Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones (2023) s01e01 Episode Script

The Journey Begins

[birds chirping]
[suspenseful music playing]
[man] Most of us
don't even wanna think about dying,
getting frail, losing vitality,
closing our eyes for the last time.
Wow, my friend.
[man] But one thing's for sure.
It's coming.
The question is, when?
How many years
will you get out of your body?
And do we even have any say in the matter?
I have found that most of what
people think leads to a long, healthy life
is misguided or just plain wrong.
[machine whirring]
[Dan] It's not like
we don't care about this stuff.
Every year, Americans spend
billions of dollars
on diet plans,
gym memberships, and supplements.
But it's clearly not working for us.
The fact of the matter is that most of us
are leaving good years on the table.
Worldwide, about two-thirds
of the eight billion people on this planet
will die prematurely
from an avoidable disease.
And in America,
for the first time in a century,
life expectancy is dropping.
So, how do we fix this?
I believe
it's not by trying to prevent death.
It's by learning how to live.
[mysterious music playing]
[Dan] What if we could
reverse engineer longevity?
Well, I spent the last 20 years
trying to do just that.
But instead of looking for answers
in petri dishes or test tubes,
I found five places around the world
where people are getting
the outcomes we want.
Some of these places are islands.
Other places are mountains.
Some are impossibly remote,
but some are surprisingly urban.
And though they're vastly different
on the surface,
remarkably, they all share
the same common denominators.
They all follow roughly
the exact same formula
that produces the longest-lived people
on the planet.
These people live to 100
at the highest rates in the world.
They're living vibrant,
active, happy lives,
and perhaps the biggest takeaway
is they live longer without trying.
And their secrets
could help every one of us
to get every good year
we can get out of this body of ours.
[uplifting music playing]
[Dan] That is the promise of Blue Zones.
[applause in background]
[man over PA] Tonight's speaker
has spent the last 20 years
finding the longest-living people
in the world and learning their wisdom.
Dan Buettner is
a National Geographic Explorer
and best-selling author.
He's put that wisdom to work
to raise the life expectancy
of dozens of communities across the US.
Dan, welcome.
[Dan speaks Spanish, laughs]
[Dan] I never set out
to be a longevity guru
or fix America's health care system.
I got here in a very unexpected way.
It began with my dad and his dad.
My dad was a great father for instilling
this sense of adventure in me.
His idea of fun, when we were kids,
was to go into the wilderness
for weeks at a time,
taking me and my brothers along.
[playful music playing]
[Dan] And my grandpa,
he always wanted me to be a great athlete,
and I was always on the bench.
But he gave me my first bike,
and that became
my ticket to see the world.
By the time I graduated from college
in an age when most people
were doing useful
and productive things with their lives,
I struck off to set three world records
by bicycling across five continents.
You know, we went through hurricanes
and earthquakes and floods,
and we didn't think we were gonna make it.
All right, now,
here we have a map of the entire world.
Show us where you ended up.
[Dan] The Soviet leg, um,
got the Guinness World Record.
- Congratulations.
- Thank you.
Good to meet you, Dan.
Thank you for being here.
[Dan] When you've biked around the globe
and broken all these records,
where do you go from there?
I needed to find adventure with purpose.
And for me, that meant I needed to find
an expedition that solved a great mystery.
And I remember one day,
I came across
a World Health Organization study
that found that Okinawa, Japan,
produced the longest-lived people
in the history of the world,
and I said, "That's a good mystery."
At about 900 miles south of Tokyo,
you find a cluster of islands,
which is sort of like the Hawaii to Japan.
Sugar sand beaches,
tropical jungles,
turquoise waters.
But more importantly,
for hundreds of years,
this has been the Land of the Immortals.
Okinawa, Japan, has produced
the longest-lived population
in human history.
They have a fraction the rate of diabetes.
They have one-fifth
the rate of heart disease,
very little dementia,
and they are making it to 100
at a rate far surpassing
the United States.
And the numbers are
particularly extraordinary among women.
[people chatting and laughing]
[all exclaim]
[all cheer and laugh]
[woman in Japanese]
If only I'd got number one!
- Fourteen points.
- That was so close.
- [woman] Did you go?
- He did, yes.
- [woman 2] Everyone's done?
- Yes.
- Next up is Granny.
- Good luck!
[chanting] You can do it!
[all cheer]
[woman 1] Oh, so close.
[woman 2] Amazing.
