Twelve years ago, Blue Zones became an instant bestseller not because it discovered a miracle diet or pill to live a longer life, but revealed, from the world’s longest-lived people that purpose, good social connectedness, and daily rituals to help us unwind were much more powerful than we thought.
The City of Muscatine has received the Planning Award for Urban Design. Work began in 2014 when, as part of the Blue Zones Project, the City began the work to redevelop the Mississippi riverfront into a recreational area for all citizens.
Bringing the World’s Longevity and Happiness Secrets to American Cities
Rich Roll is a vegan ultra-endurance athlete, plant-based nutrition advocate, and host of the award-winning, chart-topping Rich Roll Podcast, where he interviews forward-thinking, paradigm-busting minds in the health, fitness, and nutrition world. He talked with Dan Buettner about The Blue Zones of Happiness and how we can all design our surroundings to stack the deck in favor of happiness. Watch the interview below.
In our blue zones research, we found that the healthiest, longest-lived people in the world were nudged into healthy behaviors by their environments. So when we were asked to try and implement some of these blue zones principles (called the Power 9) in American cities, we used evidence-based policies to change the actual environment in which people live.
Making permanent and semi-permanent changes to the environment is at the core of our Blue Zones Project communities.
Our minds are hardwired for novelty, so we crave new things. Our attention can only last so long. Take diets for example. After seven months, 90 percent of people have discarded their diets. Discipline is a muscle and muscles fatigue, so people revert back to their old behaviors.
If you want people to eat better, move better, socialize better, and live better, then you have to optimize their environments. That’s what we do in our Blue Zones Project communities with incredible success.
It’s the same with happiness.
Things like savoring each moment, gratitude, and meditation can work in the short term to make you happier. However, just like changing your diet, these techniques require you to remember and implement them on a regular basis. They are not strategies that ensure long-term happiness.
6 Factors For Happiness, According to the Newest Research
Freedom. Do I have the freedom to do the work that is right for me?
While it isn’t likely that you can pick up and move to one of the happiest places in the world where these factors are present, you can still optimize your own life, social circle, and everyday routine to find purpose, pleasure, and pride.
We’re making: Chakchoukha (Algerian Chickpea Stew) for when the temps start to drop.
6 Factors for Happiness These are the six factors that correlate to personal happiness no matter where you live. READ MORE What We’re Reading: Why do Okinawan women live so long? The Queen has a few cocktails every night…could it be the secret to her record-breaking reign? We’re making: Chakchoukha (Algerian Chickpea Stew) for when the temps start to drop. The Happiest Place in the World The happiness of Costa Ricans proves that money can reduce some sadness, but it can’t buy happiness. Click Above to Watch the Video Coffee with a Cause Coffee is a daily ritual in blue zones areas. Most centenarians in blue zones regions drink up to two or three cups of black coffee per day. The American Heart Association found that consuming coffee, both caffeinated and decaf, was associated with a lower risk of total mortality.
100% of Blue Zones Store profits go to centenarians in Costa Rica.
Avoiding Dementia By Carefully Minding The Food You Eat And Supplements You Take
Did you know that what you eat could be making you sick? It’s true. Some foods such as poultry, beef, and dairy clog your body with energy-depleting fats, toxins, and chemicals. Where can you find the optimum nourishment your body needs to stay strong, healthy, and vigorous? For millions of people, the answer is in the health and healing properties of living foods—foods that are eaten raw and produced without dangerous, nutrient-robbing chemicals or additives.
For more than forty years, Brian Clement has been teaching people how to cleanse and heal their bodies with naturally potent living foods. Brian explains why living foods are vital to good health.
Joel Fuhrman M.D., a board-certified family physician who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional and natural methods, and #1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat to Live, Super Immunity and The End of Diabetes, delivers a powerful paradigm-shifting lecture showing us how and why we never need to diet again.
You will understand the key principles of the science of health, nutrition and weight loss. It will give you a simple and effective strategy to achieve—and maintain—an optimal weight without dieting for the rest of your life. This new approach will free you forever from a merry-go-round of diets and endless, tedious discussions about dieting strategies. This is the end of dieting.”
There are seven noteworthy subcultures or communities where not only is the average lifespan significantly longer than in other parts of the world, but where more individuals live into old age than other places. Let’s see what they do right. We will focus on four.
Okinawa boasts the highest number of centenarians per capita in the world! Gardening, as a widespread and common activity, brings older citizens the benefits of sunshine, exercise, and nutritious plant-based foods. Okinawans adhere to a philosophy that promotes eating in moderation, and never gorging. They consume a lot of seaweed. They also have a sense of purpose, a positive outlook on life, and close social support groups called moais.
