrating physical activity into daily life. Finding a purpose is crucial. As mentioned, concepts like Okinawa's ikigai and the Nicoyans' "plan de vida" importantly give people a reason to wake up each morning. Stress reduction is also a common thread, with each blue zones location having its unique methods, such as Sardinia's happy hour and Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda incorporating prayer.
When it comes to diet, the “eat-to-80%-full” rule resonates, teaching us that the 20% gap between not being hungry and feeling full can impact our weight. These regions prioritize a plant-based diet, centered around foods like beans, soy, and lentils, with limited meat consumption. And they eat and drink together! It’s a shared experience..
A deep sense of belonging is cultivated through participation in faith-based groups or services. Also, the value placed on putting loved ones first is clearly evident in their commitment to keeping aging parents nearby, maintaining lifelong partnerships, and investing in the well-being of their children. Finally, finding the right tribe is a crucial aspect of these communities, where social circles actively motivate healthy behaviors, emphasizing the significance of social connectedness, especially as people age.
NR: Do you see any potential new or emerging blue zones that are now coming to light?
DB: Indeed, there's a surprising development in the blue zones exploration. I'm introducing what I call "blue zone 2.0," and it's centered around Singapore. Singapore has emerged as a new kind of blue zones location, redefining our understanding of longevity. This country has achieved the world's longest life expectancy by recognizing its people as the nation's most valuable assets and placing a strong focus on their well-being.
What makes Singapore unique is that public policy, not only culture and tradition, is helping it become a blue zones location.
The Singaporean government takes proactive steps to foster a healthier population, such as subsidizing brown rice and imposing sugar caps on sodas. They've also encouraged a more active lifestyle by dis-incentivizing car ownership, with just 11% of the population owning cars. Instead, they've invested in an amazingly efficient public transport system, exercise programs, and fitness areas, ensuring that over half the population remains active on a daily basis.
Add to that, Singaporeans' sense of community is reinforced by high rates of homeownership, and the government's proximity housing grants further strengthen these bonds, which provides grants to those who live close by their parents. Singapore serves as a prime example of how public policy and creating an ideal environment can combine to create a new and remarkable blue zone location. They’re showing it’s possible!
NR: The role of food in the blue zones is fascinating. Are there any specific foods or meals from these regions that you've incorporated into your own diet?
DB: Absolutely. I love the incredible diversity of foods in these regions. One thing they have in common is they’re mostly plant-based, or in some cases a Mediterranean diet or its regional equivalent. In my own diet, I've embraced several of these eating habits.
For instance, I always make sure to have whole wheat breads on hand, as they align with the dietary preferences of many blue zones communities. Purple sweet potatoes, a beloved staple in Okinawa, Japan, have found their way into my kitchen as well, adding a burst of color and nutrition to my meals, also filled with immense antioxidant benefits.
Nuts, in all their delightful variety, are a constant presence, whether it's almonds, walnuts, or cashews. The blue zones emphasize the consumption of beans, with black beans often hailed as one of the healthiest choices. So, I've taken this to heart and regularly incorporate beans into my meals for their rich protein and fiber content.
And of course, no blue zones-inspired kitchen would be complete without a high-quality bottle of olive oil, which I use not only for its flavor but also for its numerous health benefits.
These foods have become more than just items in my pantry; they're a connection to the incredible wisdom and traditions of the blue zones. They remind me daily of the simple, wholesome, and nourishing approach to eating that contributes to a longer and healthier life.
NR: Your new Netflix series “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones” is highly anticipated and just released. Could you give us a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the journey of bringing this series to life and what you hope to capture that’s not in your books?
DB: Creating the Netflix series "Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones" was an incredible journey, and I'm thrilled to bring the wisdom and traditions of the blue zones to life in a video format. The series gives viewers an immersive experience that goes beyond what's captured in my books.
What I aimed to capture in the series is the essence of daily life in the blue zones. While my books provide valuable insights, there's something truly special about witnessing the day-to-day routines, interactions, and rituals of these longevity hotspots on screen. I wanted people to follow my journey as I explored these blue zones, showcasing the striking similarities in how each region approaches living a healthy and fulfilling life.
One of the key takeaways from the series is how simple and accessible these practices can be. When people think about adopting a healthier lifestyle, it can sometimes feel overwhelming or unattainable – or just out-of-step with our culture. However, by seeing how these diverse regions, often with limited resources, are able to prioritize well-being and longevity through straightforward and sustainable practices, viewers can gain a fresh perspective on their own health journey.
Ultimately, I hope the series inspires and empowers people to make positive changes in their lives!
NR: Considering the fast-paced lives many of us lead, what are the first steps people here in America can make to create their own personal blue zones?
DB: It’s important to build an environment around you that makes it easier to adopt blue zones behaviors. The systems in contemporary America for food, socialization, and work make it difficult. So, we have to be very deliberate about changing behavior.
Let’s start with diet; Americans can aim to include less fast food and processed foods and instead focus on a more plant-based diet. Even small changes, such as opting to make your own granola instead of purchasing packaged options, can be a step in the right direction. Remember, it's not about drastic overnight transformations; it's about making sustainable choices that align with the principles of longevity and well-being observed in the blue zones. Start small, and over time, these changes can lead to a healthier, happier life, just like those living in the blue zones around the world.
Also, let's not forget the importance of social connections. Invite friends over for dinner, or better yet, cook and share meals together. Volunteer in your community to foster a sense of purpose and belonging. Explore faith-based practices if they resonate with you, as they often provide not only spiritual fulfillment but also a supportive community. And, of course, move more! Engage in physical activities you enjoy, like playing sports with friends or simply taking daily walks. Remember, it's the combination of these lifestyle behaviors – diet, socialization, purpose, and physical activity—that forms the blueprint for a healthier and happier life, much like the inhabitants of the world's blue zones have shown us.
NR: Can you let people know where they can keep following your journey and buy your newest book, and watch your newest documentary?
DB: Absolutely. I'm excited to keep sharing my journey and the wisdom from the blue zones with everyone. You can find my latest book, "The Blue Zones Secrets for Living Longer," at bookstores and online on Amazon, available in both print and e-book formats, to explore these extraordinary communities. Additionally, for a limited time, you can also find it in your NeuroReserve September Special Offer, where I've included hand autographed notes, making it a great gift.
Also, tune into my limited series, "Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones," now available on Netflix.
To stay updated on my work, upcoming projects, and the latest discoveries from the blue zones, I invite you to follow me on social media. You can find me on @danbuettner, where I regularly share insights, articles, and updates related to longevity and well-being.
NR: Dan, I'd like to extend my sincere appreciation for your groundbreaking work in reshaping our perspective on healthy living and longevity through the blue zones. Congratulations once more on the release of your new book and the Netflix documentary. Your insights have the power to transform lives and communities and whole countries! And we're excited to see the positive impact they'll continue to have across the world. Thank you for leading the way for healthier, happier, and longer lives for all of us.