Updated 10th April 2024

9 longevity practices: Secrets from the blue zones

Share this article

  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Twitter
  • Print this page
  • Email this page

Do you want to live to 100? Dietary patterns, community, environment, and stress management play pivotal roles in longevity.

From Sardinia's matriarchal villages to Okinawa's garden-rich diets, this episode takes us on a tour of insights. It's not just about living longer, it's about thriving.

In today’s episode, Jonathan is joined by Dan Buettner and Prof. Tim Spector to discuss the secrets of a longer, healthier life. Together, they journey through the world’s blue zones, rare global hotspots where celebrating your 100th birthday is common. The guests also address the threats to these longevity havens and the decline of traditional diets.

Dan Buettner is an American National Geographic fellow and New York Times bestselling author. He’s also an explorer, educator, and creator of the Netflix series “Live to 100,” which discovers five unique communities where people live extraordinarily long and vibrant lives.

Tim Spector is a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, director of the Twins UK study, scientific co-founder of ZOE, and one of the world’s leading researchers. He's also the author of Food for Life, his latest book on nutrition and health.

If you want to uncover the right foods for your body, head to zoe.com/podcast, and get 10% off your personalized nutrition program.

Find top tips for gut health from ZOE Science & Nutrition: Download our FREE gut guide.

Follow ZOE on Instagram.

Is there a nutrition topic you’d like us to explore? Email us at podcast@joinzoe.com, and we’ll do our best to cover it. 

Episode transcripts are available here.

ZOE Science & Nutrition

Join us on a journey of scientific discovery.

Episode summary

Everyone wants to live a long, healthy life. This desire manifests in the amount of money we spend on pills, powders, supplements, and wellness books. 

We all want to age well, but few of us know how to do it.

Dan Buettner, however, has answers. As a National Geographic fellow and explorer, he’s spent many years discovering the secrets of so-called blue zones. 

In this episode of ZOE Science & Nutrition, Dan explains what he’s learned and how to adopt healthy habits. 

What are blue zones?

Blue zones are home to more centenarians than anywhere else on Earth. They include  Okinawa in Japan, Nuoro province in Sardinia, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, and Icaria in Greece.

People living in these regions live significantly longer, healthier lives than populations elsewhere. And they appear to be protected against age-associated chronic conditions.

So, what’s their secret?

What ties these areas together?

At first glance, links between a Japanese island and a Costa Rican peninsula aren’t clear. But Dan has discovered some shared traits.

For instance, blue zones tend to have a similar latitude: not too close to the equator, where infectious diseases are more widespread, and far from the coldest areas on Earth, where people spend more time indoors.

A surprising revelation is that people in blue zones don’t set out to exercise. Instead, people’s lives generally require more activity. So, people tend to walk everywhere, and virtually everyone has a garden where they grow their own food.

Gardening is “the best longevity exercise you can do,” according to Dan.

Also, people in blue zones have fewer technological gadgets that supposedly help make life easier. “We’ve engineered physical activity out of our lives,” says Dan, who now works with planners to help make towns and cities walkable. 

What about diet?

Again, when it comes to diets, it might seem unlikely that such disparate parts of the world have much in common. But according to Dan, they do.

The diets of people who make it to 100 are 90% whole food and plant-based. Although the specific plants might vary, people tend to eat what they grow in their gardens, and beans feature heavily.

Beans are full of healthy plant chemicals, protein, and fiber — which your gut bacteria rely on for fuel.

“Real foods for longevity tend to be peasants' foods — the cheap stuff everyone can afford.”

Two important omissions also link blue zones diets. People eat very little ultra-processed food and meat.

Sadly, though, this is changing. As new roads are built and fast food marketing slithers in, people’s diets are shifting in the wrong direction.

Once a bastion of longevity, Okinawa is now the least healthy region of Japan. This is largely due to fast foods imported from America.

What else?

Dan thinks reduced stress might help blue zone residents have longer and healthier lives. Of course, people everywhere worry. But in blue zones, there are good mechanisms to help mitigate the damage.

People in these regions tend to have rituals. In Okinawa, for instance, there is ancestor veneration – people keep shrines and portraits of their relatives in their homes, and at the start of each day, people spend 15 minutes remembering where they came from.

Some people in blue zones, like the one in Costa Rica, enjoy a good nap — a surefire way to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

People in blue zones also tend to have tight-knit communities that include extended family. People make sure to spend time with their friends, and eat together for hours, rather than racing to finish while watching TV.

Emulating the blue zones

Dan has tips for people who want to live like they’re in a blue zone without relocating.

His advice: “Move away from the silver bullet mentality and toward the silver buckshot mentality.”

In other words, it’s not about one single change — it’s about small changes and habits you can stick with for life. They have to be easy and enjoyable.

Some might be very simple. He recommends keeping cookies and other unhealthy snacks off the kitchen counter. Keep a fully stocked fruit bowl there instead. 

He also believes that we should “curate” our inner circle of friends, trying to stay closest to those who live the healthiest. If your three best friends are unhealthy, he explains, you probably will be, too.

Eat with your family. Take a nap. Grow some vegetables, if you can. If you don’t have a garden, buy some house plants. As you water them each day, you’re forced to take a little stroll. 

It doesn’t seem like much, but over the course of your life, these changes can make a positive difference to your long-term health.


[00:00:34] Jonathan Wolf: Welcome to ZOE Science & Nutrition, where world-leading scientists explain how their research can improve your health. 

I'm your host, Jonathan Wolf, founder and CEO of ZOE. Today, we uncover the secrets of so-called blue zones, the places where celebrating your 100th birthday is commonplace. 

Our guest is Dan Buettner. He's an explorer, a National Geographic fellow, and a leading blue zone researcher. Dan takes us into the fascinating lives of people who have lived to be 100 in these places, revealing their daily practices and habits. 

I'm also joined by Professor Tim Spector. He's one of the world's top 100 most-cited scientists and ZOE's scientific co-founder. He shares what the science says about why these habits can help us live longer. Today's lessons come from centuries of collective understanding, and in this episode, you'll learn to apply them to live a longer and healthier life. 

Dan and Tim, thank you for joining me today.  

[00:01:39] Dan Buettner: It's a pleasure.  

[00:01:40] Tim Spector: Good to be here. 

[00:01:42] Jonathan Wolf: Brilliant. Well, look, we have this tradition here, Dan, that we always start with a quick fire round of questions. And with this very strict rule, you can say yes or no, or if you absolutely have to, you can give us a one sentence answer. 

Are you up for that? 

[00:01:56] Dan Buettner: I'm in.

[00:01:57] Johnathan Wolf: Good. And Dan is a little jet lagged this morning. So it's a particularly mean way to get it straight at the beginning, but we're going to give it a go. All right, starting with Dan, have you found the secret to longevity?

[00:02:08] Dan Buettner: Yes. 

[00:02:09] Jonathan Wolf: Do people in the blue zones all eat the same food? 

[00:02:14] Dan Buettner: No. 

[00:02:15] Jonathan Wolf: Could having the right friends help me to live longer? 

[00:02:17] Dan Buettner: Yes. 

[00:02:18] Jonathan Wolf: Will you tell us today how we can build our own blue zones at home? 

[00:02:23 Dan Buettner: Yes. 