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
The prevalent mindset in this population encourages a lifestyle that is physically active, with plenty of time in nature as well as time spent on family and spirituality. They sleep 8 hours. And their diet includes not only nutrient-rich local fruits, beans, rice and corn, but also water that’s naturally high in energy.
Home to mineral hot springs, Ikaria has been a health destination for decades. Its residents stay active through walking, farming, and boating, but they also take time out to nap and socialize. They supplement their Mediterranean diet with lots of wild greens and drink a local nutrient-rich herbal tea. The community as a whole encourages good health habits and promotes regular social engagement.
Loma Linda, California, USA
Loma Linda, about sixty miles east of LA, is a community of 23,000 that includes about 9,000 Seventh-Day Adventists – a group that is significantly longer-lived than the average American. Adventist culture focuses on healthful habits such as vegetarianism, and excludes alcohol, caffeine, and smoking. Adventists drink plenty of water, exercise regularly, and tend to maintain a healthy weight. They nurture emotional and spiritual health, value their family relationships, and prize volunteering.
Here are some common ingredients of these particular communities:
1. A cultural environment that reinforces healthy lifestyle habits like diet and exercise
2. Strong social networks
3. Lots of gardening!
4. A cooperative community spirit
5. Public health care that is easily accessible
6. Seniors are valued as members of family and the community
7. A limited or zero consumption of refined sugar and other processed foods
8. Extremely low-stress lifestyles. (The American Medical Association has noted that stress is the basic cause of more than 60% of all human illness and disease.)
OK, those are some community and lifestyle factors in longevity. What about the personal, inner life traits or habits of people who live a long life?
The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study, by Friedman and Martin, (Hudson Street Press, March 2011) provides some surprising findings:
1. The strongest predictor of long life was conscientiousness, which is another word for self-responsibility. Conscientious people are less likely to smoke, engage in risky behavior, and have accidents; and they are more likely to focus on the big picture, and make good health choices moment to moment.
2. Avoiding stress alone doesn’t add up to longevity, but being engaged with meaningful work does. A sense of purpose far outweighs the absence of hassles. In fact, service to others ranked high in Friedman and Martin’s study – even greater than feeling loved by others! Go figure.
3. Being part of something bigger than yourself: selfish people die younger than people who belong to a group or to a movement. That can be a church or a religion, a healthy lifestyle, or the peace corp. People who volunteer for something live longer than those who don’t, but it has to be selfless. (The science shows that people who volunteer only for their own personal satisfaction don’t live any longer than people who don’t volunteer at all.)
4. Humming and singing. Yes, humming and singing. The healthiest people in the world seem to intuitively know the value of oxygen and regularly practice deep breathing in some form or other. Rigorous daily exercise is one way; humming or singing, another. (I bet the happiness factor plays into that).
5. Last, but not least, the authors found that people over 100 years old laugh a lot. In fact, easy to laugh and laughing often, are two of the traits high on the longevity list. Norman Cousins, author of Anatomy of an Illness, who cured himself of a serious autoimmune disease, through laughter (Marx Brothers films were his thing) believed that human emotions controlled the biology of our body and led to health or sickness.
I have only two things (my two cents) to add to all these findings:
Express yourself! People who are in touch with and show their emotions tend to feel more connected with others and with life itself. They tend to feel more at home in their skin and carry less tension overall. It’s the best way to stay mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy.
Focus on and fill your world with beauty and gratitude.
Those, to me, are the strongest, most natural normalizers in life. They keep the heart open and the will to live strong. They deepen our sense of appreciation and heighten our sense of acceptance. They feed the most real part of us.
Isn’t it beautiful that the things that extend life also improve its quality, and that the things that improve the quality of life also extend it? The goal, after all, is not just more time, but feeling wonderful all the time.
In the rapidly changing and often confusing time of COVID-19, Sharecare and Blue Zones Project have had the opportunity to witness how individuals, organizations and communities are working together to help address the fallout of this virus. One of the most dynamic and active organizations that we have observed is the Pisgah Health Foundation (PHF), a public 501 (c)(3) charity that was founded in 2019 by a board of seven individuals. Their focus wa, and remains on improving the health, wellness, and lives of Western North Carolina residents by targeting underlying social determinants related to health, food insecurity, housing, social cohesion, and education. The organization evolved from the Transylvania Regional Hospital Foundation and serves five counties in Western North Carolina.
