03 Aug #103 What Blue Zones Can Teach Us About Living Longer | Dan Buettner
The average person should be able to live to the age of 93. But the average American life expectancy is only 78 years. What can Blue Zones, the areas in the world where people live the longest, teach us about living a long, healthy life?
WELCOME TO THE DARIN OLIEN SHOW
Dan Buettner travels the world learning why some people live longer than others.
An avid explorer like myself, Dan Buettner is also a National Geographic Fellow, an award-winning journalist and producer, and bestselling author. His most exciting discovery was the blue zones – the five places in the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives.
Wanting to spread and utilize this knowledge in the most responsible way, Dan now collaborates with municipal governments, large employers and health insurance companies to implement Blue Zone Projects. These well-being initiatives apply lessons from the blue zones by focusing on changes to the local environment. Blue Zone Projects also works to change public policy and collective attitudes towards health. The program has improved the health of more than 5 million Americans to date. Dan’s newest book, The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100, is an easy guide to simple diet tweaks that can improve your longevity.
I was so stoked to talk to Dan on the show because not only did we graduate from the same college, we also share a passionate global curiosity. Dan has spent his professional career exploring the world to use his newfound knowledge to improve his local surroundings. And that concept is one that we all can benefit from. Long-term change that allows us to live longer, healthier lives can come from learning from other cultures and traditions. This guy had so many fascinating stories and such powerful information to share! I can’t wait for you to hear it.
ALSO IN THIS EPISODE:
- [00:06:50] Why Blue Zones?
- [00:11:00] Crystal skull cave
- [00:15:15] Life expectancy
- [00:17:17] How do we make changes?
- [00:19:55] Shaping our surroundings
- [00:27:00] Making cities healthy
- [00:34:00] The pillars of blue zones
Darin: You are listening to the Darin Olien Show. I’m Darin. I spent the last 20 years devoted to improving health, protecting the environment, and finding ways to live a more sustainable life. In this podcast, I have honest conversations with people that inspire me. I hope that through their knowledge and unique perspectives they’ll inspire you too. We talk about all kinds of topics, from camping up your diets to improving your well-being to the mind-blowing stories behind the human experience and the people that are striving to save us and our incredible planet. We even investigate some of life’s fatal conveniences, those things that we are told might be good for us but totally aren’t. So here’s to making better choices in the small tweaks in your life that amount to big changes for you and the people around you and the planet. Let’s do this. This is my show, the Darin Olien Show.
Darin: Hey, everybody, welcome to the show. This is Darin. This is The Darin Olien Show. Thanks for tuning in. Stoked to be here, stoked to bring you another amazing guest, my good friend, Dan Buettner, a fellow explorer, and curious navigator to uncover some of the greatest things that we have living in this world today and that is the longevity of people and what they’ve been doing. Many of you know him or have been exposed to his work, the Blue Zones, and all of his Blue Zone books and Blue Zone projects. A little fun fact about Dan is, he graduated from the same university as me in Minnesota. We’re both proud Minnesotans. We graduate from the University of St. Thomas and St. Paul. He was about 10 years ahead of me, but we got acquainted because of our paths that would come together in these areas. So Dan is an award-winning journalist, producer, and three-time New York Times bestseller. He discovered the five places in the world dubbed the Blue Zones. So again, another fun fact is I reached out to Dan straight away as I knew I wanted to highlight a Blue Zone area in Down To Earth. And so as I was kind of sketching out what I wanted to do, I was thinking about Okinawa, but then it made sense and talking to production that Sardinia would be a better fit. So I talked to Dan, but he was also working on a TV project, so there was a conflict. So we actually couldn’t get him in the show, but he has gotten a lot of benefit from Down To Earth as a result because of his work with Dr. Pez and Dr. Longo, and many others. So it’s really cool how our journeys have come together. One of the cool things is, he worked with a town not too far from me about 30 miles away, called Albert Lea, where he worked with the municipal governments, employees, and employers, and really helped curb and get them on healthier diets based around the Blue Zones, lowering insurance costs, increasing health. And we talked about that a lot because I am really, really interested in that, about how to expand that, and hopefully help them out in that thing because he’s doing some incredible work. So we got into all that stuff. So he’s got a new book out, The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100. So here’s the thing, if you can’t relate to living to 100, you can relate to feeling good now. And so by eating things that are mostly plant-based in his books, but largely in my books, 100% plant-based, and this is a hell of a way to live good now and to then reach for that 100-year mark. And what I didn’t know about Dan, he also holds three Guinness World Records for distance cycling. Wow. Okay, I guess I’m not going to go cycling with him even though I love cycling, I actually did it as a kid for a long time. But anyway, this is Dan Buettner, my good friend, incredible powerhouse in this space of longevity, living happier, living healthier, literally down to the earth ways of doing that. So please enjoy this great conversation with Dan Buettner.
