Improving quality of life and longevity in communities is topic of Tulsa Town Hall | Local News

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Friday’s speaker at the Tulsa Town Hall lecture series challenged Tulsans to think collectively rather than individually about improving longevity and quality of life.

Nick Buettner is director of community and corporate programs for the Blue Zones Project, a community-wide well-being improvement initiative based on lessons gleaned from locales around the globe with the highest concentrations of people living to 100 years and beyond.

He began with a quick audience survey of predictors of longer-than-average life expectancy: Do you sleep at least 7½ hours five days a week? Do you eat at least three full servings of vegetables and get at least 30 minutes of vigorous exercise daily?

Had no unprotected sex during the last year? Belong to a faith-based institution and attend three times per month? Do you have three good friends who would answer if you call on a bad day? Have you not smoked in the past five years?

Do you actually want to live to 90?

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“If you raised your hand all eight times, you’re dismissed — I have nothing to teach you,” Buettner ended the survey, prompting uproarious laughter.

The Blue Zones Project, which was founded by Buettner’s brother and best-selling author Dan Buettner, is based on observations and scientific data from centers of extraordinary human longevity — including Ikaria, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; and Loma Linda, California.

The Blue Zones Project aims to improve the quality of life and longevity of individuals through community-wide improvements in cities, states and even within workplaces.

Unlike many health or wellness initiatives, the Blue Zones Project addresses the environment, not just individual behavior changes in an effort to have widespread, long-term impacts.

The nearest locale to try it has been the Pottawatomie County Blue Zones Project, which began in 2017, Buettner said.

For example, instead of nagging people to exercise, communities can make walking not only the healthy choice but also the easier choice through sidewalk improvements and walking initiatives.

And communities can work together to make wholesome foods more accessible at schools, restaurants and food banks so people in Blue Zones begin to eat healthier naturally.

The crux of Buettner’s message is what his brother dubbed “The Power 9,” the common lifestyle habits found in the world’s healthiest, longest-lived people.

The first is to move naturally. What does that mean?

It doesn’t mean going to a gym or training for marathons, which Buettner said the vast majority of people won’t sustain as a habit. It’s about habitually walking or biking to a friend’s house, to the grocery store, to school, or gardening and other active activities.

Next is purpose. Buettner said the loss of purpose and engagement, with that reason to get up each morning, is what makes people 30% more likely to die in the year after they retire.

The Japanese call it “Ikigai,” which translates to life’s purpose.

Third is having routines to shed stress, or what Blue Zones calls “down shift.” This varies by centers of longevity and includes praying, napping and even regular happy hours with friends and family.

Fourth is the 80% rule: Stop eating before your stomach is all the way full as a simple means of managing caloric intake. Buettner said people in the Blue Zones also eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and don’t eat again until the next day.

Fifth is having a happy hour of one to two glasses of wine regularly — and that does not translate to having 14 drinks on the weekend, Buettner said.

Sixth, active, regular engagement in faith-based communities was common across all centenarians studied by the Blue Zones Project.

Seventh was a mostly plant-based diet.

And no, Buettner said that doesn’t mean vegan or vegetarian. But in large centenarian clusters, cow milk is not part of the diet, meat is limited to fewer than five meals per month and fish to three times or fewer per week; water, tea, coffee or wine are the common beverages consumed.

Eighth is a family-first priority in life, including not just children but also maintaining a life partner and caring for nearby, aging parents and grandparents.

Lastly is what Blue Zones refers to as having the “right tribe.” Simply put, it means being in social circles with people with similarly healthy habits and behaviors.

Buettner said it is critical for communities to identify what is working and what isn’t and to implement the kinds of changes that make healthy choices easier to make.

To date, 56 communities and 4,823 organizations participate in the Blue Zones Project, but the lessons about what improvements work are applicable most everywhere — and urgently needed, he said.

“The life expectancy of our kids is less than our own,” Buettner said. “We spend $3 trillion on health care costs for (preventable) diseases.”

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