So, what are the common denominators in these three cultures? What are the things that they all do? And we managed to boil it down to nine. In fact, we’ve done two more Blue Zone expeditions since this and these common denominators hold true. And the first one, and I’m about to utter a heresy here, none of them exercise, at least the way we think of exercise. Instead, they set up their lives so that they are constantly nudged into physical activity. These 100-year-old Okinawan women are getting up and down off the ground, they sit on the floor, 30 or 40 times a day.
Sardinians live in vertical houses, up and down the stairs. Every trip to the store, or to church or to a friend’s house occasions a walk. They don’t have any conveniences. There is not a button to push to do yard work or house work. If they want to mix up a cake, they’re doing it by hand. That’s physical activity. That burns calories just as much as going on the treadmill does. When they do do intentional physical activity, it’s the things they enjoy. They tend to walk, the only proven way to stave off cognitive decline, and they all tend to have a garden. They know how to set up their life in the right way so they have the right outlook.
Each of these cultures take time to downshift. The Sardinians pray. The Seventh-Day Adventists pray. The Okinawans have this ancestor veneration. But when you’re in a hurry or stressed out, that triggers something called the inflammatory response, which is associated with everything from Alzheimer’s disease to cardiovascular disease. When you slow down for 15 minutes a day you turn that inflammatory state into a more anti-inflammatory state.
They have vocabulary for sense of purpose, ikigai, like the Okinawans. You know the two most dangerous years in your life are the year you’re born, because of infant mortality, and the year you retire. These people know their sense of purpose, and they activate in their life, that’s worth about seven years of extra life expectancy.
There’s no longevity diet. Instead, these people drink a little bit every day, not a hard sell to the American population. They tend to eat a plant-based diet. Doesn’t mean they don’t eat meat, but lots of beans and nuts. And they have strategies to keep from overeating, little things that nudge them away from the table at the right time.
And then the foundation of all this is how they connect. They put their families first, take care of their children and their aging parents. They all tend to belong to a faith-based community, which is worth between four and 14 extra years of life expectancy if you do it four times a month. And the biggest thing here is they also belong to the right tribe. They were either born into or they proactively surrounded themselves with the right people.
We know from the Framingham studies, that if your three best friends are obese there is a 50% better chance that you’ll be overweight. So, if you hang out with unhealthy people, that’s going to have a measurable impact over time. Instead, if your friend’s idea of recreation is physical activity, bowling, or playing hockey, biking or gardening, if your friends drink a little bit, but not too much, and they eat right, and they’re engaged, and they’re trusting and trustworthy, that is going to have the biggest impact over time.
Diets don’t work. No diet in the history of the world has ever worked for more than 2% of the population. Exercise programs usually start in January; they’re usually done by October. When it comes to longevity there is no short term fix in a pill or anything else. But when you think about it, your friends are long-term adventures, and therefore, perhaps the most significant thing you can do to add more years to your life, and life to your years. Thank you very much.