Reflection by Kristen K.
Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:
The average life expectancy in America is 12 years younger than our biological capacity of about 90 years. That is a dozen years that we as a human race can get back. Yes, longevity is determined by genetics, but Mr. Buettner states that genes affect our lifespan only by about ten percent. The other whopping ninety percent is dictated by our lifestyle.
That in effect means that if you change your life, you extend your life.
How do we determine what formulaic lifestyle results in living nearly a century? Buettner and the Blue Zone study looked to areas in which there was an overwhelming majority of centenarians and tried to determine what those societies were doing right.
The first Blue Zone is in the highlands of Sardinia, where men live the longest and age with “extraordinary vigor.” The Nuoro province’s centenarians are characterized by constant low-impact physical activity, a plant based and grass-fed cattle based diet, and a respect and closeness with the elderly. This admiration of the wisdom of elders not only adds four years to their lives, but their grandchildren also show decreased mortality and disease rates.
The second Blue Zone is found in Okinawa where cardiovascular disease rates are a sixth of America’s. They also follow a plant based diet and have strategies to prevent over-eating. Socially, Okinawans have a Moai–a group of six friends that you can rely on throughout your life–and the example Buettner shows is a Moai that has been together for 97 years.
In America, the average citizen has one and half good friends. We have become isolated, and “isolation kills.” For the sake of our long lives, we need to make friends.
In my short teenage life, I have witnessed the crushing horror human beings can inflict on one another. In a way, by treating people harshly, we are taking away years from their life. It really puts things into perspective when you realize that bullying is little better than murder; in reality, both end life prematurely.
Besides beating Americans with their social circle, Okinawans have an ikigai, which means “the reason for which you wake up in the morning.” By having a purpose in life, the Okinawans are extending their lives.
In America, Seventh Day Adventists are expected to live about a decade longer than the average American. Adventists are devout Methodists and are unique from one another in every way except for a handful of similar habits. “They take their diet directly from the Bible. Genesis: Chapter one, Verse , where God talks about legumes and seeds, and on one more stanza about green plants, ostensibly missing is meat.”
Buettner goes on to describe a 97-year-old open heart surgeon, a 103-year-old cowboy, and a 104-year-old philanthropist. These amazing century-old people are all born from the Adventist culture.
The three Blue Zones are amazing to learn about, but perhaps the more pressing issue is what can we learn from them?
Buettner highlights the tactics all three seem to have in common: ‘natural’ physical activity like walking or gardening; ‘downshift’ time like prayer; sensible eating, usually plant-based diets and strategies to prevent themselves from overeating; and they have a sense of connection with their friends, community, and with their religion.
Summing it all up, Buettner recognizes the fact that longevity does not have a short-term fix. To live a long life, it is the lifetime habits and relationships that mean the most.