Long before COVID-19, Lex Green, President of PHF, introduced the concept of Blue Zones Project to his board in the spring of 2019. He was convinced that Blue Zones Project and its parent organization, Sharecare, Inc. were perfect collaborators to help accomplish PHF’s mission to target social determinants. In August 2019, following months of due diligence by PHF and Sharecare, Brevard, North Carolina was identified as the 50th Blue Zone Project community in North America and the first in the Carolinas. Significantly, the Pisgah Health Foundation board members understood and valued the significance of Blue Zones Project and ways to provide evidence-based, metric-driven processes to help citizens make healthier choices through the built environment, food and nutrition options, and where individuals work, play, and live.
At about the same time the local Blue Zones Project team was literally ordering furniture for its new office in downtown Brevard, the first hints of a new virus in China were circulating. Fast forward to mid-March 2020 and the entire world was held captive by COVID-19 with mandatory shelter-in-place orders to “flatten the curve” to lessen the strain on hospitals and emergency service providers. Like other communities around the world, non-essential workers in Brevard and across North Carolina were told not to come back to work. Businesses shuttered, schools closed, and even recreation areas were closed.
In this time of crisis (health and economic), Sharecare and Blue Zones Project want to highlight the Pisgah Health Foundation leadership and board members for the many decisive actions they have taken to support not only Brevard, but other communities within their footprint.
Created a Physicians Round Table consisting of over 45 practicing and retired physicians who meet twice a week by Zoom to discuss specific ways that Pisgah Health Foundation can leverage its resources regarding COVID-19.
Led by Dr. Rik Emaus, a retired physician and Blue Zones Project steering committee member, a team of doctors is working with the Transylvania County Health Department, the Brevard Rotary Club and others to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at the senior centers by providing needed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other resources to help keep this vulnerable population healthy and out of the hospital.
Created a COVID-19 Rapid Response grant fund to assist non-profits needing financial funds to maintain or increase their capacity to support local social service needs. Within the past three weeks, the Board has awarded one million dollars in grant assistance. Of this amount, the Foundation has already deployed $322,500 to assist local non-profits focused on COVID-19 activities. Reducing food insecurity for those in need as well as working with the County and other non-profits to find safe locations to house homeless individuals who are either infected by COVID-19 or are symptomatic are two examples.
Worked with local business owners and manufacturers to either source or manufacture items such as face shields and hand sanitizer that can be used by local physicians, senior centers and others interacting with the public.
Michael Acker, SVP Blue Zones Project, reflects, “The Blue Zones Project framework is a proven model for organizing decisive and efficient community engagement. We are encouraged to see this type of innovation and collaboration, which will ultimately create more resilient communities across North America.”
by: Dr. Allen Weiss, Chief Medical Officer – Blue Zones Project and Mark Burrows, Sr. Community Program Manager – Blue Zones Project Brevard
We are excited to announce that Blue Zones has been acquired by Adventist Health, a mission-driven, non-profit health system that serves more than 80 communities on the West Coast in more than 20 hospitals and 250 clinics.
What does this mean for the future?
Blue Zones is proud to be the global leader and pioneer in using an environmental, systematic approach to improving the health of entire cities and communities. Adventist Health shares our mission, vision, and values, and their community integration efforts align perfectly with our work.
By combining our mission-driven cultures, we can scale our efforts and resulting impact at a whole new level and in the process truly provide the model to transform the health of America. We believe this partnership represents the future of healthcare in America.
Our entire staff is now part of the Adventist Health family. Our leadership, staff, and contact information will remain the same.
We come to work every day to make the health of our communities, our nation, and our world better. This commitment is stronger than ever during this global crisis.
If you have any questions about this exciting news, please contact me at any time.
Please find attached press releases that went out today specific to the Blue Zones,LLC acquisition by Adventist Health West and the extension with our strategic partners at Sharecare.
A singer-songwriter anthropologist who has been experiencing Italy’s coronavirus pandemic reflects on how pandemic-inspired songs connect people and reveal shifting power dynamics.
By Kristina Jacobsen, cultural anthropologist, ethnographer, and singer-songwriter. Jacobsen is an associate professor of music and of anthropology (ethnology) at the University of New Mexico (UNM), her research interests focus on language, identity, and expressive culture.
Since a quarantine was imposed in parts of Italy on March 8 to stop the spread of COVID-19, I’ve been struck by the silence. In a place where people love to engage, touch, talk, and constantly debate, the lack of sound—especially of people’s voices—is eerie.