Darin: Well, Dan, stoked to have you here. I wish we could be in person. I’m actually going to Minnesota in a couple of weeks to see my family, but you are a brother, a mentor, someone I’ve looked up to as long as I’ve seen your work, the frickin Blue Zones, bringing that out in the world, and getting to lightly touch off of the work that you’ve brought into the world on our Down To Earth episode is something that I’m super stoked to be a part of. And Dan, thanks for being here, and I look forward to unpacking what we can get into today.
Dan: I’m delighted to be here and congratulations on that. I understand you’re up for an Emmy. And who knew, a guy from Minnesota goes to Hollywood and makes it big. It makes me proud, so yeah, you’re an inspiration.
Darin: Thanks, man. I think at this point in my life as well, you just kind of come to respect and understand that okay, cool, like it’s a nice wink, let’s move forward with the mission. For me, it was never set out to make a show to make a show nor was it your probably mission to run out and follow blue zone people but it was this deep part of what drove you and that’s what I want to dig into because I understand the work and the dig and the travel. And it can seem sexy, it can seem all of this stuff, but your life’s work is to dig into these cultures and to extract that which we can proliferate on to humanity. So dude, I have never asked you this, but what was that catalyst that was in you that you wanted to explore and understand more of these Blue Zones?
Dan: I think a lot of people come at questions of health through the door of wanting to make the world a healthier place or wanting to be a guru something, that’s not me. I’m an explorer. And decades before doing the Blue Zones works, I’d bicycle across five continents, feel holy by it and an outside sense of curiosity and desire to explore. And in the same way, I probably had the same impulse that drives a two-year-old upon us cup on the table for attention. So once you discover this cool stuff wanting to share it and I’ve done that as a writer my whole life. From there, I developed a brand of exploration that led an online audience-directed team of experts to solve mysteries and lead 16 expeditions which I think answered big questions like why did the Mayan civilization collapse? Did Marco Polo really go to China? We followed his supposed route across Beijing to Venice, we explored human origins in the Rift Valley and went to the bottom of the sea with Jean Michel Cousteau. And there’s always been a deep impetus in me to solve mysteries, most of which, Darin, I’ve done by interacting with the people living today and harnessing their insights. In the past, it’s been an insight to solve a mystery, but for Blue Zones, the mystery was thought to live longer. And I knew from starting the project in 1999, so it’s been 22 years now, that only about 20% of the variance of how long people live is dictated by genes, the other 80% is something else, originally funded by the National Institutes on aging and then later an assignment for National Geographic. The idea was really to reverse engineer longevity by finding statistically longest-lived areas. So here’s the logic chain, 20% of how long you live is genes, 80% is something else. If you find a heterogeneous population, which is to say, a melting pot population, so genes have nothing to do with it because there are several million genes in the population, so it must be something else. So working with demographers, and Craig Bradley, and Craig Willcox in Okinawan, originally, the way they were the first blue zone, they first identified longevity. They didn’t call it a Blue Zone. And then secondarily in Sardinia where I know you explored with the great Gianni Pes, who’s my great friend, and he worked with Michel Poulain, a great demographer. And then I named the third blue zone among the Seventh Day Adventists which I wholly did on my own, but I based it on the Adventist Health Study, which found 103,000 Americans statistically longest. And then Costa Rica, the Nicoya Peninsula and Ikaria, Greece, both of which I got grants for National Geographic and hired both Michel Poulain, the demographer, and Gianni Pes, who I know is a friend of yours, to not only identify that but once you found it, once you know they’ve lived a long time, then it’s the science of going through to figure out what they’ve done to achieve such extraordinary longevity.
Darin: Yeah, man, I don’t know how you decided which area because discovering ancient civilizations and things like that sounds pretty miraculous. So when you were settling in on and kind of discovering this blue zone activity, I can’t imagine that you’re kind of looking at yourself going, holy shit, this is extraordinary. So what about it for you then was like I have to focus in on this?