[00:02:24] Jonathan Wolf: Oh, that was easy. And Tim, just a couple for you. Are there foods that can increase my lifespan? 

[00:02:30] Tim Spector: Yes. 

[00:02:31] Jonathan Wolf: Do I have to go to the gym if I want to live a long and healthy life? 

[00:02:37] Tim Spector: No, thank God.  

[00:02:41] Jonathan Wolf: Brilliant. And then final question, Dan, before we get into it, and you can have a whole sentence or two. What's the biggest myth about living a long and healthy life that you often hear? 

[00:02:49] Dan Buettner: That there is a pill, or a supplement, or a superfood that's gonna be your panacea.  

[00:02:59] Jonathan Wolf: I think that's a brilliant place to start. 

Well look, Dan, for anyone who hasn't seen your recent Netflix series or read your book, I strongly recommend it. But let's assume that maybe some of the listeners here haven't done so. And so before we start to really dissect this whole idea about blue zones, could you just start by explaining what a blue zone is, and why it caught your interest, you know, now many years ago? 

[00:03:22] Dan Buettner: Sure. It's both a concept and a play. So I'm a lifelong explorer for National Geographic. I've led about 21 scientific expeditions. But around about 20 years ago, I started looking into this idea of longevity, mainly as a mystery. Okinawa, Japan was producing the longest lived humans in the history of the world, largely free of disability. 
And I thought, Aha, that's a great mystery and did a facile expedition there. 

But I got to thinking that perhaps I could, in a sense, reverse engineer longevity. So instead of looking for an answer in a test tube or a Petri dish or in some genetic code, find populations where people are living statistically longest and then look for the correlates or the common denominators to see if the patterns just repeated themselves enough that you could see a signal or draw some conclusions. 

And we found five places where people are living statistically longest. The longest of men in the world are Sardinia, Italy. The longest of women, Okinawa, Japan. The island of Ikaria, Greece, you have a population living about eight years longer but with almost no discernible dementia. In the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica, people enjoy about half the rate of middle aged mortality. 
And what that means is they're about three times more likely to reach a healthy age of 95. And then in the United States, we found the longest of people among Christians, Seventh day Adventists living in and around Loma Linda, California. 

And then the second part of my work was Using standardized methodologies to find the common denominators and thus my books and the Netflix documentary. 

[00:05:11] Jonathan Wolf: Did you find anything that actually ties these places together?  

[00:05:14] Dan Buettner: Well, geographically, they're all in about the 40th parallel north, interestingly. So you don't see people way in the north living a long time. And you don't see people along the equator, maybe in a long time. And the reason I think is the 40th parallel is a sweet spot of sorts. 

Along the equator people are dying of infectious diseases that hobble their longevity or life expectancy. And in the North, perhaps they spend too much time indoors and eating canned foods and, you know, not minding their garden, et cetera. I don't know, but there seems to be…

[00:05:49] Jonathan Wolf: I’m feeling doomed already.  So we're recording this today in London, and it's pretty gray and wintry and I thought you were going to say they don't get enough sunlight. I'm like, so the first thing I need to do is move further south. So, am I doomed?

[00:06:03] Dan Buettner: Not necessarily doomed, but I would say the, one of the biggest findings after 20 years of this is that for most people, their environment drives their health more so than any individual responsibility. 

So where you live has a big impact. In the United States, for example, within the same cities, there are near neighborhoods where the life expectancy is up to 13 years higher than other neighborhoods.

[00:06:36] Jonathan Wolf: Thirteen years high within the same city?

[00:06:36] Dan Buettner: In the same city. Boston's one of them, by the way. 

[00:06:36] Jonathan Wolf: So it’s a great example. So I have spent a lot of time in Boston where the weather is also not so great, but you're saying it's not just where it's not really the latitude is like what your environment is? 

[00:06:48] [00:06:49] Dan Buettner: Yeah. And my research work is finding these blue zones and understanding them. My daytime job is working with cities to transport the environmental characteristics that we see driving longevity in blue zones to American cities, and that's been fantastically successful for us.  

[00:07:09] Jonathan Wolf: And I know that one of the things you talk about particularly within the blue zones is this idea of a centenarian. Could you explain what a centenarian is? And maybe just, could you paint a picture a bit of how people are living in these blue zones? Which is something you, you talk about really beautifully in, in the book and in the show. 

[00:07:28] Dan Buettner: A centenarian is simply a person that's reached their 100th birthday and blue zones isn't necessarily about centenarians. 
We don't well, we do measure centenarian concentration, but that tends to be a byproduct of a population that is producing long lived people, largely without chronic disease. Largely without diabetes, heart disease, types of cancer, dementia. 

They're not people with better bodies than us. They don't have a genetic advantage. They're not more disciplined. They're not smarter. They’re avoiding the diseases that foreshorten their lives at higher percentages. And that's why they're living a long time. 

I mean, I wrote four books, New York times bestselling books on this topic, but you know, in general people in blue zones don't exercise. Which is disruptive to a lot of us. 

[00:08:23] Jonathan Wolf: That is very surprising to hear. 

[00:08:24] Dan Buettner: You don't see anybody doing CrossFit or Pilates or you know, an elliptical in their basement. But they do live in places where every time they go to work or a friend's house or out to eat, it occasions a walk. 

They always have gardens out back and typically two or three growing seasons a year. Their houses aren't full of the mechanized conveniences to do their work for them. They're doing their own housework and their own yard work and kneading bread by hand. 

So my team figures that they're moving every 20 minutes or so, but unconsciously. Probably keeping their metabolisms burning higher and probably burning more calories than somebody who, you know, works at their desk all day long and then you know, thinks they are going to the gym at the end of the day. First of all, most people don't go to the gym at the end of the day as they think they're going to do. But secondly, it's not as good as spreading out the physical activity throughout the day. 

If you want to know what a hundred year old ate to live to be a hundred, you can't just go ask them because the people don't remember. 
So to get at that, we found dietary surveys done in all five blue zones. over the last 100 years or so. 155 dietary surveys. And Tim, as you know, dietary surveys aren’t perfect, but they're directionally correct. And when you meta-analyze them, you start to get a very clear signal or you see the same patterns. So we did that. 

What people who make it up to 100 on average, they're eating about 90% whole food plant based. The five pillars of every longevity diet in the world are whole grains, wheat, corn, and rice, greens, and of course garden vegetables, they all have garden vegetables, tubers, interestingly. 

In Okinawa about 70% of their caloric intake until 1970 came from one tuber known as Imo or the purple sweet potato, nuts, and the cornerstone of every longevity diet in the world is beans. And if you're eating a cup of beans a day, it's probably associated with about four extra years of life expectancy over less healthy sources of protein. 

The other facets sort of fall into two categories. One is living your life on purpose. Which seems soft and spongy to, you know, real scientists. But there's pretty clear evidence that if you wake up in the morning with meaning, you're living about eight years longer than people who are rudderless in life. 

And really the foundation of blue zones is their social connectedness. They tend to prioritize family. They tend to belong to a faith, believe it or not. And they're very careful about their immediate social circle. And you don't hear much about these things because marketers can't sell you anything, but really how you connect, drives your behavior for the long run in powerful and measurable ways. And we like to talk a lot about how we connect in the blue zones.  

