dan buettner rich roll blue zones

The Blue Zone Secrets for Living a Long & Happy Life – Dan Buettner on The Rich Roll Podcast

Check out The Rich Roll Podcast Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Blue zone populations don’t strive for longevity; it’s a product of their environment
  • Blue zone populations:
    • Have a strong sense of purpose & responsibility
    • Eat mostly whole plant-based foods
    • Live lives filled with social connection
    • Tend to eat with their families, cook instead of eating out, and consume their food in an 8-hour window
  • The 9-step formula for increasing happiness:
    • 1) Sleep more
    • 2) Eat a healthy breakfast (not cereal!)
    • 3) Incorporate more social interaction into your schedule
    • 4) Find time to give back & volunteer
    • 5) Take more naps
    • 6) Work less 
    • 7) Belong to a faith
    • 8) Limit social media and TV use to 0.5 hours/day
    • 9) Exercise for an hour every day
  • “The four key ingredients to happiness are someone to love, something to do, something to look forward to, and something to give back” – Dan Buettner


Former Blue Zones Are Becoming ‘Americanized’

  • “In all these blue zones, the American food culture is coming in and replacing this way of eating that’s produced the statistically longest-lived people”Dan Buettner
  • The place that’s been most impacted by Western development: Okinawa, Japan
    • In 1999, Okinawa produced 30x more female centenarians & people over the age of 60 than the U.S.; now, it’s among the least healthy cities in Japan
  • The Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica has also been hit hard, and is now filled with fast-food restaurants & tourists

What Makes a Blue Zone?

  • “To find the blue zone, you need to go into people’s homes. You need to stop long enough to see detail and get a feel for what it’s like to live in these places—to see how they cook, how they live out their purpose, and how they connect socially. Many non-food characteristics account for as much of their longevity as eating beans or tofu.” – Dan Buettner 
    • For book research, Dan once lived with a 102-year-old Okinawan woman for three days!
  • Blue zone populations don’t strive for longevity; it’s a product of their environment
    • “In blue zones, people are eating mostly plant-based foods; they’re moving every 20 minutes or so; they’re socially connected; they’re suffused with purpose—not because they’ve tried, but because they’re a product of their environment. They live in places where the cheapest and most accessible food is peasant food—whole grains, nuts, greens, and tubers.”‘ – Dan Buettner 
  • Blue zone populations have a strong sense of purpose responsibility (Dan estimates that having a clear purpose increases life expectancy by ~8 years)
  • Because of their diets & lifestyles, blue zone populations avoid many of the common life-shortening diseases: diabetes, cancer, dementia, etc.

The American Food Environment Facilitates Obesity

  • Simply put, the American food environment is TOXIC
    • So toxic, that: “I actually believe that if you’re unhealthy and overweight in this country, which is 71% of the American population, it’s not your fault.” Dan Buettner
    • “How are you going to ask a single mother who’s barely making ends meet with her 10-hour a day job to go out into the food environment—where 97 out of a 100 choices are bad—and say, ‘Go find good choices for your kids.’?” – Dan Buettner
  • Where is this leading us? Nowhere good:
    • Over the past three years, the average life expectancy in America dropped for the first time in a century
    • “Americans probably lose six years of life expectancy eating the standard American diet—this is at middle-age, by the way—compared to eating a blue zone diet, which is largely beans, whole grains, greens, nuts, and tubers, as well as fruits and vegetables.” – Dan Buettner
    • “The percentage of our GDP that we spend on avoidable diseases—about $3.7 trillion—keeps going up every year. It’s a statistical certainty that it’ll bankrupt our country if this trend continues.” – Dan Buettner
  • Two more blow-your-mind stats:
    • If you live in a neighborhood where there are more than six fast-food restaurants in a 500-foot radius from the average house, the obesity rate in that neighborhood is ~35% higher than the same neighborhood with fewer than three fast-food restaurants
    • If you live in a neighborhood where there are billboard advertisements for junk food, the obesity rate in that neighborhood is ~10% higher than the same neighborhood without billboards ads

But It’s Not Just the American Food Environment Causing Issues…

  • We never walk! We’re EXTREMELY reliant on cars.
    • “We could probably eliminate 20-25% of the obesity problem in this country if we designed our cities for human beings and not just cars” Dan Buettner

What’s the Solution?

