What Blue Zones Can Tell us About Ourselves.


Yesterday began the first of our Spring TED Series and a group of teachers from our district and a neighboring district got together to watch Dan Buettner’s TEDxTC talk about his work with the Blue Zones.  Blue Zones are defined as:

a region of the world where people commonly live active lives past the age of 100 years. Scientists and demographers have classified these longevity hot-spots by having common healthy traits and life practices that result in higher-than-normal longevity. The name Blue zone seems to be first employed in a scientific article by a team of demographers working on centenarians in Sardinia in 2004.

and are the topic of Buettner’s work with Quest Network and National Geographic.

While not the stuff of our usual TED talks, which focus more on education and related issues, this talk immediately resonated with the group. Our discussion of Buettner’s description of the three Blue Zones he profiled in the talk brought out some uniquely personal insights from many of the members.  Several of the group shared insight into how the characteristics found in the communities in the Blue Zones are so foreign to our lives here in the United States.

Prior to the talk, we spoke about factors such as genetics, geography, exercise, diet, and lifestyle as the prevailing elements that contribute to longevity, and we argued about which one played the most prominent role.  Following the video, we spoke mainly about how our lifestyles were in such stark contrast to the communities in Sardinia, Italy, Okinawa, and Lorma Linda, California.  How we live our lives, and who we choose to live our lives with have such profound affects on how long our lives last.  Yes, genetics are a factor, but there are other elements that these communities all share.  Garr Reynolds created a succinct graphic to depict the points that Buettner distilled in the talk.

Interestingly, some members of the group had recently screened Race to Nowhere, and were able to draw some stark contrasts between the lives of our children today and the lives of the members of the communities in the Blue Zones.   I have not seen the film, but their concern was rooted in the fact that we have essentially eliminated much of the Blue Zone ideals for our children when we place such pressure on them to succeed.

On a personal level, having watched this talk several times now, I expressed to the group that what most impressed me was a section of the talk in which Buettner talked about the term “ikigai” (生き甲斐 literally: life + value, be worth while–the reason you wake up in the morning) in Okinawa.  One of the surveys given to members of these communities by the research team asked each of them what their ikigai was and, Buettner stated, none of them hesitated.  They all knew exactly what their purpose was in life.

Do I?  I’ve asked myself several times since the first time I watched this, and I’m put off by my hesitancy.  I know my reason for waking up is to help make my family’s life the most beautiful it can possibly be, but I wonder if it changes as you move through life?  Also, throughout the talk, the term “plant-based diet” was uttered countless times, and in looking at my own life, I could do much better there.

Poulain M.; Pes G.M., Grasland C., Carru C., Ferucci L., Baggio G., Franceschi C., Deiana L. (2004). “Identification of a Geographic Area Characterized by Extreme Longevity in the Sardinia Island: the AKEA study”. Experimental Gerontology, 39 39 (9): 1423–1429. doi:10.1016/j.exger.2004.06.016PMID 15489066.

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2 thoughts on “What Blue Zones Can Tell us About Ourselves.

    1. Chris,

      Honorable and transparent. The fact that we all see you doing just that is a testament to you. My wonderings-aloud are helping me focus and getting me closer to my “ikigai.” It was funny, that was all I could talk about this weekend to my wife, my family and friends. Those poor souls had to listen to me go on and on about how lifestyle has the biggest influence on your longevity rather than genetics–not exactly Mother’s Day barbecue topics.

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