[00:11:30] Jonathan Wolf: There's a lot to unpack there. I think this being ZOE Science and Nutrition, I feel like food is probably the place to start. And I definitely want to pull Tim in as well as we talk a bit more about what you've found out. Like looking at the diets of what people are eating across these areas. 

And you know, the first thing I'm struck by is like, I've been to Italy quite often, I've been to Japan once or twice. And it strikes me that those dots seem like almost as far apart as I can imagine. But what's interesting is you're talking about actually how this sort of commonality across these blue zones. 

So what am I missing, I guess, that actually is linking them more closely than I had realized?  

[00:12:16] Dan Buettner: In general, you know, we're constantly marketed these superfoods. Whenever I see a superfood, I basically just mentally throw it in the trash bin. Usually when there's a health claim on the package, you can be pretty sure it's not healthy. 

And real foods for longevity tend to be peasant foods. The cheap stuff everybody can afford. You know, in America, we hear all the time, you need fresh fruits and vegetables. That's the wrong way to start, especially in the inner city when there are poor people for two reasons. One, people can't afford it. 
And it creates an immediate barrier. And number two, people don't know what to do with it.

But you give African Americans or Latin Americans or, you know, the Italians, beans and a grain. They know exactly what to do it. Africans, the beans and rice, the Latin Americans, beans and corn tortilla, the Italians, pasta fagioli. You know, pasta and beans and you have a complex carbohydrates fiber. You have all the amino acids necessary for human sustenance. 

So the big common denominator is peasant's food made to taste delicious. And that last part, that's the most important ingredient. Taste is the most important ingredient. 
And these Blue Zones, they know how to make this. It's very simple food, absolutely sing.  

[00:13:44] Tim Spector: Plus a bit of diversity, I think, as well. I mean, when I've gone to visit Japan and Italy, Mediterranean countries, you do see some similarities, actually. I mean, you know, their noodles are the equivalent of spaghetti, but it's what else they put on their noodles. 

It's the fact that they have all these different speciality restaurants in Japan that will, you know, use all kinds of different ingredients and, you know, hundreds of different kinds of mushrooms and onions and all these beans and bean sprouts and all these little pickles and fermented foods and the equivalent. 

You know, so people think of it of Japan is just sushi and rice.  It's not. When you actually go there it's very, very different to the sort of the westernized version of what Japanese food is and it varies a lot between the islands and regions, just like it does in Italy.  

And so I think for me, it's that diversity of the foods, the fact that there's great food culture. So people will make all this stuff in their homes that may have had peasant origins, but is still carrying on. And they'll mix stuff together in rich soups and casseroles all the time. 

And they're having fermented foods as well. I think that's the other thing that we don't really discuss enough is that, you know, in Mediterranean countries, lots of goats, cheese and yogurts and other dairy ferments. And in Japan, of course, you've got all the misos and the fermented soy products that are eaten regularly. 

So you've got this diversity and the fermented foods and this food culture that is all about. you know, passing on what your grandmother taught you to the next generation. I think they're also very binding things that identify these, these very healthy groups. 

[00:15:38] Jonathan Wolf: Hi, I hope you're feeling inspired by the lessons we're learning from how these centenarians have lived their lives. Now, I'd like to ask you a favor in return. It turns out that 63% of people who watch this podcast haven't hit the subscribe button. And 11% haven't yet hit the bell to turn notifications on. 

So if you've ever enjoyed this podcast, please hit the subscribe button and turn notifications on. Doing us this small favor will really help us to reach more people. with life changing health information. Thank you. And on with the show. 

And Tim, I heard Dan mentioned like whole grains, greens, tubers, nuts, beans. 
What are your thoughts as Dan was saying, this is like what I've pulled across from observing across these blue zones. What does the latest science tell us about those foods?

[00:16:32] Tim Spector: Well, they tell us that Dan's exactly right, those foods are perfect. And up to recently we didn't know why they were good really, we sort of, because we've had this rather reductionist view of foods that, you know… 

[00:16:46] Jonathan Wolf: Reductionist meaning?

[00:16:47] Tim Spector: Meaning that we take the hundreds of chemicals in any one food and we talk about one of them. So it might be carotene in carrots, or it might be vitamin C in a lemon. And we ignore all the 800 others there. 

And this is where we've thought about what, you know, what's good about beans. And we just thought about one thing in beans. It turns out it's the entirety, it's that diversity. Not only of the food, but the chemicals within each food and the different fibers that might be there. 

[00:17:20] Jonathan Wolf: And there's a lot of fiber in the foods that Dan was talking about? Is that the thing that really carries them together?  

[00:17:24] Tim Spector: Yeah, it's really a combination of high fiber foods, which feed our microbes, but also polyphenols, which are these chemicals within them that used to be called antioxidants that are also fueled for our gut microbes. 

And these polyphenols have lots of properties on their own as healthcare properties. But I think the main action is by improving our gut health and that's how we get all these universal effects. 

And I imagine my research on aging really is sort of pointed to the immune system being pretty critical here. Because if you can have a healthy immune system, then that immune system is repairing your body continuously, it's fighting early cancer, it's repairing the cells, it's making sure that you do live to an old age by picking up problems early. And if that's in perfect condition and it's not fighting inflammation, it's not dealing with obesity, it's, you know, it's really focused on its main job that it's doing. That is how most of us who do succeed to live a long time are going to do it. 

So foods that are good for your gut are going to be good for your immune system and everything we've talked about, it's whole foods and it's not, they're not poisoning their system with ultra processed foods as well. And I think it's interesting Dan was telling me that some of these places have lost their veneer that they had. Meaning that the places like Okinawa have now been exposed to ultra processed food and they're, they're not doing as well as they were. 

[00:19:05] Jonathan Wolf: So their diet has changed, you mean, is that what you're saying, Dan? 

[00:19:08] Tim Spector: So their diet has gone, moved from this sort of 100% whole food diets to increasingly percentage of ultra processed foods with chemicals and lower fiber intake, starting to see an effect on this.

[00:19:21] Jonathan Wolf: And just to make sure that I'd understood this right, I think what you're saying is if you look across the sort of set of foods that Dan was talking about, what you really see is foods that not only have all these polyphenols, which are all of these sort of magic complex chemicals, but they have a lot of fiber. 
And that critically, what you're saying is fiber isn't one thing, which I think is how I always thought about it. And I suspect most listeners think about it, right? You see it on the back of the packet and says fiber. 

Join the community

Be the first to know about ZOE’s breakthrough research, content from the world’s leading scientists, and more.

Actually, I think you're saying there's like a thousand different sorts of fiber. And we think that the individual bacteria in our gut actually eat specific fibers. 
So it's almost like, is that right?  

[00:19:59] Tim Spector: They're very picky. They're very specialized and very picky. So that's why the diversity of foods, you know, whether it's even different beans, different colored beans is going to produce a different set of gut microbes inside you that are going to produce different chemicals that might enhance your immune system even more and help you live longer. 

[00:20:17] Dan Buettner: But I will say just a couple of refinements on what, on what you've said about the blue zones.

The blue zones are actually subsets of the countries we're talking about, like Sardinia. The blue zone in Sardinia is very different than Italy. The blue zone in Sardinia is actually only six villages and they're descendant from a bronze age culture. 
They're matriarchal like the rest of the Mediterranean is patriarchal, and they have a quite different diet. 

