Friday, June 21, 2013

The keys to living longer, and living well

Author Dan Buettner speaks to Springfield business leaders during a breakfast meeting held at the Bass Pro White River Conference Center. 

What causes some populations of people to live longer, healthier lives than others? Author Dan Buettner, a National Geographic fellow, has traveled the planet to uncover the secrets of longevity and happiness, distilling what he learned down to the Power 9 – the nine principles that have helped people in certain areas of the planet, known as Blue Zones, achieve this lifestyle. 

In mid-June, Buettner visited Springfield, speaking at a public event at the O’Reilly Family Event Center on the Drury University Campus. Buettner also shared the results of his research in presentations to Springfield business leaders and leaders at CoxHealth. 

National and local studies consistently show that obesity, heart disease and diabetes are at epidemic levels in the Ozarks and across the United States. Buettner’s message of nine simple steps that can improve your quality of life is designed to encourage us all to put health first. 

Here’s a brief look at the nine principles:

1. Move naturally: The world’s longest-lived people aren’t big on working out, but they do move each day: walking, gardening and working outdoors.

2. Have a purpose: Knowing “why I wake up in the morning” is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy

3. Down shift: Whether it’s prayer, napping or happy hour, those who live longest have routines to help them shed stress.

4. 80 percent rule: Stop eating when you’re 80 percent full – it can be the difference between losing weight or gaining it. 

5. Plant slant: Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets.

6. Wine at 5: Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. The trick is to drink 1-2 glasses per day with friends and/or with food. 

7. Belong: Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy.

8. Loved ones first: Successful centenarians usually commit to a life partner (which can add up to 3 years of life expectancy) and invest in their children with time and love.

9. Right tribe: The world’s longest lived people chose–or were born into–social circles that supported healthy behaviors. Research shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. So the social networks of long-lived people have favorably shaped their health behaviors.

Buettner told audiences that longevity is about 20 percent genetic and about 80 percent lifestyle and environment. In his work with Blue Zones, he and a team of researchers have found that communities can make environmental changes that can support healthy lifestyles.

“In the areas we’ve studied, longevity happened because people live in environments that nudge them toward moving a little bit more, eating a little bit less, staying engaged, and having a sense of purpose,” Buettner says. 

In communities that have achieved health improvements, leaders have focused on changes such as: creating walkable spaces; keeping parks clean and vibrant; and making fruit and vegetables available and affordable. 

“You optimize the environment by making the active and healthy options the easiest options,” he says.

That message of change was a major driver behind bringing Buettner to Springfield. Brian Williams, vice president, chief business development at CoxHealth, says, “We believe Dan’s visit will help Springfield begin this conversation and set us on the road to the Blue Zones way of life."