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A Longer, Healthier Life...How Do I Sign Up?

by Emily Strand, Vital Aging Network

Imagine 94.7 years. The Blue Zone Vitality Compass has projected that I will live to that age. To me, this number seems a bit ominous. It begs the question: What kind of 94-year-old will I be? If the Vitality Compass is any indicator, it looks like I will be relatively healthy until I am 83 years old. Will I really face 11 years of health issues? If so, what can I do to make these 11 years healthy and vital?

Minnesota-based author Dan Buettner has traveled the world studying areas where people live longer and healthier lives. His book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, discusses these areas. These Blue Zones include the island of Sardinia; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; and the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica.

Buettner summarizes his premise as follows: “If you can optimize your lifestyle, you may gain back an extra decade of life you’d otherwise miss. What’s the best way to optimize your lifestyle? Emulate the practices we found in each one of the Blue Zones.” (From excerpt published by National Public Radio.)

Buettner believes that genetics determine only 10% of how long we will live. The remaining 90% is related to how we live our lives. In his research, Buettner has discovered the common denominators of these healthy zones. He believes that following these rules to live by could add up to another decade of quality life.

He organizes the rules into four categories:

  • Move naturally. Find ways to include movement in your daily life with gardening, walking, playing with family, and more.
  • Hold the right outlook. Express your sense of purpose. Finding time to slow down helps you remain calm.
  • Eat wisely. Eat 20% less at meals. Avoid meat and processed foods.
  • Belong to the right tribe. Being surrounded by family and friends who have healthy lifestyles is very important to longevity. Buettner says, “In all Blue Zones in the world, people put their loved ones first, and we think that more good years of life are associated with that choice.”

Sounds easy. But how can Minnesotans, who are plagued by subarctic temperatures and long, dark winter days, implement these practices? Can communities throughout the United States replicate these findings to create more Blue Zones?

AARP and Blue Zones wanted to answer that question so they implemented the AARP and Blue Zones Vitality Project in Albert Lea, Minnesota. Due to the size of its population, the city’s average health conditions, its proximity to the University of Minnesota, and the level of community support, Albert Lea was an ideal location for a pilot project.

The goal of the project was to influence Albert Lea’s citizens to adopt healthy habits so easily that they didn’t even recognize how much they were changing their lives. With the community fired up to be part of the Vitality Project and with support from the community’s leadership, Albert Lea was transformed. According to Buettner, “By the time the Vitality Projectended in October 2009, a total of 3,464 residents of all ages had participated. The life expectancy of the 786 residents who took the Vitality Compass before and after the project rose by an average of 2.9 years, and all say they feel healthier — physically and emotionally.” AARP The Magazine

The Vitality Project indicates that people can live longer and healthier lives with community support and participants’ enthusiasm. Healthful eating, sense of purpose, connection to others, and movement — yes, please! Now 94.7 years don’t seem quite so scary!



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