Same thing with Okinawa until 1917. Okinawa wasn't even part of Japan. It was called the Ryukyus kingdom and their diet is completely different. We tend to think of Japanese as fish heavy, but the Okinawans didn't eat very much fish at all. They tended to eat this Imo, as I mentioned, tons of tofu and basically what grew in their garden. 

And both of these blue zones did not have huge access to, or a tradition where there was a vast variety of food. They were poor and they tended to have to eat what was available, what was growing that season. 
Of course, there were herbs and there were spices, you know, often they had a kitchen garden. 

But if you look at the patterns, typically they only had 20 or 30 ingredients at any given time. That sort of rolled with the season. So as you went from summer garden to winter garden, those ingredients, but I mean, I think it makes it actually less discouraging for people because you don't have to think about having a hundred ingredients. 
These people stayed very healthy for a long time. 

[00:21:54] Jonathan Wolf: And Dan, I was just thinking like. People are quite familiar with Italian food. There'll be a lot more people saying, I don't really know Japanese at all. 

Could you elaborate a little bit, I guess, on the difference between what these people in these five villages in Sardinia are eating versus maybe sort of our traditional idea of what Italian food is? 
Because I think most of us are like. Oh, I eat nothing but Italian food, pizza and pasta, so if that's the secret to my long and healthy life, I'm feeling really good about it.  

[00:22:22] Dan Buettner: Yeah, so the diet of longevity in Sardinia is more a verb than a noun, because there were at least three phases. Until about 1960, believe it or not, most of what they ate was bread and cheese. These shepherds had several different kinds of bread, sourdough usually, but also a flatbread called carta di musica. They were shepherds, so these men would go into their, into their pastures. 

[00:22:45] Tim Spector: They’d have olive oil, though, wouldn't they? 

[00:22:46] Dan Buettner: Olive oil, but not as much as you think. They're in the highlands of Sardinia. The terrain is very rugged and not conducive to the olive groves like you would see actually more mastic oil, believe it or not, in the forties and fifties. But to your point, olive oil is now ubiquitous in Sardinia. 

In about 1960s, roads came in and remember centenarians were alive, they were middle aged in 1960s, their diet shifted. They were still poor people and they relied very heavily on huge gardens and pasta started to come in, but there's more gnocchi than there is pasta. A lot of dishes made with fava beans. 

And of course their celebratory food was pork, never beef, very little chicken, but on average, about five times a month they would eat pork.

[00:23:42] Jonathan Wolf: Five times a month. So this is a very, very low level of meat eating you're describing.  

[00:23:46] Dan Buettner: Very low level. The average American…

[00:23:47] Jonathan Wolf: And I guess if they're in the mountains they're not eating a lot of fish either. 

[00:23:49] Dan Buettner: No, in fact, you can see the ocean from the blue zone of Sardinia, but I met several centenarians that first time they had fish in their life was when they were in their 20s. And that's because it took a day to get to the sea. They didn't have a fishing culture, but maybe they get some fish, but by the time they got it back up to their village, it stunk, you know, so you'd see this sort of dried cod once in a while. Bacalao. They called it and they, you know, reconstitute that. 

But it wasn't, you know, we tend to think fish is associated with longevity, but not a lot of fish in the blue zones.  

[00:24:22] Jonathan Wolf: I think a lot of people will be surprised by that because there's such a lot of talk about protein today and this idea that we're all short of protein and you can find if you walk into the grocery store right an enormous number of things saying high in protein, which suggests, Oh my God, I'm like low on protein.  

[00:24:41] Dan Buettner: Yeah, you probably know this, but a CDC, Center for Disease Controls in America, they tell us that the average American gets about twice the amount of protein they need. 
So we're getting way more protein than we need. 

And I think people don't realize that you can get all the protein you need out of plant based sources. So you don't need meat to be healthy. Meat tastes good, but…  

[00:25:07] Jonathan Wolf: And this low level of eating like meat and fish, is that common across the blue zones? 

[00:25:12] Dan Buettner: Yes. All blue zones. There's a subset of Adventists who eat no meat at all. The highest meat consumption in the blue zones, I would say is in Costa Rica. 

But, it's not that they don't like it. It's not that they're, you know, more virtuous and they care about the environment and they care about animal suffering, they just couldn't afford it. And as soon as, as you were beginning to mention, as soon as roads come in and they start adopting a more Western or American way of life, their meat consumption has skyrocketed, their processed food consumption has skyrocketed. At the same time diabetes has skyrocketed, heart disease. 

And in one of the blue zones, Okinawa, it produced the longest lived healthiest people in the history of the world. And now they're the least healthy prefecture in all of Japan, largely because of the fast food restaurants. Thanks to the American period, since I started studying, 20 years, 

[00:26:10] Jonathan Wolf: That's incredibly sad. 

[00:26:11] Dan Buettner: Longest living people on the planet to the least healthy people in Japan, largely because of the American food culture. I'm very sorry. 

[00:26:19] Tim Spector: And of  course, as soon as you start getting cheap meat on the plate, it's not so much the effect of that meat, but the fact it displaces all those healthy beans and other vegetables that they were eating before. 

So I think people have got this idea, a dichotomous view of meat as it's either healthy or unhealthy.  Rather than the fact that okay, if we take away ultra processed meats, which are nearly everyone agrees are unhealthy.  You know natural, well cooked meat is fine, but it displaces, there's just no room on your plate. If you're having meat every day, you can't have the same Level of other vegetables, legumes, et cetera, that kept these populations so healthy. 

So this is, I think, one reason. And also, we talk about this a lot in nutrition. Sarah would talk about this. It's instead of what? You know, we take it, it's not just one thing, it has to be in context. So, as you said, in Okinawa, you know, they've displaced a lot of the good stuff with the bad stuff. And so some of it is the bad stuff coming in, but a lot of it is they're no longer having the good stuff because there's, you know, their minds and plates are full of other stuff.  

One of your other guests, Walter Willett, famously said about meat, it's a lot like radiation.
We know a lot will kill you, but we don't quite know the safe level. 

And if you look at blue zones, the suggestion of five times per month, seems to be associated or it doesn't seem to be getting in the way of them living long largely chronic disease free lives 

[00:27:50] Jonathan Wolf: And it's interesting about the fish also because I think most people listening to this will be, there will be some excessive a lot of people like yeah, okay I sort of know that red meat's not good for me, but a lot of people and I think Sarah might have been here also talking about the positive benefits of fish. 

So it's quite interesting that it is not something that you…

[00:28:08] Dan Buettner: I'm not saying it's not good for you. 

[00:28:09] Jonathan Wolf: I know you're not saying it, but you're not saying, it's interesting that that hasn't been an essential component to be a blue zone. Because I might have expected that to have been like, you know, Oh, they will definitely be eating quite a lot of fish in their diet as a compliment. So, you know, maybe not a huge total amount of calories, but that was a really important nutrient. But it sounds like you're saying that actually fish eating is not essential to being one of these blue zones.  

[00:28:37] Dan Buettner: That's right for sure it's not. But you have to realize, as I said before, the diet's a verb it's changed dramatically, especially in the last 20 years and they're almost caught up with the rest of Italy in the case of Sardinia or exceeded Japan in the case of Okinawa. And embracing this ultra processed meat heavy diet.