[in English] So I'm wondering
how you are all related to Umeto-san.
[speaking Japanese]
[translator in English] Three of them
are my granddaughters.
And this is my second son.
[speaking Japanese]
[translator] That is the first daughter
and the second daughter.
[Dan] Okay, so we have
three generations here.
I'm a young child of 61.
[Dan] If I want to live to be 101,
what's her recommendation?
[Umeto in Japanese] You're still a kid!
[all laugh]
[in English] I'll take it.
[Umeto in Japanese] Always have fun.
Don't get angry.
Have fun with everyone.
Make everyone happy.
I don't get angry.
[Dan in English]
So, the key is to be easygoing,
to not let things upset you,
and to forgive quickly?
[Umeto speaking Japanese]
- [translating] So this
- [speaking Japanese]
[in English] This laughter
brings us longevity.
[Dan] Oh, I love that. I feel it.
- [shamisen music playing]
- [people clapping along]
[in Japanese] Don't catch a cold ♪
Don't fall down ♪
Don't forget to laugh ♪
And talk often ♪
[singing continues]
[Dan in English] 101 years old Umeto-san.
She's vital, vigorous, funny, positive.
And then she plays
this Okinawan sort of banjo instrument,
with the plucking, with precision.
Not missing a note.
Singing this song.
And to have that cognitive ability,
that vitality,
that positiveness all in one package.
I look at her, and I say, "I want that."
[mysterious music playing]
[Dan] The first time I came to Okinawa
20 years ago,
I didn't really know
how to research longevity.
What could it be?
What are these people doing
to produce so many hundred-year-olds
and to produce a life
where they're living long
and staying sharp to the very end?
My mission was to find out.
I pulled all the academic research
I could in Okinawa
and buried myself in it.
I found this map that showed
the centenarian concentration of Japan.
It was so clear there were
very few centenarians in the North,
and the farther south you got,
the concentration of centenarians grew,
with the highest concentration
being in Okinawa.
You realize that the farther south you get
towards the equator here,
it's gonna be warmer.
So, what does warmer climate mean?
They have more growing seasons.
There must be something here
that these people are taking,
consciously or unconsciously.
Maybe an extract from a vegetable.
Maybe it's an herb or a spice
that would be the secret of longevity.
So I started
looking into these dietary surveys,
and I found one
that compares the diet of Okinawa
with the rest of Japan circa 1950.
And you go down the chart
of what Okinawans are eating,
things like meat, eggs, and fish,
and it's only 1 to 2%
of their caloric intake.
And then there's one food
where it's about 70%,
and that one food is beni imo,
purple sweet potatoes.
In the rest of Japan,
they were only eating 3%
of their calories from sweet potatoes.
And perhaps the main reasons
Okinawans ate so much beni imo
was because sweet potatoes
were typhoon-proof.
The beni imo was safe underground.
These sweet potatoes are
full of complex carbohydrates and fiber,
and they even have about 150% more
of the active antioxidants
than blueberries do.
So then, of course, you start going,
"This has gotta be it!"
So I've been traveling around the world
for 20 years,
trying to understand
how people live a long time.
What is the one Okinawan food
people should try
if they want to live longer?
[in Japanese] Well Just one thing?
[Dan in English] One.
[Yukie in Japanese]
There is no one ingredient that is best.
[in English] How about beni imo?
This purple sweet potato.
[Yukie in Japanese] Well, Okinawa had
a period of food shortage,
and we were saved by these potatoes.
But all foods have
potent medicinal powers.
Mulberry leaves are good for sore throats.
Squid ink soup is for detox.
Okinawa is very hot,
and asa seaweed
releases heat from the body.
[Dan in English] There's mugwort,
a well-known anti-inflammatory.
And goya. It has some compounds
that actually lower blood sugar,
which might explain
lower rates of diabetes here as well.
And then there's tofu.
Tofu is made from soybean curds
and can offer several health benefits.
It's been shown to lower cholesterol
and therefore lower
the risk of heart disease.
And, in some cases, it may even
slow the progression of some cancers.
Okinawans eat an average of three ounces
of soy products per day, including tofu.
And Okinawan tofu is special.
It actually has a greater concentration
of protein and good fat
compared to tofus produced elsewhere.
So when it comes to diet,
there's no single ingredient
or compound
responsible for Okinawan longevity.
They're consuming an array of foods
which all have
medicinal properties or health benefits.