Dan: To be honest, it started out as just an interesting mystery. In 1999, I had a business that essentially solved mysteries. I had a full-time staff of 14 people. And we had to find cool mysteries to solve. It’s actually my brother Nick, who originally stumbled upon the World Health Organization study that revealed that Okinawa had the longest disability-free life expectancy in the world. And I’m going to use a path that Blue Zones had evolved a lot. When I was exploring the Mayan area of Central America, we had heard about a cave called the Crystal Skull Cave, where there’s supposedly a crystal-encrusted Maya skull. And we dug this up in the Peabody Museum at Harvard. And it was a crappy hand-drawn map. We knew the general area, and we drove to that general area, and all it was was sort of milpa and forest. And I remember looking across milpa cornfield and just seeing the tiniest wisp of a trail, and we crossed the cornfield and started following that trail. And the trail was so faint, we didn’t even know if we’re on a trail half the time. But then the trail led to this sort of crater, and we crawled down the crater. At the bottom of the crater, there was a hole in the ground, and we crawled through the hole and it opened up into this vast cavern. And lo and behold, in that cavern, we found the Crystal Skull. Why am I telling you this story? Blue zone started out as a hunch that, okay, if you can find this statistically longest-lived area, you may be able to find some de facto formula for longevity. And the first assignment from National Geographic was just going to Okinawa, Sardinia, and the Seventh Day Adventists Loma Linda, and I’ve never been more frightened, scared in my life. It was my dream to write for National Geographic, my first big assignment. I was way the hell out over my skis because I pitched this idea and I didn’t know for sure if we’d find anything. And all of a sudden, I landed in Sardinia not knowing if I’m going to find anything. Nat Geographic at the time would give you a quarter-million-dollar budget to write an article with the photographer, and I didn’t know if I’d find anything. But that first story, and not only made it into the magazine, it was a cover story. And it was one of the best cover stories in its history, one of the biggest selling cover stories in its history. It led to a book, and then it led to finding more Blue Zones. But at a certain point, once you understand what the world’s longest-lived people did to live a long time. And by the way, just to be clear that the brand of blue zone longevity isn’t that foreign or the genetic intervention or hormones or any of these other things that offer this vague promise of increasing the capacity of the human-machine to actually live longer. It seizes upon the fact that the average you and me right now and everybody listening to us, if they optimize their lifestyle right now, ate the right food, right amount of physical activity, some cases the right amount of supplements, though I’m not a big fan of supplements, the average person should be able to live to 93. That’s the maximum average life expectancy, not 100 by the way. Americans are living at 80. And actually, we’ve lost a year of life expectancy since COVID. So the populations I found are getting close to 93. At the highest concentrations of anyplace else in the world. And the way they’re doing it is not some supercharged genetic expression. They’re simply avoiding the diseases that foreshortened our lives. They’re suffering cancer, some cancer is a fifth-rate that we suffer prostate, breast cancer, a fifth the rate of heart disease, virtually no diabetes, virtually no obesity, maybe 2% or 3% obesity. So they are achieving the health outcomes that we want, and simply living out the promise of our bodies and that’s the brand of exploration blue zones focuses on. So once you find out what it was and going back to that burning desire, pounding that cup on the table, the two-year-old, my desire was okay, how do you actually get people to embrace it? How do you get people to listen? After the first cover story and all five of my books were New York Times bestsellers, and I go into the green room of Good Morning America or CNN or Oprah and you’d be sitting with some other health evangelists, and some of them are solid. I know your circle, solid scientists, and nutritionists, but a lot of them are kind of snake oily and don’t really offer a promise, any long-term health, but I knew I had a jaguar by the tail with what we found a Blue Zone. So then that next step going through the trail in the forest was then trying to figure out, how do you get a critical mass of Americans that needs to begin with to embrace this and actually benefit from these insights. And so that was sort of part two, and really the bigger part of this exploration.
Darin: There’s so much there. Number one, just quickly, what the hell did you do when you found the skull? I mean, that’s Indiana Jones shit straight up, like what happened?
Dan: Yeah, well, the cardinal rule of archaeology is you don’t touch anything, but we photographed the hell out of it. I’ll tell you that. So at the time, the average age of my audience was 12, and there was nothing more exciting to make this fine. And my company was basically, online audience of kids who voted for us to look for this place. So they got to revel in the discovery of it. I had Harvard archaeologists on the team and MIT sciences in a bigger version, National Geographic photographers. So I wrote about it at length and left it there. They say, leave only footprints, we tried to leave not even footprints. And I didn’t even reveal where the place is because I didn’t want some tourist yahoo to follow my footsteps, you know, and they’d be sitting on a mantel in Iowa right now than where it should be deep in a cave and in Central Belize.
Darin: Darin: You know I don’t put a lot of thought into my skincare routine, I just don’t like spending the time. But now, I turn 50, I’m thinking about it a little more. I’ve been using Caldera Lab’s The Good serum on my skin at night. So I was stoked when they introduced a new product line that compliments The Good, The Clean Slate. This stuff is amazing. This stuff is pH balanced for the skin as a cleanser using biome friendly, probiotics, and mineral-rich ocean silk extracts to naturally cleanse the skin. Come on, that’s just the way it’s got to be. Then I follow through with the base layer in nourishing day moisturizer design to protect your skin from environmental stress like pollutions and even blue light radiation. It uses plant stem cells, I dug into this a little bit, it’s incredible science, to deliver intensive hydration without that greasiness. It feels like I have nothing on my face, but I can feel the nourishing benefit. So that’s my morning routine. And then at night, I wash with the cleanser again and follow up with The Good serum. It’s easy, it’s quick. I wake up with awesome skin every day. Super easy. Fantastic. So all you have to do is head over to calderalab.com/darin, that’s C-A-L-D-E-R-A-L-A-B dot com forward slash D-A-R-I-N. Or use the discount code DARIN in all caps and then you get 20% off. So cool. So give these guys a try. I promise you your skin will thank you.