[00:28:59] Jonathan Wolf: So you're basically telling a story that the blue zones are disappearing. 

[00:29:01] Dan Buettner: They're going to hell. 

[00:29:02] Jonathan Wolf: Is that really the sort of, which is quite sad because we're all reading everything about how our climate is being destroyed and the world is falling apart and you have been seen almost in your own lifetime, the way in which these patterns that were so healthy are falling away.  

[00:29:21] Dan Buettner: That's right. But yes… 

[00:29:22] Tim Spector: It's hard to be isolated though, isn't it? I mean, that's the other thing is you get contaminated by cultures and pressures and marketing that's global. And so it's very hard for these, say, mountain villages, you know, around the world to stay isolated in their bubbles. 

And I think that's, that's the other thing we're seeing. It's like, you know, you used to only be, if you had to live on the coast to eat fish, now it's frozen and you know, everyone can get it in their freezer.

[00:29:46] Jonathan Wolf: I guess the other thing that's really interesting is, it tells you that this is a bit by chance, is what you're saying. It's not like these people in these zones were like, this is my absolute favorite food, and I'm choosing to eat it because it's my favorite food and it's making me healthy. 

Actually, it was sort of, they were quite poor, this was like what was available and that they could support where they are. And then when we've suddenly been offered all of this meat and candy and all the rest of it, you're saying, they weren't like I don't want any of that. 
Actually, they're like, oh, okay, that sounds tasty. And unexpectedly, this is then affecting their health. Is that the story? 

[00:30:27] Dan Buettner: There's a generational shift. The diets of the blue zones, I wrote about them in the Blue Zone Kitchen. There's a lot of ingenuity and intentionality in creating these recipes, it's usually the older women who maintain the food tradition and they are genius at taking these very simple, inexpensive peasant foods and making them taste delicious and they have a taste for them. 

So the cohort of people over 60 in Okinawa, for example, still have the highest concentration of centenarians in the world. It's the 20 year olds who started eating the burgers and the Kentucky fried chicken and their taste buds have been napalmed and they're now used for the richer, fattier, you know, enhanced flavor. 

[00:31:16] Jonathan Wolf: You immediately play straight into my guilt as a parent about the fact that I'm not bringing my children up well enough to like, appreciate the sort of food that I know is good for their health. They were exposed to all of this like, very easy to eat food, which tastes really sugary, fast, and lots of meat and all the rest of it. 

And if you get that in a, you know, you're saying, I think that because they've been exposed to that earlier, it's like, well, that's delicious. And this is of course what I would choose over this other food, which is also probably harder to prepare. 

Being a parent is really hard, particularly I think being a mother, in most cases, is still today primary care related. It's really hard to juggle all of this, so I think that in the reality of the food that's around and available, I think there's enough guilt around parenting. 

So I think that is a bit the reality of the environment we're in, and the question is how can we make it easier and so I think it's hard. 

[00:32:06] Tim Spector: Yeah. I agree. It's a lack of education. It's not, I don't think it's anyone's fault, you know. They're told your kid will only have processed apple puree from a little can that's got a baby picture on it. Rather realizing actually they can pretty much eat anything. And in that two year window, they are really inquisitive and they will eat all kinds of stuff that they won't eat when they're three. And so you have that very narrow time to really expand their time. No one is telling parents this.  

[00:32:34] Jonathan Wolf: We’ve spent a lot of time talking about food. I would love to pick up on a couple of other areas, Dan, before we talk about what listeners could actually do. 

I thought one of the things that was really interesting, actually, that I had never thought about to do with this Blue Zones was stress. And I guess the obvious starting point, I think, is many people listening will assume that these centenarians have lived a life without any stress. And that is why they've lived so long. Is that correct?  

[00:33:01] Dan Buettner: People in the blue zones are exactly like us. They could be one of the three of us sitting here or anybody listening right now. They worry about their health. They worry about their kids. They worry about their work. They get stressed in their lives. They have a couple things that we don't have or forgotten. 

Number one, they have these sacred daily rituals that help release the, or tamp down the stress of everyday life. The Okinawans have this ancestor veneration. Well, in their homes, there's, there's always a shrine of remembrances of their parents and their grandparents and their great great grandparents. And they'll always begin their day with 15 minutes, remembering where they came from, and to a certain extent, being able to relinquish their day up to these ancestors, who they believe are still looking over them. In fact, you often see up along the ceiling angled down at you, portraits of all their ancestors sort of looking down at you. And I think that helps.

The Adventists are big prayers. They wake up in the morning and they relinquish their day to their God. They say a prayer before a meal, so they kind of slow down and probably lower the cortisol level of that meal. The Costa Ricans and the Icarians are big nappers. Believe it or not, taking a nap is a great way to lower cortisol levels, lower stress. 

The other big point, they live in environments that lower stress. One of the easiest ways to lower stress is to go out with your friends to not be alone with your problems and stew on them. So every time they walk out their door, they're bumping into their friends. They tend to keep live in extended family. So there tends to often be a grandparent who has eight or nine or 10 decades of accumulated wisdom and resiliency that he or she can transmit to a grandchild who's having a tough time. 

They tend to be close to nature. They walk out their door and down the street and they're in a, they look at the sea or they're in the forest. 
So, so much about lowering stress is the environment they live in. But I absolutely agree that stress is a very important component to manage if you want to live longer.

[00:35:19] Tim Spector: A lot of these groups have communal eating and drinking. So I've often thought that when I go into Mediterranean countries, the fact that people are having a drink, you see old folk, you know, gathering every evening to have a glass of wine together. 

And they just have one glass of wine that lasts them two hours. I've often thought that some of the advantages of say red wine might be the fact that actually it's doing something social. And it might be the same if it was kombucha or a non-alcoholic drink, but it got them out. It was a reason for people to bond. 

And I think societies, you know, that are sort of anti-alcohol or who don't have that similar bond, which is a sort of cultural one as much as anything, it's not like they're all alcoholics. It's just a cultural mix, it does allow them to communicate. Relieve stress and talk to others. And I think they're all sort of interlinked. 
So it's quite interesting how you know, the the idea of the aperitif hour…

[00:36:25] Dan Buettner: It's like what you were saying about nutrients. You can't really pull the nutrient out and draw a conclusion, it's the package and and you can pan out even further of the package that comes with eating a meal or the package with drinking a glass of wine.

[00:36:40] Tim Spector: Yeah, and the fact that these people are spending two or three times longer than the average American on a meal. 
I mean, I think, you know, the importance of that ticks all the boxes from A, you know, digestion to communication, to de-stressing, to, you know, to making these other contacts. So just the act of a communal meal sort of ticks all these boxes that we now know are. really important for longevity.  

[00:37:06] Jonathan Wolf: And is there real science behind this idea that stress can reduce your life expectancy or that, like, being able to relieve your stress can affect this? 

Because, you know, I think people talk about it, but is there actually, is there reality behind that?

Let’s take a quick break. I want to tell you about something new we’ve made for you. A free guide that will kick-start your journey to better gut health. Now if you’re a regular listener of this podcast, you’re no doubt already aware of how important the gut microbiome is. It impacts our digestion, it helps support our immune system, and it even impacts our mental wellbeing. Now as we’ve heard many times on this show, and as our members know through using ZOE, we feed our gut microbiome through the variety of foods we eat. And in return, our microbes give us this wealth of health benefits. So how can you nurture your gut in the best way? Which food swaps can you try to feed those good bacteria? What does a high-fibre shopping list look like?

