It's not genes. With the exception of Sardinia, people in each of these places live in a melting pot of sorts with lots of people of different origins.
It's not diet. None of the 250-plus centenarians I interviewed ever tried to limit their calories, eat fortified foods or avoid fat. They ate the foods around them in a way that made them taste good.
Not exercise programs. The longest-lived people didn't run marathons or pump iron. They lived in environments that nudged them into more physical movement and, as a result, burnt about five times as many calories for non-exercise physical activity than we do. They lived in communities where it was easy to walk to the store, to their friend's house or their place of worship. They grew gardens and were planting, weeding, watering or harvesting.
A centenarian no more knows how he or she lived to be a 100 than a tall man knows how he got to be tall. Some of their other habits include eating a plant based-diet, spending time with people who positively influence their behaviors, clearly knowing - and being able to articulate - their life purpose and moving constantly throughout the day. They don't consciously maintain this lifestyle, but rather live it automatically. They experienced mindless longevity. And it has worked for centuries.
Now, the Blue Zones Project is working to bring those longevity principles home to communities across Iowa. As many of you know, Spencer was selected as a demonstration site for the Blue Zones Project in May, and very soon citizens like you will begin to benefit from the programs and tools that come with this designation.
We'll be kicking off all of these programs and activities on Nov. 29 at the Clay County Regional Events Center with Dan Burden, Executive Director of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, and myself. I'm excited to join Spencer in the celebration that night, but today I'm asking something more from just a few of you.
Over the next year, I'd like to invite you to join our team for a Blue Zones Makeover. Inspired by the lifestyles of the longest-lived people, we will personally show you how to set up your life and optimize your surroundings so you mindlessly do the things that will help you move naturally, eat better, socialize more and - at least theoretically - grow younger.
We are looking for people who are ready to change. Are you overweight or just feeling unhealthy? Maybe you've suffered a heart attack, a painful divorce or you're just feeling lonely or isolated. Maybe you've tried the diets and exercise programs and are ready for something new. Here's what we'll be doing:
1. I'll meet with all of you the afternoon of your community launch event, Nov. 29, and show you how people in Blue Zones areas live. We'll explore each Blue Zones culture and I'll share their secrets.
Then, over the next year:
2. Using the Vitality Compass, a life expectancy calculator we developed with the University of Minnesota, we'll calculate how many more years you have, what your healthy life expectancy is and give you a few customized tips on what you can do to live longer.
3. We'll help you bring the Blue Zones Project home with an evaluation tool that will engineer more physical activity into your day and nudge you away from the things that are associated with obesity.
4. We'll show you how to set up your kitchen so you consume 50 fewer calories every day. This may not sound like much, but avoiding 50 calories a day means losing up to six pounds over the course of a year.
5. We'll show you how to set up your bedroom so you're more likely to get the amount of sleep you should. The happiest, longest-lived people in the world sleep between seven and eight-and-a-half hours a night. We'll help you get that.
6. We'll help you optimize your social life. We'll work with you to assess your immediate social circle and see how they're impacting your life. Did you know that if your three best friends are obese, there's a 150 percent chance you'll be obese too? Bad habits are as catchy as a cold. Smoking, drug abuse, and unhappiness are all contagious. Once you know how your friends are influencing you, we'll help you create a strong network around you by increasing your social circle in the right way. We'll actually introduce you to some new friends.
If this sounds like something you'd like to try, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us know what you're struggling with in your life right now and what you'd most like to change. The more you tell us, the better. Please include all your contact information, including full name, address, phone number and email address so we can get in touch with you. Applicants must be willing to personally document their journey and potentially share their experience with the media. There's no charge for those who are selected, but we do hope you will take this opportunity seriously.
On Nov. 29, I'm hoping to meet those of you who are interested. Though we'll only be picking a handful of people for this personal makeover, everyone in Spencer can reap the benefits of the Blue Zones Project through local activities and online at bluezonesproject.com.
I'm looking forward to seeing you all at the community rally on Nov. 29, at 5:30 p.m., at the Clay County Regional Events Center!
Dan Buettner is the author of "The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest"