Do You Want to Live to Be 100? This Researcher Has the Answer to Why Longevity is Not a Quick Fix or Trendy Diet

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Dan Buettner is an explorer, National Geographic fellow, award-winning journalist and producer, and author of The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. In 2000, Buettner traveled to Okinawa, Japan, to investigate why people lived to be 100 and beyond there. With the support of National Geographic, Buettner and his team then traveled around the world in 2004 to explore other regions with reportedly high lifespan, better known as longevity.

He identified five places, which he named “The Blue Zones,” where people live the longest, healthiest lives. The five original Blue Zones were Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California. The research and learnings from the five populations where he interviewed many centenarians living high-quality lives became a Netflix Documentary entitled “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones.” Within these communities, people prioritized family values, community, Mediterranean diets and living in walkable neighborhoods.

I’ve known of Dan for years, and while I don’t hold his three Guinness World Records in distance cycling, we share a mutual passion for cycling and the outdoors. I intended to dig deeper into his insights regarding how people, especially in America, always look for the quick fix and jump on the latest fad wagon. Be it Ozempic, no alcohol, cold plunging or eating a carnivore diet, I asked Dan for his opinions on these trends, more of which included CrossFit workouts, keto diets and intermittent fasting.

I said to Buettner, “Amongst all of these protocols, trends, supplements and nutrition plans, where is the magic of longevity?”

“There is no short-term fix,” he responded. “We keep searching for it, and we keep failing. None of it has been proven to work on humans for more than single digits of a percentage of people.”

Every year, we are marketed to try new diets, supplements and workouts and three months into them, 90% of people fail at what they started. Buettner explained how he discovered five populations that are living long because their daily unconscious behaviors are healthy and sustainable. And guess what? It doesn’t cost much.

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Nutrition and specific foods

Beginning with food, Buettner explained how people eat so much processed food and tend to rely on a “see food” diet. If we see it on our counter or pantry, or there are treats in the office, we eat them and are mindlessly eating.

This data was backed by research at Cornell, and in his books, he encourages people to set out bowls of fruit in their kitchens and keep healthy food accessible, including beans and nuts, both of which have strong nutritional benefits and help reduce inflammation. Beans are also loaded with fiber, something that 80-90% of Americans need more of, and they’re inexpensive, shelf-stable and benefit the healthy gut bacteria. Buettner also relies on a handful of nuts daily, and his research shows that nuts add 2-3 years to life expectancy.

Buettner eats a plant-based diet, and the five cultures in the Blue Zones mostly do the same. These communities eat meat about once per week, whereas an American eats an average of 240 pounds per year — “about a bathtub full of meat.”

He explained that meat is like radiation in that we know we are likely going to die sooner of Type 2 diabetes or cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. He also loves his coffee and explains that coffee drinkers have lower rates of Type 2 diabetes or Parkinson’s and also have better physical endurance and cardiovascular output.

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Community and purpose

Your circle of friends influences happiness, health and a sense of purpose. For example, if you have active friends, you’ll likely be active, and if your best friends are obese, there’s a good chance you’ll be influenced in that direction. “Upgrade your circle of friends” to people who will encourage you to be happy and healthy, make you laugh and make you feel good about yourself when you are with them.

Related: Your Peers Shouldn’t (Only) Think Like You

Moving naturally and avoiding health trends that fail

So how about sauna and cold-plunging? Buettner occasionally saunas and believes that cold plunging is already on the decline. Unless you are swimming in the ocean, surfing or doing something you enjoy, he believes that intense cold plunging at 35-40 degrees, which is what most cold plunge studios do, is painful. As with most gym and nutrition trends, people get excited for a few weeks or maybe a year, and then they almost all say, “Enough.”

I loved hearing Buetter explain that the “no pain, no gain” mentality is wrong. The opposite is correct and true: “The least pain, the most gain,” and doing this long enough to make a difference is precisely what populations in the Blue Zones do. The Blue Zones populations interact with the outside environment, sit down at meals with their family, socialize with friends and prioritize sleep.

These are human things that bring joy amongst daily and inexpensive habits that expand lifespan — such as living in walkable neighborhoods where you walk to get your food and run your errands, eating mostly fresh and non-processed food and avoiding things that cause you pain.

When I asked him about Ozempic, he exclaimed, “Who the hell wants to jam a needle into their gut to lose weight?” Again, it’s another fad miles away from longevity.

The number of obese people in America has tripled since 1980, and Buettner explained how this is an unmitigated mental health failure. Most Americans get fewer than 20 minutes of exercise per day, while Blue Zone people walk to most locations, garden or weed in their yards and practice stress-reducing activities, unlike CrossFit, which can raise inflammation and cause injury.

Buettner, also an outdoor enthusiast, passionate about ultralight hiking and pickleball, explained that 75% of Americans can benefit by simply walking to work or taking public transportation. The morning we spoke, Buettner told me that he went to get a haircut, had a physical therapy appointment and then picked up some breakfast, all on his bike.

I encourage you to watch the Blue Zones documentary to learn more about specific longevity lifestyle habits. If we all adjusted just a few small daily habits, it might just help us ‘Live to 100.’

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