Well our free gut-hea;th guide will tell you all of that, and more. It’s jam-packed with actionable tips designed to put you in control of your gut health. To get yours for free, simply go to zoe.com/gutguide.

Hi, I hope you're enjoying our journey into the Blue Zones, learning the secrets of a long and healthy life from people who've achieved just that. Now, we've had over 100 amazing conversations just like this with world leading experts all geared towards guiding you to a longer and healthier life. 

Now, if you're short on time and want the key takeaways, without all those hours of listening, we've got you covered. Our team has created a free guide summarizing 10 of our top discoveries from our podcast. That can make a real difference in your life. For example, did you know that fermented foods could have powerful health giving properties? 
To get the guide for free, simply go to zoe.com/podcast or click the link in the show notes and please let me know what you think of it. Okay, back to the show.  

[00:38:17] Tim Spector: Well, there's certainly lots of animal data to suggest that's true, that stress increases inflammation levels. So, you know, mental stress has physical effects on the body, which it will make those animals die earlier. 
That's certainly true. It's hard to do those same experiments in humans, obviously, no one wants to be particularly stressed, but there are correlations.

[00:38:42] Dan Buettner: There’s one study that’s been done among caretakers, people taking care of someone with a disease. And they measure telomeres, the longer telomeres, the younger you are biologically and they followed the control group…

[00:38:57] Tim Spector: Telomeres are just the ends of chromosomes that are like there's a plastic bit on a shoelace that over time erodes and is a way of estimating your lifespan in a way. 

[00:39:09] Dan Buettner: Right, and you want long telomeres. So the control group, who just lived a normal life and then caretakers of sick people presumably under a lot of stress over five years.  They had shorter telomeres than people who didn't have the stress. So there's pretty good evidence.

[00:39:27] Tim Spector: There is some epidemiological evidence when they followed up. There's a whole study back a few decades ago of civil servants And they had all the civil servants records in the UK. When they'd worked out when when they died and they adjusted for all factors like weight and social class and education and one of the big factors determining when they likely to die was what they call the locus of control. 

How many people were their boss and if you were at the bottom of that food chain, and the idea was that person had very little idea if they were in control of their life. Whereas the people at the top of the food chain did feel at the top of it, and they would live twice as long as the people on the bottom when you're adjusted for all these other factors. 

And they've done similar studies in, I think it's gorillas and various other primates. So the amount of stress you perceive is definitely linked to longevity.  

[00:40:27] Jonathan Wolf: And so as you're listening to Dan talking about these ways that could de stress, like, that sounds a plausible element?  

[00:40:35] Tim Spector: Yeah, because you may not be able to change your position in a company or a job or a family, but if the way you react to it can be dissipated. Then this is how you need to do it. And if you're in that sort of community, you're much less likely to feel those effects than if you're perhaps on your own or in a, you know, a sort of Northern Western type community where everyone fends for themselves.

[00:40:58] Jonathan Wolf: Yeah, I mean, you haven't touched on it, but, you know, sitting here in a Northern climate in November, I'm also thinking that the sun is shining quite a lot in these environments as you talk about it as well, and therefore your ability to like, be outside and sort of take pleasure is presumably quite high. Is that right? 

[00:41:21] Dan Buettner: Well, we don't know if it's sun exposure. It might be in the vitamin D that comes from sun exposure, or you're more likely to be physically active or you're more likely to have a garden.  

[00:41:31] Tim Spector: Or meet your friends  

[00:41:32] Dan Buettner: Or be, yeah, yeah. I mean, that's the other, yeah. You don't want to go outdoors. 
But, you know, I'll add to that sort of stress conversation. In blue zones, people tend to have a vocabulary for purpose. Plan de Vida in Costa Rica or Ikigai in Okinawa. 

People tend to have a very clear idea of why they wake up in the morning. And I believe that's also a big stress shutter, because for people who wake up and you know, what's my place in life? 
What should I do today? You get this sort of existential stress the unemployed, I think, have it as well. 

Whereas people in blue zones don't have that they know they have a responsibility to their family or their communities. And ask the average American what their sense of purpose is. They’re like, I don't know, I just got to go to work. 

But in blue, in Okinawa, you ask people, they're ikigai. They can off the top of their heads, they'll know why they're waking up in the morning, their purpose. And I think that also relieves a lot of stress of the human condition.

[00:42:36] Jonathan Wolf: That's amazing. I'd like to touch quickly on something that we mentioned right at the beginning, which is physical activity, before talking about, you know, what someone listening might do. And I just want to pick up on something you said earlier, which is sort of none of these people are doing exercise. What are they doing?  

[00:42:57] Dan Buettner: They're moving naturally throughout their day. They're moving all day long, but unconsciously.

You know, I know this exercise is popular and it's sort of been a public health intervention, but I have to say in America, it's been a miserable failure. In the United States fewer than 24% of people even get 20 minutes of physical activity a day. So all we spent 150 billion a year on the exercise industry and people don't go. Yeah. 

And blue zones are moving all the time, but they spend zero money on it. 
And my argument is, you know, instead of trying to hound people to get up and go to the gym or, you know, pay for this gold level membership. To sign our streets, so it's easy, safe, and aesthetically pleasing to walk to get our coffee, to walk to work, for our kids to walk to school, which we don't do anymore. 

When I was a kid, 50% of American kids walked to school. we’re down to 10%.  

[00:43:56] Jonathan Wolf: 50% down to 10%? 

[00:43:58] Dan Buettner: Yeah,in the United States. So we've engineered that physical activity out of our lives. And for most people, simply walking 45 minutes a day is about 90% the value of training for a marathon. 

Is exercise a good idea? Yes. But does it work on the population level? No. I mean, if I were invested, if I were a government investing in an intervention, I would not invest in exercise. I would invest in walkable streets, parks, meeting places, aesthetically pleasing outdoors. That's, we know that works.

[00:44:35] Jonathan Wolf: I think it's incredibly powerful and it's interesting. I think that I now work from home, it's worked incredibly well for the company, but it took me a while to realize that basically my level of movement had collapsed because before I used to commute and I was living in London, which like, you know, New York or Boston or something has quite good public transportation. So I would like walk to then go and take a underground train and then walk again at the other end and then at lunch you would go out and you'd walk somewhere to get some, some food. 

Join our mailing list

Sign up for fresh insights into our scientific discoveries and the latest nutrition updates. No spam, just science.

And what I realized is, you know, I was regularly doing 10,000 steps a day before that without really having to think about it. This is just what would happen. And then I was suddenly realizing I'm doing like 3,000 steps. 

I now am trying to engineer walking into my day. So for example, I like to walk my daughter to school because actually that just creates in a really nice way, you know, sort of 45 minutes of walking. And similarly, I really try and make sure I have some reason I have to be out of the house. And I have to proactively create that though, Dan. 

And I'm just thinking a little bit about your example of these people living on their hill villages, right, where they're presumably having to go like up and down the steps quite a lot just to, you know, to do anything. 

