Dan Buettner is a man with an interesting background which includes world records for endurance biking. I like that. He is also a National Geographic journalist and the founder of Quest Network, an online organization which engages students in interactive expeditions.

As author of The Blue Zones: Lessons For Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived The Longest, Buettner brings us recipes for long life. Buettner has visited the pockets of the world where people live longer, healthier lives in numbers more astounding than the general population and he studies their lives in hopes of distilling what it is about them and their lifestyles which contribute to longevity.

The book is part travelogue, part research exploration, part journalistic expression. Buettner weaves together the brief stories of centenarians, his search for them and research findings based on their lifestyles in an effort to provide an entertaining, engaging, inspiring ‘how to’ book for long, healthy living.

The term Blue Zone, which describes a geographic concentration of some of the world’s longest living people, was named when a researcher by the name of Michel Poulain circled an area of longevity on a map in blue ink.

The first of the Blue Zones discussed is in Sardinia, where the women are strong, familial attachments are paramount and provide purpose, and rugged hillsides require a lifetime of vigorous walking. Oh, and, the red wine, consumed daily, is made from Cannonau grapes and contains higher levels of antioxidants than other wines.

The three other havens of gray haired health are the island of Okinawa in Japan, the Nicoyan Peninsula of Costa Rico, and Loma Linda, US. It seems in all locations, diet, a sense of purpose, and strong support systems were common denominators.

In the information teased out of Okinawan centenarians, I was drawn by the concepts of ikigai – the reason for waking up in the morning, moai – a group of lifelong friends, and hara hachi bu – eat only until you are 80% full. These concepts, simple and elegant, are integral to joy in life. Combined with daily activity and simple, nourishing meals it would be hard to imagine anything other than a long, vital lifespan coming out of such life-affirming, commonsense notions.

In the last section of the book, Buettner presents the “Power Nine”, a prescriptive chapter on healthy habits which may increase your years of embraced living. The book provides great strategies for incorporating these long-life lessons into your life and there are interesting tools, ideas and suggestions on his web site.

  1. Move Naturally – be active without having to think about it.
  2. Hara Hachi Bu – painlessly cut calories by 20%.
  3. Plant Slant – avoid meat and processed foods.
  4. Grapes Of Life – drink red wine (in moderation).
  5. Purpose Now – take time to see the big picture; ikigai in Japan, plan de vida in Costa Rico are guiding forces.
  6. Down Shift – take time to relieve stress.
  7. Belong – participate in a spiritual community.
  8. Loved Ones First – make family a priority.
  9. Right Tribe – be surrounded by those who share Blue Zone values.

I read this book a couple of months ago, as I was turning 51. At that time, I did not give a lot of thought to how long I would be on this earth but had a vague notion that 85 – 90 years of age might be a fair expectation.

After reading the book, however, I began thinking of my age as more of a turn-around point – 51 years out, circling the bend for a couple or few years, and 51 years on the return run. This seems much more realistic to me, and because, since the age of 42 or so I have begun to make regular adjustments and fine tuning to my lifestyle, I expect I’ll live a long, active and productive life.

If you see me wizened and smiling backpacking through your neighbourhood, jump on your bike and come alongside for a bit of conversation.  If you have some flavonoid rich red wine at home, invite me in for a tiny tip of the elixir.