On the island of Sardinia, where I have lived since June*, the silence is palpable. It seems to weigh on the landscape.
On March 11, the policy of “shelter in place” went from being recommended to being mandatory. All bars, restaurants, cafés, and other “nonessential” businesses were closed until at least April 3.
From my open door in the seaside city of Cagliari, I see only occasional passersby, walking briskly and purposefully down the city’s main shopping street, dutifully clutching their autodichiarazione—papers that justify their reasons for leaving home.
In train cars, grocery stores, and pharmacies, the smell of bleach and hand sanitizer assaults the senses. Strikingly absent is the aroma of strong espresso, usually a ubiquitous part of the city’s olfactory landscape.
City squares are hosed down each night with large water tanks. Police officers patrol the roads. In a city known for its rich and fecund smells, its sensuous approach to life, and its vivid festivals, the streets feel sterile and empty.
But into this void of daily scents and sounds, a multitude of melodies has been born: balcony concerts, recordings, and in-home videos under the hashtags #flashmobsonoro, #iorestoacasa (“I’m staying home”), #lamusicanonsiferma (“the music doesn’t stop”), and #tuttoandràbene (“everything will be OK”).
These performances—original songs, covers, spontaneous performances, and humorous commentaries—are a sonic response to this government-imposed silence. Each of us is reaching out across the ether, from the solitude of our home to someone else in the solitude of their own home.
I came to Sardinia to study the Sardinian language, conduct anthropological fieldwork, and write and record an album with Sardinian songwriters. I was drawn to the intensity of social life on this island, its incredible culture of hospitality, and the profound appreciation people here have for music and sound.
In his song “Su Baballoti” (the cockroach), singer-songwriter Antonio Pani bemoans how the new coronavirus has crept into every corner of Italian social life. Antonio Pani
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended much of that research. But it’s also revealed new and important ways in which music echoes and amplifies the tensions that vibrate through Sardinian daily life. The songs emerging from the quarantine are a profound form of social commentary on Sardinian perspectives of power, relationships to the Italian mainland, and the ways the virus has rocked longstanding ideas of privilege and status between Italy’s north and south.
On March 12, a song arrived on one of the lively WhatsApp groups I am part of. It spoke eloquently of the connectedness of cultures. In the video, Antonio Pani plays an Irish bouzouki in a Sardinian style, wears an Oregon sweatshirt, and sings a Spanish-influenced tune reminiscent of the storytelling corrido ballads of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, where I lived and studied previously.
The style—cantu campidanesu—is a poetic form of song well-known on the island. The genre, called gòcius or gosos, is Iberian in origin, and harkens to a time when Sardinia was colonized by Spain from about 1325 to 1708. It is primarily religious, but in its secular form, a gòcius often satirizes a person or an issue of the day. They can also be songs of protection for people, the harvest, and livestock.
In the song—called “Su Baballoti,” or “the cockroach”—Pani uses the metaphor of a cockroach to convey how the novel coronavirus (sa corona) has crawled into every nook and cranny of everyday life. He references face masks and laments the suspension of kisses during greetings and goodbyes, and the absence of gestures like the brief brush of a hand on an arm to affirm connection.
It reminds me of the day before the lockdown, when I was sitting alone in an outdoor café. A man asked the people at a neighboring table for a light. As he held out his cigarette, his girlfriend reminded him, in Italian: “Respect the social distance of 1 meter.”
Pani plays with the word “corona,” which also means “crown” and symbolizes power. He addresses the novel coronavirus, singing in the southern version of the Sardinian language, Campidanese: “Even if you walk around with a crown / you will never be our king.”
“Even if you walk around with a crown / you will never be our king.”
He describes the powerful ways the pandemic has impacted Sardinia and the northern Italian region of Lombardy. “Italy is in torment,” he sings. “Sardinia has also been affected but not like Lombardia, which remains in our thoughts.”
Then he stares straight at the camera and earnestly sings: “Baballoti, get away from here. You will not win.”
Another song circulating is an example of Sardinia’s traditional cantu a tenòre style, which UNESCO designated an intangible cultural heritage. It imitates a type of rhythmic song that accompanies village dances and features four male voices singing a cappella in Sardinian-inflected Italian and low, guttural voices. The lead singer-songwriter is Sardinian comic and cabaret singer Giuseppe Masia, and his tone is both cheeky and deadly serious.