[00:45:53] Dan Buettner: What's happening in America, there's a sort of centrifugal development where the cities are dying and people are moving out into the suburbs. So imagine you start working at home and you live in a typical middle American suburb. There's nothing to walk to. Your garage is attached to your house, so you don't even walk to your car. So you walk out your door, you get in your car, you drive to the mall. Or you go to a drive thru Starbucks and pick up your coffee. There's almost no opportunity to unconsciously move. 

Until we look at the elephant in the room that you can't not keep flogging the dead horse of individual responsibility. If you want to get populations healthier, you have to set up their environment so you set them up for success. You have to create cities where it's easy for people to move naturally and we're doing the opposite. 

[00:46:56] Jonathan Wolf: And Dan, you are pushing on this yourself, right? This is sort of your passion as well as your business is to try and get cities to redesign themselves. 

[00:47:04] Dan Buettner: Because it works. 

[00:47:05] Jonathan Wolf: So if you're listening to this and you're in charge of a city, then you should be following up with Dan. If you're listening to this and you're not in charge of a city, but you want to understand like what's the actionable advice or how can I do this for myself? How could you make your life more blue zone like?

[00:47:10] Tim Spector: Without having to move to a mountainous area. 

[00:47:12] Dan Buettner: Well, okay. The first thing is to shift away from the silver bullet mentality, which most of us have, to what I call a silver buckshot mentality. Silver buck means sort of a scatter pattern of little BBs instead of… 

You know, it's a little self serving, but I wrote a book called the blue zone challenge where I aggregated about 40 or so evidence based ways for you to set up your kitchen, your bedroom and your home. 
So you mindlessly move more, eat less and eat better and socialize more. And they tend to do, you know, like in your kitchen, I'm a big believer that we're all on a see-food diet. We eat the food we see. So if on your counter, in America, a lot of, you know, we started eating a bag of chips and we don't finish it. We put a clip on it. We put it on the counter. Bad idea. 

Instead if you put a bowl, you go out and buy yourself the most beautiful fruit bowl you can afford and put that in the middle and keep that full. So when you walk through the kitchen, the default is fruit rather than the chips. There's actually been a Cornell Food Lab did a study on toasters. Very little of what we put in toasters produces something healthy on the back end. So taking the toaster off the counter occasions people losing about two kilos after two years as opposed to those who don't. 

People who have plants throughout their homes actually move more because they're watering plants. 
There's little things you can do to nudge yourself into moving more. And I'm a much bigger believer in setting up your home, your commute, your social life. 

If your three best friends are unhealthy, there's 150% better chance that you'll be unhealthy yourself. So in other words, if your three best friends sit around and eat wieners and chips and watch TV, guess what you're going to be doing when you hang out with them, as opposed to friends whose idea of recreation is biking or walking or playing tennis. 

And it's not a bad idea to have friends like Tim who, you know, love plant based food. We think it's so hard for middle aged people, but I argue the number one thing you could do to add years to your life is re-curate your immediate social circle. Those three friends who you count on you're having a bad day or people with whom you can have a meaningful conversation. 

Those people are going to have a measurable and long term impact on how active you are on what you eat. And it's a counterintuitive. Nobody can make any money off of you, but being very careful about who you let in your, in the room. 

[00:49:53] Tim Spector: What do your studies tell us about gardening? There's some evidence that gardeners, well, epidemiologically are healthier and have healthier microbiomes. 
do the blue zones tell you anything about how that might help them or is it
very variable?

[00:50:08] Dan Buettner: I don't know why, but I can tell you in every blue zone almost everybody who are making it into their nineties and hundreds, not only garden their whole life, but continue to do so. And it might be because it's low intensity, physical activity. 

It's a nudge. When you have a garden and you planted something, you can't wait to eat. It gives you an incentive to go out every day and weed and water and harvest. And, you know, they're bending over. It's a range of motion.  I've seen the studies that show that when you're gardening, your cortisol levels or your stress hormones drop. And it could very well be you get your hands dirty and you're wipe your mouth and you're getting the microbiomes. There's a little bit of dirt, but I argue that gardening is probably much better than joining a gym, the best longevity exercise you could do.  

[00:50:57] Jonathan Wolf: That's fascinating. The one thing I guess we haven't touched on so much as around the stress reduction. 
So you talked about these rituals in these blue zones, but those are rituals that sound very rooted in the culture there they're in. So if someone's listening and saying, I really liked that idea, What are the rituals that I guess, you know, that you do, for  example?

[00:51:17] Dan Buettner: First of all, take your TV or your computer screen out of your kitchen. I think you'll eat more intentionally with less stress if you do that. Eat together as a family, as opposed to with one wheel, one hand on your steering wheel. Take a nap, a known stress reducer. 

Belong to a faith. I'm not a hugely religious person, but people have a Sabbath, Jewish people or the Adventist, this idea of a sanctuary in time where 24 hours a day, they're putting their work aside and they're putting their busy social calendar aside and focusing on their God or focusing on their internal life. 

Hanging out with low stress friends. These are all sort of ecosystem changes we can make to our lives that, as opposed to remember to meditate, which I believe in. I'm a meditator. But I forget about it all the time.  

[00:52:18] Jonathan Wolf: So the benefit of your friends is it just makes it natural and it just happens versus something like a meditation which is a bit like going to the gym, it requires you to sort of do something. 
Is that the difference that you're describing? So it's not that you're against it, but the point is it's a lot easier if it's just built into your social fabric.  

[00:52:35] Dan Buettner: That's right. That's the approach because if you look at any sort of intentional behavior, health behavior, whether it's exercise, getting on a diet, taking supplements. 
There's a recidivism curve. They all last months pretty well and only a few months, three to seven months, but then it drops off precipitously. 

I challenge anybody to tell me about one diet in the history of the world, that's worked for more than 4% of the people who get on it after two years. So it's a great business plan, great marketing vehicle. 
You get people on it every year. But it's a bad longevity strategy because when it comes to longevity, mark my words, other than not dying, there's nothing you can do this month, that's going to make you live longer in 30 years. You have to think about things that you're going to do most days for the next decade, few decades, if you really want it to work for longevity. 

[00:53:38] Jonathan Wolf: One last question. We talk a lot with Tim about what he eats on a regular basis. And I know that lots of listeners are going to be really curious about what your daily diet is. Could you share what you typically eat in a day? 

[00:53:53] Dan Buettner: So I found the minestrone that the longest lived family in the history of the world eats. It's the Melis family in Sardinia. Nine siblings, collective age 860 years. They make the same minestrone every day. And it's three beans. with all kinds of vegetables, carrots, celery, onions, some oregano, some red pepper, some potatoes, or else maybe some barley finished with an extra virgin olive oil. 
I make a huge pot of that every week. Then I store it in glass Tupperwares, glass containers I can freeze. And then every morning, it’s more like a brunch, I usually eat around 11 o'clock and that's how I start my day. 

So in the Tim Spector way of thinking, I have this cocktail of all these fibers because it's got a grain and beans, I get my protein in there, all kinds of trace minerals. And I feel like I get a good base for my day. 

[00:55:01] Jonathan Wolf: That's amazing. Can we get the recipe? 

[00:55:02] Dan Buettner:You can get the recipe. Yes. 

[00:55:05] Jonathan Wolf: Okay. We will follow up on the recipe.

[00:55:07] Dan Buettner: The Blue Zone Longevity Cocktail.  

