BUILDING HEALTHY COMMUNITIES
Dan Buettner ‘83 is an explorer. He’s traveled the world, written best-selling books, and had more adventures than most. What’s he exploring? Longevity.
In 2005 he wrote an article for National Geographic that led to his life’s mission: studying “Blue Zones,” areas of the world where people live longer, healthier and happier lives than anywhere else on the planet.
He identified the zones as Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; parts of Sardinia; Loma Linda, California and Nicoya, Costa Rica. Dan studied the factors that appear to contribute the residents’ longevity. Then, he founded the Blue Zones Project, a preventive health care movement, which has reached millions of people.
WE DON’T GO INTO A COMMUNITY TO TELL THEM WHAT TO DO. WE’RE TRYING TO CREATE A PERFECT STORM OF WELL-BEING.
According to Dan, the secret to a long life lies not in “beating the horse of individual responsibility,” he explains. “Discipline is a muscle, and muscles fatigue. Instead, we need to look at environmental components and incorporate Blue Zones principles into cultures at large. In part, this means changing food policy so that eating healthfully is an unavoidable choice.”
Albert Lea, Minnesota, became the pilot project for the Blue Zones initiative in 2009. “We don’t go into a community to tell them what to do,” Dan notes. “We’re trying to create a perfect storm of well-being by creating an environment that’s always nudging people to make the healthy choice — and one that makes the healthy choice easy.”
Blue Zones projects have since rolled out in other communities, including Texas, Iowa, Indiana, Oregon, Florida and Hawaii.
National Geographic continues to sponsor Dan’s work, which currently is examining the link between Blue Zones and happiness, specifically the policies that are most likely to yield happiness.
One discovery? Equality, particularly gender and economic equality, generates more happiness per dollar than any industry.