The song documents the 13,300 Italian northerners who fled to their second homes in Sardinia over the last two weeks, right before the borders of Veneto and Lombardy were cordoned off and declared “red zones.” Thirteen thousand is a number equivalent to all the visitors who come to Sardinia during the Italian vacation months of July and August.
The recent influx has, understandably, been the source of much consternation among Sardinians, who see these “northerners” as the main vectors for the virus.
Masia sings in a strident, nasal voice, with the three accompanying voices pulsating underneath his: “Coronavirus: When you can’t find a face mask anywhere (they were all purchased by Aunt Gavina) / and the people give you dirty looks when you breathe in public.” The song ends with Masia threatening, in a melodramatic style, to shoot any “Milanesi” (people from Milan and elsewhere in the north) he meets on the street.
The situation represents a bizarre reversal of a centuries-old dynamic in which poor southerners, including Sardinians, move to northern Italy for work. (Unemployment in Sardinia right now is over 30 percent.) Northerners have often treated southerners as “hicks,” or terroni (“people of the earth”). They have viewed them as symbolic vectors for poverty and lack of education, and as literal vectors for disease.
And in a perhaps unprecedented moment of reversal, this disease has hit communities of privilege first—in Italy but also elsewhere—and socially marginalized communities last.
On one hand, wealthy northerners recently arrived in Sardinia on ferries with their cars packed full of food, ready to hole up in their beach houses, and either unaware of their privilege or unconcerned that they might bring the disease to an island long perceived by mainlanders as remote and desolate. The Sardi (Sardinians) feel taken advantage of and exploited.
On the other hand, in their quickness to judge their northern neighbors, some Sardi are repeating the exact behavior visited upon them while living on the “continente.”
So, COVID-19 has created a moment of truth, when the tables are finally turned.
But many of these northerners are also Sardinians who live, study, and work in Milan and other industrial centers, send valuable stipends back home, and have claims to family, villages, and homes in Sardinia. So, the people Masia threatens to harm might be members of his extended family.
In a time when the enemy can potentially be anyone, the novel coronavirus is both dividing and dissolving our distinctions between “us” and “them.”
Italy is a place where there is no word for privacy. In Italian, people have to borrow the English word “privacy.” The constant kisses, touches, exclamations, and opinions can at times be overwhelming for newcomers.
But I have never longed for the sense of social overwhelm and intense human contact that I associate with Sardinia like I have during this quarantine.
On March 13, I took part in a #flashmobsonoro. Each participant was supposed to play songs from our balcony for 15 minutes, then post the video to Facebook.
I live in an underground apartment with no windows, so I performed from my doorway, with my dog at my feet. I played four original songs, three country songs in a mix of Sardinian and English, and one folk song in Norwegian. As my Sardinian language teacher taught me, in the chorus I sang:
“Nois tenimos sas istorias nostras / Lassat totu fora s’ajanna / Ca custu sero nudatteru nos importat / Finzas chi sa manu tua istringet sa mia” (We all have our stories / Leave your troubles at the door / Because tonight nothing else matters / Long as my hand is in yours)
It was a breath of fresh air to play live music and to know others were doing the same, somewhere around the corner, across the island, or on the continent. When I finished my set, I looked up at a group of people who gathered to listen, the lit sign of the closed shop behind them glowing above their heads like a halo.
“Grazie,” I heard someone say. I couldn’t see who was speaking, so looked up to a fourth floor balcony. A man in his early 20s waved at me. “Grazie,” he said again. We made eye contact. “De nudda,” I responded in Sardinian. You’re welcome.
Special thanks to ethnomusicologists Marco Lutzu, Diego Pani, Ignazio Cadeddu, and Bastianu Pilosu for their assistance in the translation and interpretation of the songs discussed; to musician Antonio Pani for permission to share his song “Su Baballoti”; and to Radio Limbara for their permission to reprint their meme here. Gratzias!
* Editor’s note: On the advice of the U.S. State Department, the author had to temporarily leave Italy due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Back for his 3rd appearance on the podcast, Dan Buettner is a world record setting explorer, National Geographic Fellow, longevity expert and NY Times bestselling author of “The Blue Zones” and “The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100”.
Picking up right where we left off, this conversation dives even deeper into Blue Zones research, breaking down the factors that promote longevity and happiness.
NEW TO ME? Hi I’m Rich Roll. I’m a vegan ultra-endurance athlete, author, podcaster, public speaker & wellness evangelist at large. But mainly I’m a dad of four. If you want to know more, visit my website or check out these two the NY Times articles: http://bit.ly/otillonythttp://bit.ly/vegansglam