[00:55:08] Jonathan Wolf: Yeah. We'll call it the The Dan Buettner Minestrone, and we will definitely share it because I am actually just my mouth is actually salivating, nevermind the longevity. 

[00:55:24] I would like to try and do what we always do, which is a quick summary and Dan and Tim, will you just correct me if I get any of this wrong. So we start off by explaining what Blue Zones were, which are these like particular places where. People have aged healthily much more than anywhere else and they're very small places. 
So it's not like Japan or Italy, it's like these very particular sort of villages where, interestingly, what really distinguishes them I think is that they're not getting sick through middle age and later and therefore they're ending up very old and healthy and so levels of dementia and cardiovascular disease and all of these things are really low. 

[But there's a lot that's just built into the environment that is achieving this. There are no silver bullets, to use Dan's phrase. But some of the things that are in common is the sort of foods they're eating, the fact that they're having to move constantly. So no one is going to the gym, but they are effectively doing exercise by just what happens in their lives. 

They all live in places where the weather is quite good, but not right in the tropics where they're going to get sort of infectious diseases. And then I think we talked about three particular aspects, and I know that there's more in, in the book and, and the show you talk about. 

We obviously talked a lot about diet and interestingly, although they are eating very different foods, there's, there's some real similarities. Andmyou mentioned whole grains, you mentioned greens, tubers, nuts, and beans. And then Tim was basically saying, well, I'm not at all surprised about that because actually what you see in common with those foods is two really important things. Lots and lots of fiber and not just one type of fiber, but all of these diverse types of fibers and lots of these polyphenols. 

And so Tim is saying, well, that is what feeds their microbiome. Supports all of these different bacteria that then creates all of these things that support the immune system. And your research Tim I think is saying that like this healthy immune system seems to be really crucial for for fighting aging in in the long term.

You then shared this rather sad fact that I had not really fully understood that these blue zones are sort of dying I guess they're becoming red zones, Dan and gave Okinawa as this example where even just in 20 years, you've seen that as the diet has shifted dramatically, you see that suddenly they go from being some of the healthiest to the least healthiest. 
You see just how important the diet is in this. 

Then you talked a little bit about things that people could do about diet. And I thought one of them, which I'd never heard before is, redesign your kitchen. So how you have like all this beautiful, healthy food on display, like fruit. I was immediately thinking you can have the nut bowl there, but remove the toaster. 
Which is I think really interesting way to redesign. 

And then you said you have the magic minestrone. So there are no silver bullets, but everybody listening to this now wants that minestrone recipe. We will follow up. So if you're signed up for a ZOE email, we will make sure that we share the minestrone recipe. 

Then we talked a bit about stress and you said one of the things that's really interesting is that are sort of daily rituals that everybody has across these different blue zones. And so they were very different in different areas, but all of them are somehow very, mindful and whether it was prayer or like having a nap at a particular time or you know, happy hour, iIt created this. And that in almost all of these cases, there's very close community. So this is like with your not just your immediate family, but sort of extended family And therefore, if you want to think about how you can do that at home, get rid of the things that get in the way. 

o, you know, take the TV out of your kitchen, eat as a family, if you can, then actually belonging to a faith is really powerful because creating this sort of sanctuary is your word, which I loved.  and the thing that you said that really stuck with me is like, go out with your friends. But re-curate your three best friends. 
So if your three best friends are not supporting all of this, who is the other friend that maybe you could be spending more time with, who, like Tim, is going to pull you into eating, you know, the better food, is going to take you out and do something physical? 

And I guess that brings us to the last point about exercise. These people are all moving all the time, but you basically think this whole push to go to the gym has failed, right? We've been saying this in the West, whether it's the States or the UK or anywhere, for decades, but actually nobody is moving. So think about how you design your life to move. How do you design your kid's life so that they move? 

And I think the example that you both spoke about right at the end, which was really interesting is, can you have a garden? That actually, if you have a garden, you're doing something actively that creates this movement and this outside. So again, rather than thinking about exercises, this Little spot that you do a few times a week, how would you just get this movement that you're seeing in the Blue Zones throughout? 

[01:00:06] Dan Buettner: But first of all, a brilliant summation, I can't believe you gathered all that, remembered it all, and were able to so articulately repeat it. 

But a couple of refinements. First of all, exercise programs do work for some people. The very disciplined and people with a presence of mind, and there is a subset. I just say as a population intervention, it's not a very, not very good return on the investment we put in. 

And then the central idea I like people to take away is that in blue zones, people don't pursue health or longevity. It ensues and it ensues from the right environment. And what we ought to be thinking about is not so much New Year's starting a new diet, which we know is going to fail for almost everybody almost all the time. 
But how can we set up our lives and our ecosystem so the right behavior is more unconscious. And therein lies the long term possibilities for longevity.  

[01:01:09] Jonathan Wolf: I love that. And I think that you know, one of the stories I think that I've taken from the last 18 months of doing this podcast is the way in which, as a society, we've sort of been sleepwalking into this really unhealthy place. 

And in fact, mostly that hasn't been some evil plan by, you know, like the government or whatever. I mean, in fact, often it's come from really good things, right? Like new discoveries, like you can have a car, or, you know, antibiotics saving so many lives. 

But then it turns out that it's changed our lives and there'd been these sort of unexpected negative impacts. And so somehow we knew we need to design the world that we live in in a way, which is just better suited to our human bodies.  

[01:01:52] Dan Buettner: We spent most of human history uncomfortable and hungry and quite rightly, we've innovated, you know, recently. And now, you know, live in this environment of abundance and ease and a glut of food and we're genetically hardwired to crave fat, crave sugar, crave salt and take rest whenever we can. And that works really well in this environment of scarcity, but in our environment of overabundance, it's a big negative. 

We're not going to change our genes.
We're not going to change our genetic predisposition anytime soon. So we need to re-engineer our environment, so that we still have, you know, the acceptable level of comfort, but that the healthy choice is easier, cheaper, and more appealing then the unhealthy choice. 

[01:02:35] Jonathan Wolf: And I think if anyone is listening to this right now and would like to redesign their town or city wherever it is in the world, let us know, we'll put you in touch with Dan, because that is sort of your life mission, isn't it? 
To try and, to make that better.

[01:02:57] Tim Spector: And you're doing that in 70 cities?

[01:03:00] Dan Buettner: 72 American cities so far, yes. It's worked.

[01:03:02] Jonathan Wolf: Brilliant. Dan, Tim, thank you so much. I really enjoyed that.

[01:03:08] Tim Spector:  Pleasure.

[01:03:10] Dan Buettner: An honor.  

[01:03:12] Jonathan Wolf: Thank you. Thank you for joining me on ZOE Science & Nutrition today. Today's conversation about blue zones has once again highlighted the critical importance of diet in supporting us to live a long and healthy life. 

And the story of Okinawa is another depressing example of how rapidly a switch to a modern Western diet can damage our health. If you're interested in getting personalized advice on the right food to eat for your body to help you feel better now and enjoy many more healthy years to come, you can learn more about becoming a ZOE member by going to zoe.com/podcast. You can also get 10% off your membership on this link. 

As always, I'm your host, Jonathan Wolf. ZOE Science & Nutrition is produced by Yella Hewings-Martin, Richard Willan, and Tilly Fulford. See you next time.

Share this article

  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Twitter
  • Print this page
  • Email this page