Darin: Hey, what do you use on your skin? I use this incredible product, The Good, from Caldera Lab. Its lightweight serum is made of 27 active plant botanicals that are organic and wild harvested. Yes, this is my ideal serum for my face. Just a small amount every night after washing my face, and it’s all it takes to have this great skin. It smells good, it feels good. It helps tackle dry skin without being oily, wrinkles, scarring. It really does keep my skin looking young as I absolutely feel from the inside. Got to try this stuff. Go to calderalab.com/darin or use the discount code, all caps, DARIN, at the checkout for 20% off your first order of The Good. If you don’t like it, guess what? They will give you a full freaking refund. So invest in it, invest in your skin and your health and it’s easy. Guys, go get some.
Darin: That’s beautiful. I had to ask that question. The thing that you bring up is a trillion-dollar question and one that I’ve contemplated a lot and that is, deliver information, common-sense information, things that we know intuitively, and maybe you’re bringing in more that then layers on that instinctual, like that makes sense, live that way, eat these things that make sense. So the things that as you’re talking, how do you make those changes? And I know you’re working in big ways, and then the public sectors and with cities and things like that, you’re doing it, how do we combat these systems, both individually, as well as systemically?
Dan: First of all, I don’t think it’s common sense. I think what we are living with is common confusion. Darin, every day, you can turn on the TV or open up the magazine or turn on your Google search, and we are bombarded by so many different experts when it comes to health. The gym industry is a hundred billion industry, it hasn’t worked. We get more obese every year or sold this promise and what produced longevity is misguided or just plain wrong. We think that diets are going to work but diets fail for 97% of people in the long run. I actually argue that if you’re overweight and unhealthy in this country, it’s not your fault. And it gets to the second part of your question/insight, which is a system. 1980, about 1/3 as many people we can reveal this, you and I were alive in 1980, 1/3 of Americans were obese back then. And it’s that because in 1980 there were better diets or better supplements or somehow we were better people back then. No, so if we haven’t changed, what has? And the answer is our environment. There are about 25 times more fast-food restaurants now than there was back then. Almost 50% of every retail outlet in America pushes junk food into our face, whether it’s going to get our diabetes medicine at the pharmacy, walking through a gauntlet of sodas. Pay attention next time you go into a pharmacy. To get to that pharmacy, you walk through the candy bars, the salty snacks, the soda pops, and you can wave your finger at those people like you should have that responsibility to not buy any of those things, but here we are genetically hardwired to crave fat, salt, and sugar and take rest whenever we can. And we have these environments engineered by the sharpest minds in Madison Avenue to tempt us to buy the very shit people on the other side are telling us we shouldn’t be buying. So it’s a seriously flawed system. The big insight in Blue Zones is to not beat yourself up by trying to change your behavior because while we’re occasionally successful in the short run, this year, about 186 million people will make new year’s resolutions and 90% of those people will be done with those resolutions by the second Friday in January. So we think we can do whatever but we never do. So what’s the answer? The answer is shaping our surroundings. People in Blue Zones in Sardinia where you visited with Gianni, people who live in Ikarian, those people, they’re not smarter than us, they’re not more disciplined, no greater sense of individualism. In fact, their parties are freaking all night barking owls where they’ll slaughter a pig and drink till nine in the morning and end with dances where they’re slapping each other’s ass. This is not like the gold standard of healthy behavior. But what they do have that we don’t is they live in environments with the healthy choice is the easy choice or the unavoidable choice. So in other words, their environments set human beings up for success. And based on that insight, I built a company now it has 200 employees that help cities shape their environments, their political environments, the food policies, the Act of Living policies, the tobacco policies, that helps restaurants, grocery stores, schools, and workplaces, and helps individuals shape their home and social environments, engineering it so that the healthy choice is number one mindless, and number two, easy, just a little bit. And when you do that at the population level, we’ve seen obesity rates drop by 15%. Fortworth, Texas, our biggest Blue Zone city to date. The wonderful Betsy Price, the mayor there in Texas Health System, they report that Blue Zones has saved them a quarter of a billion dollars a year in health care costs because people are mindlessly making slightly better choices. Now that may sound like an unbelievable number, but all that is, is in a population of a million people dropping the obesity rate by 2%. Drop the rate of obesity rate by 2%, you see about 40,000 fewer heart attacks, and $120,000 per heart attack, it doesn’t take many saved heart attacks or avoided heart attacks to start saving a lot of money given our healthcare system,
Darin: More than ever, I just see systems failing, and you described perfectly the system that we’ve created and put around ourselves and allowed it from a marketing perspective from a profit-centered perspective. And you’re actually attacking it on those big scales and actually working with cities, what’s the challenges, and what’s the things that are working when you’re working in the public sector like this? I mean, you obviously have to have an advocate like the governors, etc, that are willing to kind of take this on, what’s the pushback? What’s the challenge? And what can we do to kind of keep moving this pattern forward?
