Living A Longer And Better Life

January 27, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog

I have just come across this TED talk and thought it was really worth the watch.  It breaks down scientifically the components that help humans live longer and happier.  Let me know what you think.

Dan Buettner is the author of "The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest." He spoke at the TEDxTC Event at the Science Museum of Minnesota in September, 2009. His Web site is For more TED Talks, click here

In the same way organisms select for characteristics that favor the survival and well-being of its species over successive generations, so too do cultures. With organisms, we call this process evolution and it represents a sort of accumulated wisdom. There is no word for this process in cultures, but there is one for the result. And that word is tradition.

For that past eight years, my team of scientists and National Geographic researchers have explored five parts of the world -- "Blue Zones" -- where people live measurably longer lives.

Compared to American averages, we found a bronze-age culture in Sardinia's interior that produces about 10 times more male centenarians; a remote peninsula in Costa Rica where 50 year-olds have a three-fold better chance or reaching age 90; a Greek island completely free of Alzheimer's (about 50 percent of Americans over age 90 suffer from dementia); and islands in southern Japan where people suffer one-sixth the rate of heart disease. How do they do it?

The Danish Twin Studies established that only about 20 percent of average lifespan (within certain biological limits) is dictated by genes. Lifestyle explains most of the rest of the longevity formula.

We found that all five Blue Zones possessed the same nine lifestyle characteristics. Among them: a low-meat, plant-based diet (all of them ate a lot of beans) and a ritual of "downshifting" each day. They experience the same stresses we do -- kids, health, finances -- but they managed it through daily prayer, meditation, ancestor veneration or city-wide happy hours (like the Sardinians).

The secret to longevity, as I see it, has less to do with diet, or even exercise, and more to do with the environment in which a person lives: social and physical. What do I mean by this? They live rewardingly inconvenient lives. They walk to the store and to their friends' homes and they live in houses set up with opportunities to move mindlessly. They do their own yard work, hand-knead their own bread dough, and, in the case of Okinawa, get up and down off the floor several dozen times a day.

They live in strong families that keep them motivated to support loved ones. Centenarians are still living near their children and feel loved and the expectation to love. Instead of being mere recipients of care, they are contributors to the lives of their families. They grow gardens to contribute vegetables, they continue to cook and clean. This has a powerful two-fold effect: Children and grandchildren in these families benefit from their grandparents' wisdom and care while the centenarians feel the motivation to stay active, to get out of bed in the morning, and live for a purpose.

They live in cities where it is easy to walk to their friends' houses, to the store or to church. So, we figured they get about 105 minutes of physical activity everyday -- and no health club membership!

We know from the Framingham studies that happiness, smoking and obesity are all "contagious." If your three best friends are obese, there's a 70 percent better chance that you'll be overweight. People in the Blue Zones either proactively surround themselves with people who practice the right behaviors or are born into communities of people who do -- or people whose idea of fun is gardening, or bocce ball or swimming; people who eat meat sparingly, who have faith, who are trusting and trust-worthy. Why is this so important?

No supplement, hormone, antioxidant or pill of any sort has been shown to reverse, stop or even slow aging. The problem is two-fold: to do the study properly, you'd need to follow two groups of people for life: one who takes the pill, the other that doesn't. Then you'd have to control for all other factors and compare the average age of death for each group. No such study has ever been done on a "longevity" supplement.

The second problem is adherence. People in general just don't stick to doing anything for very long. Are you taking supplements? How long have you been taking them? I'll bet not more than a few years.

Science (and hucksters) have offered us countless diets but research done by the University of Minnesota's Dr. Robert W. Jeffrey has shown that fewer than 2 percent of people adhere to diets for more than two years. For anything to really impact your life expectancy positively, you need to do it for most of your life. Friends, unlike pills or diets, are much more likely to be much longer-term undertakings.

The secret to solving much of America's health care crisis and battle with chronic diseases lies in emulating the environment in Blue Zones. Is it possible?

Last year, my partners and I made Blue Zones-inspired changes to the environment of an entire American town -- Albert Lea, Minnesota, (see AARP Magazine article). We made the town more walkable and bikeable, dug public gardens, made it easier for kids to walk to school and people to expand their face-to-face social networks to include more people motivated to change their health habits. The results were astounding.

If the trends continue, life expectancy for the average participant would rise about three years and health care costs for city workers would decrease by 48 percent.

The wisdom of the world's Blue Zones represents centuries or even millennia of observed human experience. As Democrats and Republicans argue over how to solve the health care crisis, perhaps they should take a moment to consider the wisdom of their grandmothers.


Girl From Ipanema; A Lesson In Happiness

October 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog

On September 2nd 2009, Rio de Janeiro, the city I was born and raised in, was chosen by Simon Anholt, an author and policy adviser, as the happiest city in the world.  You can read the whole article in Forbes Magazine at
I have had the luck of living in three cities, Rio de Janeiro, New York City and Los Angeles, which gives me an insider’s perspective plus enough experience to understand what makes a city, or country tick.

Let me just start by saying hands down Rio de Janeiro is a happier city than NYC or LA and I say that not because I read it in Forbes. Why?  Rio de Janeiro had a different focus, a different take on life.

In Rio de Janeiro, actually in the entirety of Brazil, people work so they can have fun and have the life style they want.  Brazilians or Cariocas (as people from Rio de Janeiro are called) love to dance, sing and get together with friends and family. Fun is the focus and everything is done in big groups; from going to the beach to dinners, parties and lunches. 