  • We have to fix our environment:
    • “We can talk about plant-based diets, Ikarian stew, and planting a garden in your backyard, but first, we have to get the soda machines out of schools. We have to get people walking and riding their bikes more, and not sitting so much at their jobs.”Rich Roll
    • “Until we have the courage to take on our environment and stop with this fairy tale that we’re magically going to get 330 million Americans to A) find the right diet, B) muster the discipline to stay on the diet, and C) have the focus of mind to keep on it for the decades necessary to avoid a common chronic disease, we’re not going to do much with this obesity problem.” – Dan Buettner
  • Dan, through his Blue Zones Project, is working towards a fix. He & his team go into various cities around the U.S. to:
    • Provide guidance related to creating more walkable and bikeable areas
    • Change the food environment to favor fruits & vegetables over junk food
    • Spread the word about the dangers of smoking
    • Advise governments to limit the number of fast-food restaurant licenses
    • Advise governments to ban fast-food billboard ads

Social Connectivity is Essential for Longevity

  • Social connectivity is a function of your environment—compared to living in a densely populated city, if you live in an isolated suburb, you’re much less likely to experience spontaneous social interactions (which may lead to future friendships)
  • The people you surround yourself with have a significant influence on your health behaviors:
    • “You are hugely influenced by your friends. If you’re hanging out with people who are drinking or smoking, you’re 60-70% more likely to drink and smoke. Whereas, if you’re hanging out with people who are walking every day or gathering around great plant-based food, those behaviors are going to become contagious.” – Dan Buettner
  • Dan has helped popularize the Okinawan term, “moais,” social support groups common among many longevity hot spots
    • (Moais are a committed circle of friends who travel through life together & support each other when times are tough)

If Dan Were to Design a “Blue Zone City of the Future,” What Would it Look Like?

  • There’d be a social square at the city center where cars are banned (around which there’d be tons of cafes & restaurants)
    • (Cars would also be prohibited six blocks outward from the social square)
  • People would mostly move around by walking, biking, or by using public transport 
  • The population density would mimic a donut:
    • Most people would live in the donut’s hole (AKA the city center) 
    • Towards the outer periphery of the city (the donut itself), there’d be tons of green spaces for hiking & biking

Which Cities Best Incorporate Blue Zone-Favorable Lifestyles & Environments?

  • Aarhus, Denmark
  • Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Santa Barbara, California
  • Naples, Florida
  • Boulder Colorado
  • A few comments:
    • All of the above cities favor walking & biking—there are plenty of bike lanes, and the sidewalks are quite wide
    • Traffic in all of these cities moves slow, further supporting cyclists

Blue Zone Diet Practices

  • Blue zone populations:
    • Only cook with ~20 ingredients
    • Tend to consume their food in an 8-hour window
    • Tend to say something before their meals that marks a punctuation between busy life & sitting down to eat (like a prayer)
    • Tend to eat with their families
    • Tend to cook instead of eating out
    • Tend not to have electronics in their kitchen

How to Improve Your Happiness

  • Simply put, if you’re unhappy, move to a happier place
  • Are your friends unhappy? If they are, you’re more likely to be unhappy as well. Start hanging around happier people.
  • If happiness were a cake recipe, the essential ingredients would be:
    • Food
    • Shelter
    • Healthcare
    • Some education
    • A trusting environment
    • Having the right life partner
    • Having a job that allows you to do meaningful work
    • Experiencing the feeling of giving back
    • Living in a happy place
  • “The four key ingredients to happiness are someone to love, something to do, something to look forward to, and something to give back” – Dan Buettner
  • Another critical determinant of happiness: doing work that’s of service to others

The American Dream Doesn’t Make People Happy

  • Getting a house in the suburbs, two cars in the garage, climbing the corporate ladder, getting that next promotion, saving for retirement—it won’t make you happy!
  • “When it comes to happiness, most people in this country are misguided or just plain wrong. It’s not because they’re stupid; it’s because we’re relentlessly marketed this idea that if we have more, if we look better, if we’re younger, and if we could just get this one thing—financial freedom, a better-looking partner, a bigger house—it’ll make us happy, and that’s always misguided.” Dan Buettner

Diet & Lifestyle Factors That Increase Happiness Also Improve Longevity

  • “If you can situate your life so you’re among the 20% of the happiest people in America, it’s worth about six years of life expectancy compared to being in the least happy 20%.” – Dan Buettner
  • “People eating six servings of vegetables every day are not only living longer but also reporting a 20% increase in happiness.” – Dan Buettner
  • Having a strong social network—arguably the most significant thing you can do for happiness—also favors longevity
    • The same thing goes for having a sense of purpose

The 9-Step Formula for Increasing Your Happiness

  • 1) Sleep more
    • “The happiest people are sleeping between 8-9.5 hours a night. If you’re only getting 6 hours of sleep, you’re about 30 percent less happy.” – Dan Buettner
  • 2) Eat a healthy breakfast (not cereal!)
  • 3) Incorporate more social interaction into your schedule
  • 4) Find time to give back & volunteer
  • 5) Take more naps
  • 6) Work less (populations who work <35 hours/week report the highest happiness levels)
  • 7) Belong to a faith
  • 8) Limit social media and TV use to 0.5 hours/day (after 1.5 hours of either, your happiness starts to drop off a cliff)
  • 9) Exercise for an hour every day

Additional Notes

  • The ‘Danish Twins Study’ established that only ~20% of how long the average person lives is dictated by genes; the other 80% is something else
  • “When it comes to changing your health behaviors, for most Americans, the change comes through their mouths.” – Dan Buettner
  • Costa Rica produces more human happiness per GDP dollar and more health per healthcare dollar than any other place in the world
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