Darin: So the secret sauce for Blue Zones, we’re only going into cities that want us so cities that are hell-bent on keeping things the way they are, or who are hell-bent on just putting business interest in front of the health of their city, we often are very successful. But the great untold truth is that when you put the health and well-being of a city first, the economic vitality follows. There are several great examples of that. The property values and the tax base are much higher. You go to a place like Boulder, Colorado, where some of the highest walkability in the country, and compare it with four columns, which is pretty close by, it’s not so walkable. A lot more people want to live in Boulder, housing prices are a lot higher. In cities where the obesity rate is lower, property values are higher. There’s way more profit, as you know, in healthy food these days. There is a big tsunami in the market craving whole plant-based food, natural foods, organic foods, foods that are actually good for us. They’re the ones that are getting much higher multiples and revenue trying to sell and so forth. But a lot of cities don’t realize that and we’ve learned early on that we’ve had about 500 cities contact us, and we’ve worked in 53 cities. So we actually work in about 1 out of 10 cities that come to us. And before we work in a city, we actually have an audition, and we sit down with the mayor, the city manager, the Chamber of Commerce, the City Council, the big CEOs, and we open our kimono, and we say look, we are here to make the healthy choice the easy choice. And by the way, get this, we’re going to make the unhealthy choice harder. So we’re going to limit your freedoms to do unhealthy shit. We don’t say that, I say that just to you, Darin, don’t tell anybody. But some people are like, whoa, don’t cut off my access to burgers, fries, pizzas, and cheese blintzes. And those cities we say thank you very much, we can’t help you, keep doing what you’re doing. But we find a city where the public sector says yes, we want to do it, pick us. Then because our healthcare system does not pay to maintain health, the way you make money in the healthcare system in this country, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, even our beloved doctors is to wait for people to get sick, this is 99% of it or 97% of it, and then get paid to mop up the problem. Blue Zones is wholly in the business of keeping people healthy in the first place. And there is no good mechanism, pay mechanisms for that. So then we got to go out and work with either a hospital system like Texas Health, Blue Cross, Blue Shield system like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Hawaii, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oregon, we’ve worked with all them, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Iowa, all been really big funders of major Blue Zone project or not for profits. And it really has to be a visionary organization that really cares about people’s health, and we have to hire a team of sometimes 30 or 35 people to work for five years, depending on the size of the city. And it’s a big commitment, it’s a big lift, but we hold our feet to the fire. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. We bring Gallup in to measure a baseline, and then every year, we get a report card, and we put our fees at risk. If we don’t produce an outcome, we don’t make our profits. So we work within the same system that has created our food environment, but our product is health, not sales of food.
Darin: From my limited view of all the things you do, it’s not necessarily a freedom thing, it’s more of a balance thing because you go to some of these cities, literally, every block is fast food. So what you’re saying is like the choices literally don’t exist or something else that’s healthier. What are some of the benchmarks that you use to kind of measure how to bring in more of the healthier options?