A typical Sunday is: wake up late, go to the beach, get together for a feijoada (a black bean dish with all kinds of strange meats – which used to be left over meats the slaves would get a hold of and stir in the pot – purchased at the butcher shops such as; pig’s feet (you get the drift) all accompanied by guitars, singing and Caipirinha (Brazilian’s official drink). 

I have made documentaries in Brazil that involved spending time with very poor people leaving in shacks with electricity rerouted from street poles but I must tell you that most of them knew how to push their troubles aside and have a respite from difficulty by laughing with friends and singing their hearts out.

In contrast people in NYC and in LA seem to keep score on who puts more hours of work in a week.  The forty hour week is a thing of the past not only in these two cities but in the US as a whole.  We eat on the run and at night we are so tired that most of us end up throwing a frozen dinner in the oven or microwave. 

Families are so spread apart that one is lucky if they have one member of their family living near by.  And who has time on a weekend to sing, dance, eat, and drink?  We have places to go and things to do.  The emphasis in work for the sake of work is a cultural trait in the US and creates a lot of stress in our lives plus most of us can never achieve enough financial success to have the big house, car, appliances that the get bombarded into our lives on a daily basis, and so we end up thinking of ourselves as losers.

I have chosen to live in the US.  I love this country and its people.  I’m a doer.  I get excited by ideas and the opportunity this country gives me to fulfill them, but I do wish we would start paying more attention to quality time.  And that means hanging out with friends and family, relaxing and mostly having a good time, whatever that means to each one of us.

I for some time had forgotten of this beautiful quality of enjoying life and oneself and am now on my path back to recoup this outlook I once had because believe me, no amount of money or accomplishments can compete with laughing and loving with abandonment.

And that is the reason Rio de Janeiro is the happiest city in the world.  It is the city of carnival, samba, and the girl from Ipanema.  We certainly can’t have the girl from Ipanema in Los Angeles or any other US city but we can have her American cousin and we too can learn to laugh and love with abandonment.


8 Ways Doing Less Can Transform Your Work & Life

September 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured

Do less, be happier.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupe

Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on Twitter.

Most productivity blogs and books will teach you how to do more, to get more done, to be more productive.

I want to teach you to do less, to get less done, to be less productive.

And while I’ve written about it before, I think it’s time we take a look at how this can really change your work life, and your life as a whole.

Doing less is not about being lazy (though being lazy is a good start) – it’s about focusing on quality rather than quantity. It’s about getting off the hamster wheel of productivity, so that you can create something great rather than just being busy.

Let’s take a few examples:

  • A furniture maker can mass-produce a ton of cheap furniture that will fall apart within a year. Another craftsman might produce way fewer pieces of furniture, but make them beautifully and solidly, so that they’ll last for generations. If he makes them well enough, they might even be sought out and remembered for their great design.
  • A programmer can write tens of thousands of lines of code, and produce a lot of software that works. A less productive coder can write a tenth of the lines, perhaps even editing down what she writes so that there’s less code, but they’re better written. This small program might be the most useful thing on many people’s computers, flawless code that just works.
  • A writer can churn out lots of words (hundreds of thousands, if not millions), but have his work read by relatively few. Another writer can write a small but powerful blog post or ebook, and have the post be spread by thousands of people.

In each case, the person produced less, but focused on quality. The impact of the smaller work was higher, and thus the time worked was better spent.

I’d argue that by focusing on quality, you could work less and still have a higher impact. I’ve done this in my life – by cutting back on my work hours, I actually get less done but have a higher impact.

I should note: this takes courage, to do less. You have to shed all the old ideas of working harder and working more and being more productive. You have to forget about what others think about your work habits, and instead think about the impact the work has on the world and your life. You have to change the way you do things, and that’s never easy.

But it’s worth the effort.

Here are some ways this philosophy can change your life and work:

  1. Less hectic, busy schedule, less stress, more peace. Doing less leaves free to schedule less, leave more space in your schedule, work at a more human pace.
  2. More ability to focus, to find Flow, to work in the moment. When you are doing too much, you are constantly switching from one task to another, constantly interrupted, constantly distracted. Do less, clear away distractions, single-task.
  3. Work has more impact and spreads further and wider. When you do too much, your work is spread thinner, you have lower quality, and people won’t spread your work or give you awards for low-quality work.
  4. More pride in your work, which feels good. Feels awesome, actually, to create something worth putting your name on.
  5. People appreciate higher quality. Customers rave. Readers enthuse. Reviewers glow. Bosses promote.
  6. More time for family and loved ones. Not a small benefit. Be sure that if you do less, you use the saved time for something important. Like quiet time for the ones you love.
  7. More time for other things you enjoy. I use my time for exercise, or reading, and of course my family.
  8. Free yourself up to create amazing things. Creating is hard to do when you’re busy and distracted. By doing less, you can create something great.

How to Do Less

I almost didn’t include this section, as to me it seems obvious: you just … do less. But I realize it’s not obvious to everyone, so I’ll share a few tips (many are familiar to long-time readers):

  • Slowly cut back on non-essential commitments.
  • Have fewer meetings.
  • Say no to requests, as much as possible, so you can focus on doing something great.
  • Cut out distractions, especially the Internet.
  • Single-task and focus.
  • Churn out a shitty first draft, then edit.
  • Edit some more. Make it beautiful and minimal.
  • Make it something you will be proud to claim credit for.
  • When you find yourself doing busy-work, stop, put it off, find ways to cut that out of your life.
  • Whatever blocks you from doing your great work, kill it.
  • Set limits on how many things you do each day.
  • Focus on the most important tasks first, before you get distracted
  • Set limits on your work hours.

It won’t happen overnight. Change gradually, but surely.

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.” – E.F. Schumacker