Dan Dan Buettner

The New York Times Bestselling author, National Geographic Fellow and founder of the Blue Zones tells us about his research into the healthiest people in the world and why being around animals has a positive impact on our wellbeing.

1 – Give us a brief description of your background and what led you to discover the Blue Zones? 

After college graduation, instead of going off and doing useful and productive things, I biked across five continents and set three Guinness World Records. This led me into a life of exploration. I subsequently led 16 live scientific expeditions that harnessed an online study to help solve ancient mysteries.  In 2000, I chanced upon a story from The WHO revealing that Okinawa Japan produced the longest-lived, disability-free life expectancy in the world.  I reasoned that would be a good mystery to solve, and Blue Zones was born. 

2 – Describe what and where the Blue Zones are?

With NIA funding and on assignment from National Geographic, I set off to reverse engineer longevity: working with demographers, I found the statistically longest-lived areas in the world (blue zones) and set out to discover their common denominators. That was the topic of a cover story and now four New York Times Bestselling books. 

3 – From your research what is the healthiest type of diet?

We did a meta-analysis of 155 dietary studies done in all five blue zones over the past 8 years and found they eat, overwhelmingly a high, complex carbohydrate diet (65% of dietary intake). The five pillars over every longevity diet in the world is whole grains, greens, tubers, nuts and beans.  Here are the dietary guidelines. 

4 – What are the health benefits from a meat-free diet or substantially reduced intake of meat?

Your chances of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and several types of cancer drop by a factor of three. The Adventist Health Study followed 103,000 Americans for 30 years and found that vegans weigh, on average 20 pounds less than their meat-eating counterparts.  So, it may be the simplest way to lose weight. 

5 – What positive impact does being around animals have on mental and physical health?  

Petting a dog lowers cortisol (a stress hormone) levels.  Owning a dog is a long-term nudge that helps owners move every day: the dog has to get walked every day so, too, the human gets walked. I’ve detailed several similar longevity hacks in my new book, the Blue Zones Challenge .

6 – What’s up next for Dan Buettner? 

I’m writing a book about ethnic diets in American at the turn of the last century and finding that they are essentially diets of longevity.  A far cry from the toxic, standard American Diet.