Dan: First of all, great insight, but it always bugs the hell out of me when a politician shakes his finger at a single mom and says grow up, it’s your responsibility to make healthy choices, and she’s on a limited salary and or assistance of somehow and you send her into the food environment where 98 out of 100 choices are bad choices. So you’re absolutely right, but some of the things we look for when we do our assessments, or our audits of cities. If you live in a city where there are more than six fast-food restaurants within about a four-block radius of your house, your chances of obesity are about 30%, 35% higher than if you live in a neighborhood where there are fewer than three fast-food restaurants. So I’m not going to go in that neighborhood and helm people to eat healthier, but I’m going to work with City Council to limit the number of fast-food to change the code. Billboard advertising, if you live in a neighborhood A, is there billboard advertising, which as you know is hungry yet, you know, it’ll be a Burger King or Pepsi, or fast food sells a lot of their food by impulse messaging. If you live in a neighborhood with billboard advertising, your chances of obesity here are about 11% to 15% higher than the exact same neighborhood that simply changed the ordinance, no billboards. Like the whole state of Vermont, no billboards, or Boulder, Colorado, or Santa Barbara, very healthy places, no billboards. If the business community has the vice grip on the city council, that won’t fly. By the way, when you get rid of billboards, guess who misses the billboards? Nobody who’s got to look at the billboards, it’s the billboard owners, billboard advertiser. So billboards don’t do any favors for the vast majority of people, but it’s a really powerful lever to pull to lower obesity. And you’d have to let it bake. You change the environment, you let it bake, but we’ve seen in every one of our cities. You know, these are just 2 of about 30 things we do in the food environment that doesn’t take game. We’re not trying to change a million people’s minds, but we are trying to set up a million people in the case of say Fort Worth Texas so that they’re mindlessly making better decisions or they avoid the temptation to buy the unhealthy food. And if you take a population view on these things, the impact is enormous. And it should be something our federal government should be paying more attention to and should be something our state government should be spending. We do all of our work almost all of our work at the municipal level. And the beauty of working with municipalities is they can get shit done. All government is local. And I bring up my good friend, Betsy Price, the former mayor of Fort Worth, who said I’m throwing my political equity on the line here. We’re gonna make health a priority. And dang if she didn’t do it, I mean, they went from the lowest quintile of the least healthy cities in America, all the way up to the middle of the pack in five years. I mean, it’s unheard of. It’s like a flunking kid, all of a sudden getting B’s, and that’s not easy to do with the city of a million people, except when you have a public sector that’s onboard, locking arms with the private sector with working a program, and you need about a five-year time horizon. That is what it’s going to take to get America healthier. We’re never going to do it by guilting people by advertising to them, or by giving them a free t-shirt if they go to the gym.
Darin: Many of you who follow me know I’ve spent most of my life searching for the healthiest foods on the planet. If you look hard enough, there are a few unknown extraordinary foods around the world that people still don’t know about. And a few years ago, I came across my favorite superfood discovery of all time, Barukas nuts. When I first tasted them, my eyes lit up. The taste alone just absolutely blew me away. But after sending them to the lab, which I do, and getting all the tests, I realized they’re the health theists nuts on the planet. No other nut even compares. They have an unusually high amount of fiber and they’re off the charts in super high antioxidants and have few calories than any other nut. It’s jam-packed with micronutrients. But they’re not just good for you, they’re really good for the planet. Most other nuts require millions of gallons of irrigated water, but Baruka trees require no artificial irrigation. Barukas are truly good for you, good for the planet, and good for the world community. It’s a win all the way around. I really think you’ll love them, so I’m giving all of my listeners 15% off by going to barukas.com/darin. That’s B-A-R-U-K-A-S dot com backslash Darin, D-A-R-I-N. I know you will enjoy.
Darin: You have absolutely inspired me because I love the fact that there are stats to a billboard, there are stats to the per capita of the fast food that’s around you that literally can make that change. For me, municipalities is still the grit of the nation, right? So they’re the working class people that care because their peers are watching, they’re in the community, and I think you’re on a pulse here, that’s so exceptional. And what you’re doing is you’re deprogramming that and creating a better balance and a better environment because we all know success is about who you’re surrounding yourself, the environment that you’re in. And you’re right, guilt, shame, blame, it’s all your fault doesn’t work, but it takes this advocacy and this awareness. I mean, I think everyone listening right now going, wow, I have more awareness that I’m staring at that billboard that has had control over me. I’m in this environment that has been controlling, maybe even now, they have more awareness than they did before they even listened to this thing. So even that is kind of uprooting some of the unconsciousness and creating more consciousness around that. And then maybe those people can get involved in their municipalities. And we can continue to upregulate this kind of idea more and more to give people better choices.
Dan: That’s the key. We talked about food environments, but do you know that if you live in a city that has safe sidewalks, bike lanes, parks are cleaned up, and decent public transportation, the physical activity level of that entire population is about 30% higher than the same demographic of people who stay in a suburb where there are no sidewalks, you got to drive everywhere. The gym industry doesn’t get anywhere near that, the whole fitness of raising the physical activity level of the whole city. So we have this twisted romance with our cars and. You know, go out sometime when you’re at a big intersection, look at how big that intersection is, the acreage of asphalt. And we feel like we want to drive everywhere but actually, we are happier when we’re away from that din and drone of cars. Next time you’re in a place where there’s a lot of traffic, close your eyes and pay attention to how you feel, as opposed to being on a path where you can bike, that people who live near highways have about 500% higher incidence of asthma. The number of deaths by automobile accidents is higher than the death of World War One, World War Two, the Vietnam War and the Iraqi war combined. Veterans, they deserve a lot of our credit and a lot of our love, but if our government were truly interested in mitigating the deaths of Americans, they’d be spending a lot more time condensing our cities into higher population density, more walkability, more bikeability. Not only would there be many fewer traffic deaths, but the obesity rate would be a lot more. And guess what, you’re way more likely to stop in a store, or some random shop, or even a restaurant, if you’re walking by it, than you are going by 50 miles an hour. So what business people discover usually after the fact is they’ve wanted more walkability and bike-ability all along. So there are all these sorts of counterintuitive things under which there is a mountain of evidence. They’re not convenient, they’re not common sense to get back to our original conversation, and they require a little more focus. You know, the American obsession of I want it now or tomorrow, no, it takes three or five-year vision, which is longer than politicians get voted into office. So it’s a harder thing to do here. But it’s doable.
