The Secret to a Long Life

by J.D. on 26 March 2010

Dan Buettner is an expert on longevity. He’s the author of The Blue Zones, a book that explores research into communities where people live for a very long time. In September 2009, Buettner spoke at the TED conference, explaining how to live to be 100:

What are the common denominators among cultures with long life spans? In a recent piece at, he wrote:

The secret to longevity, as I see it, has less to do with diet, or even exercise, and more to do with the environment in which a person lives: social and physical. What do I mean by this? They live rewardingly inconvenient lives. They walk to the store and to their friends’ homes and they live in houses set up with opportunities to move mindlessly. They do their own yard work, hand-knead their own bread dough, and, in the case of Okinawa, get up and down off the floor several dozen times a day.

They live in strong families that keep them motivated to support loved ones. Centenarians are still living near their children and feel loved and the expectation to love. Instead of being mere recipients of care, they are contributors to the lives of their families. They grow gardens to contribute vegetables, they continue to cook and clean. This has a powerful two-fold effect: Children and grandchildren in these families benefit from their grandparents’ wisdom and care while the centenarians feel the motivation to stay active, to get out of bed in the morning, and live for a purpose.

And in his TED talk, Buettner enumerated what he believes are the keys to living a longer life:

  • Move naturally. Don’t exercise for the sake of exercise. Set up your life so you’re constantly nudged into physical activity. Consciously forego modern conveniences to take on a bit of added labor. If you do exercise, do something you enjoy.
  • Maintain the right outlook. Donwshift: pray, meditate, or otherwise make time to find peace in your life. Slow down and escape stress. Have a sense of purpose. Buettner is a fan of the Japanese concept of ikigai (“something important one lives for”), which is like the French notion of raison d’être (or “reason for being”).
  • Eat wisely. All things in moderation. Have a little wine every day. Prefer a plant-based diet. It’s okay to eat meat, but not too much. Have more beans and nuts. Develop strategies to keep from over-eating. Small plates. Eat to be not-hungry.
  • Connect. The foundation of longevity isn’t exercise or attitude or diet. It’s social interaction. Put your family first. Honor the elderly. Belong to a faith-based community. (This is hard far us atheists, but there are ways to do it.) Belong to the right tribe. Surround yourself with the right people. Peer pressure is a real and powerful force, so leverage it to improve your life.

But Buettner warns: “For anything to really impact your life expectancy positively, you need to do it for most of your life. Friends, unlike pills or diets, are much more likely to be much longer-term undertakings.”

There’s no magic bullet to longevity. It’s a result of lifestyle choices.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Amy Jo 28 March 2010 at 8:39 pm

You were surrounded by a rather great tribe last night. And still are. And many of us are trying to wrap our heads around the same thoughts/issues/life themes/lifestyle changes you are. I am glad we can be there for one another.


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