Darin: Well, you’re proving it, that’s for sure. And I’m really excited about that. There’s incredible people listening here. There’s a lot of people that are making choices. There’s a lot of people that are eager to make choices. There’s a lot of people listening here, they want to change their smaller ecosystem, their home with their family. So let’s break down just straight up, break down the Blue Zones. What are the pillars of Blue Zones and ways for people to live a happier, healthier, longer life?
Dan: So don’t try to change your mind, change your environment. So the common denominators of all five Blue Zones are eating mostly a whole foods plant-based diet, eating meat no more than five times per month, not nearly as much fish or eggs as you might think, very little cheese. There’s no cows dairy in any blue zone. No significant cows dairy traditionally speaking, a little bit of goat’s cheese. But they’re eating the five pillars of every Blue Zone diets are whole grains, corn, wheat, rice, greens, tubers, like potatoes or sweet potatoes, nuts, a handful of nuts a day is worth about two years of life expectancy, and beans. Beans are the longevity, all star. There are people who are eating about a cup of beans a day. And if you could get a cup of beans a day into your diet, and especially if you’re replacing it for less healthy forms of protein, animal-based proteins, that’s probably worth about four extra years of life expectancy. People in Blue Zones have vocabulary for purpose. They know why they wake up in the morning, and that fuels their day as opposed to trying to make money and fame or status or whatever. They tend to belong to a religion. They tend to put their families first. They have times every day when they’re downshifting. You know very well the corrosive effects of stress, which by the way, is part of the human condition, you’ve experienced it, I’ve experienced it, everybody listening right now who are watching has experienced stress. What people in Blue Zones have that we’ve forgotten are these sacred daily rituals that unwind that stress and reduce the ensuing chronic inflammation. So the Adventists pray, which is a form of meditation. The Okinawans have this ancestor worship or ancestor veneration every day, remembering where they came from. The Nicoyans and the Carians take a nap every day, great way. Taking a nap by the way every day, lowers your chance to heart disease by about 30%, better than stands, by the way. Naps, not stands. They do happy hours. They’re paying attention to their social network. We know that if our three best friends are obese and unhealthy, we have about 150% better chance of being overweight ourselves. So first of all, you want to have at least three friends who you can count on on a bad day, not just three kinds of people, you’ll sit around and talk celebrity gossip or sports. But the benchmark for loneliness is three friends who you can call and bitch and they’ll care or cry because if not, loneliness ensues, and loneliness shaves about eight years off your life expectancy. But having some friends whose idea of recreation is running or gardening or biking or playing tennis. Friends who keep you mentally engaged. But it’s not a bad idea to have a few vegetarians and vegans in your immediate social network because they’re going to show you, you know, I just wrote this book, Blue Zones kitchen, which I gathered 100 recipes from around the world that people actually cook to live to be 100. And the taste is the most important thing. But second to taste is you have to know how to prepare it. And you have to try enough recipes to find the handful that actually appeal to you. The big mistake that people go out to eat and most restaurants, the vegetarian option is like thorn in the side of the cook. And you know, it’s a steak chef who always said okay, make some vegetarian. You get this rabbit food, and it turns people off to eating vegetarian. Los Angeles by the way is some of the best vegan food in the world. You go to Crossroads or Gracias Madre, Love Life Cafe in Miami. I mean, these are some of the best restaurants in America because they have chefs with a maniacal focus on making plant-based food taste good, and that’s the secret to eating more plant-based and having friends that then introduce you to that world, that’s what lasts. But changing your behavior doesn’t last, diets don’t last, but friends tend to be long-term adventures.
Darin: I love that and your exploration, literally exploration of this, that you’d see all those other subtle things that are so infinitely powerful, like the community aspect of having people that you can count on. I mean, that is such an importance, especially now after all that we’ve gone through, cultivating those relationships. And something that stuck out for me is what you said vocabulary of purpose. Unpack that a little bit for me, I think I know what that is. But what does that mean when they say everyone has a purpose of getting up in the morning? What does that mean?
Dan: No Child Left Behind is focused on math, science, and language arts. But think about it, Darin, when we were kids, nobody ever sat down with us to really ask us to do an internal inventory to understand our values, what we like to do, what we’re good at, what our passions are. Most of us careened through life and get a job that will pay off our student debt or will cover our healthcare or we think we’ll get a lot of money or we become a lawyer because we think it gives us status. The purpose is not really in the American lexicon, it hasn’t been until recently. But you go to places like Okinawa where Ikigai fills your entire adult life. Ikigai roughly means the reason for which we wake up in the morning. And you can ask every 100-year-old today what their Ikigai is, and they will know off the top of their head. You ask 100 old people here in America what their purpose is, and most of them will look at you blankly. Costa Rica, the word is pan de vida. The Greek island of Ikaria, one of our Blue Zones, their purpose comes with mother’s milk, and they are all about their island. They self identify not as Greeks or not as members of the European community, they identify as Ikarians. And their purpose is to make sure, of course, they’ve been beleaguered by outside forces for 3,000 years, but they’ve developed this we’re locking arms and we’re going to march ahead as a community, we’re going to take care of each other. And every man, woman and child on that island has this outside sense of purpose and pride around their identification as Ikarian, and we don’t have that. You know, I was born in Roseville, Minnesota. Nobody in Roseville gives a shit about Roseville. You gotta love Roseville. But wait, I forgot to ask if I can swear on your podcast?
Darin: Oh, absolutely.
Dan: I probably shouldn’t, but I get exuberant once in a while.
Darin: I hope it becomes a thing. I’ve had to cultivate my purpose that fires me up at 4 in the morning every day, and it’s something that unless you do that, we certainly don’t have great examples of that, but it’s absolutely utterly– I don’t know if I’m weird, Dan. You know, using that example, graduating from the University of St. Thomas, for everyone here, Dan and I graduated at the same university.
Dan: Who knew?
Darin: Who knew Dan was there then? It was 60 to 90 below in that final winter in 1994, and I didn’t even know what the hell I wanted to do yet but I was studying physiology and nutrition and all of that stuff, but I was like, I’m not staying here, like there’s no way. And I also didn’t care about my student debt. I’m from the middle class, so it’s not like my dad was coming in and paying all my tuition. Like I had debt but I just said, I need to figure out what I want to do, like truly. And for some reason, he is alway stuck with me. You think you know what you want and then you open the door and like, oh, that’s where I want to go and you just keep cultivating that. I never understood how people haven’t asked those questions of like what do you really want to do in your life, like that escapes me.
Dan: You stumbled on a big thing. I talked about policies and I talked about certifying restaurants and grocery stores but we also have an individual intervention, 15% of the population. We actually sat down with them for an hour. There’s a guy named Richard Leider, one of the top purpose people in America. He helped us create this process in which we actually spent an hour with people to do that inventory to find out what they like to do, what they’re good at, and what their passions are and their values and then an outlet. And the sad reality, this is according to Gala, 2 million interviews of American workers, only 31% find purpose in their jobs. That means, almost 70% are calling it in. They’re burning a good life for a paycheck. What we do is we help these people identify what their gifts are. And although almost no one’s gonna quit their job and get another job, one of the best ways to give them an outlet is to get them volunteering. Then we provide them a curated volunteer opportunity so that if we discover their passion is animals, and their purpose is mitigating animal suffering because a lot of people in LA that’s their purpose. Moby, for example, a good friend, Kathy Freston, to hook them up with an animal shelter for example and give them an outlet for their purpose. She said I could do any good and put them in a Salvation Army and feeding the homeless meatloaf. So it’s important to curate a volunteer opportunity, it’s the best purpose outlet a lot of people are gonna have, but you do have to go through, I would say, that exercise, middle America, they never took that hour, and they’ve just motored through life not gaining much of anything.
Darin: Well, we’re very familiar with that world. We both come from it. Dan, I’m just super proud of you. You have enlightened me today and more of your work and I’m just so grateful for everything that you’ve been pouring into this. And clearly, you’re making some huge progress and changes in people’s lives and stoked that you’re on the planet. I’m stoked that you’re from Minnesota, and I’m glad we got to share this time together, and I want to stay connected with you.
Dan: Well, I appreciated this conversation. I probably didn’t answer all of people’s questions but I’m very good at answering people who would reach out to me. My Instagram is @danbuettner. If anybody has any questions about how to live longer or the diet of longevity, @danbuettner, you’ll get an answer within 24 hours. So I look forward to seeing you in Minnesota. I hope to actually see you in the flesh, the analog version.
Darin: Let’s for sure do that. We can go get busy doing something. I look forward to that. So yeah, anyone, you got a lot of resources on your site, your books are amazing, and you’re just an advocate for goodness, and I’m just grateful for you Dan. Thank you brother.
Dan: Thank you, Darin. Good to talk to you my brother.
Darin: What a fantastic episode. So tell me, what is one thing you got out of today’s conversation? If this episode struck a chord with you and you want to dive a little deeper into my other conversations with incredible guests, you can head over to my website, darinolien.com for more episodes and in-depth articles. Keep diving my friends. Keep diving.