So it's actually the range of foods
that is likely fueling long lives here.
And what Okinawans are eating is actually
just part of the longevity equation here.
The other question is,
how much are they eating?
In the United States, the FDA recommends
about 2,000 calories per person per day,
but Americans are actually consuming
3,600 calories per person per day
on average.
In order to get to the bottom of this,
the person I need to talk to
is Marion Nestle.
You probably know
better than anybody else in America
how we got to 73%
of America obese or overweight.
Yeah, it's astonishing.
In the early 1970s,
the secretary of agriculture said
we need to produce more food
to feed the world.
He got farmers growing more food.
So, all of a sudden,
from 1980 to the year 2000,
the number of calories in the food supply
went up from 3,200
per person per day to 4,000.
The food industry had to sell that.
In an environment
in which there's 4,000 calories a day
available for everybody
means that you have to get people
to eat more in general.
So what you saw was
portion sizes got bigger.
And more than that, it's formulated
to make you wanna eat more.
Part of it is texture, so they're crunchy
or have this wonderful mouthfeel.
They're colored
to make them really attractive.
They have lots and lots of additives
to make them taste good.
You're going to take in more calories
than you ordinarily would,
and you won't realize it.
[Dan] But in Okinawa, we saw people
that were eating much less food every day,
about 2,000 calories.
Part of the reason is
they had this nutritionally dense food
that didn't have a lot of calories.
So, in America, for lunch,
we might eat a little hamburger,
and we can wolf that down
in a minute or two.
But in Okinawa, lunch might be
this chanpuru, this stir-fry,
nice herbs and tofu.
They could just indulge
in this huge pile of food.
And you guys eat,
you think you're being a total glutton,
but that has fewer calories
than a hamburger does.
[people chatting in Japanese]
[Dan in English] And the second piece
to this is shockingly simple.
So they have this ingenious little trick.
Before a meal, they intone three words,
"hara hachi bu,"
which literally means "eight out of ten."
But to them, it means "Stop eating
when your stomach is 80% full,"
and it's resulting in being satiated
without being stuffed.
So, when you're eating
these low-caloric density foods
and you're reminding yourself
to stop eating when you're 80% full,
you're naturally eating less.
And over time,
this has produced a population
that's suffered less obesity.
Today, in Okinawa's big city,
you see all the trappings
you'd see in any major city.
Freeways, a crush of traffic,
and fast food restaurants.
But if you wanna find
Okinawans' real culture of longevity,
you have to get out of the city
into the rural areas,
where you can still see a lifestyle
that has produced centenarians
for centuries.
[placid music plays]
[Dan] Look at, look at, look at.
Already, I see signs of longevity.
That, if I'm not mistaken, is lettuce.
Hope they're not watching.
[Naomi] Sorry. Uh-oh.
[Dan] Let's go this way.
Do you know what this dragon means here?
I see them all the time.
[Naomi] This is not a dragon.
This is called Shisa.
Shisa, you've gotta remember
because this represents Okinawa.
Wow, check this place out.
- Wow.
- [Dan] I love that garden.
[Naomi in Japanese] Hello.
[Dan in English] She's got a nice bike.
I mean, I already like her.
[Naomi in Japanese] How old are you now?
[speaking Japanese]
- [in English] Ninety-four.
- [Dan] Oh my gosh.
[woman laughs]
[Dan] She's sewing.
And what is she sewing?
[in Japanese] We noticed
that you sew things.
I use a sewing machine!
[Dan] Did she make her dress?
- [in Japanese] Yeah, I made it.
- [Naomi] I see.
[Dan in English] Beautiful.
[speaks Japanese]
[all laughing]
[in Japanese] It went through!
[Dan in English] That's amazing.
[in Japanese] I'm about 97.
Pretty old now.
[speaking Japanese]
[Naomi translating] Now she said
she still has muscles!
[Dan] I can see them!
[Naomi] Yeah!
[in Japanese] Impressive muscles.
[Dan in English] What is the secret
to living a long time
and staying so vital?
[man in Japanese]
It's not enough for humans to only walk.
You must have speed.
Speed, like this.
Whoa! [laughing]
[Harumasa] You need to do this.
[laughing] Oh my God!
[Dan] So, after spending a lot of time
with older people in Okinawa,
I noticed in their houses,
there was no real furniture
except a low table and a tatami mat.
These people were sitting on the floor.
We found 103-year-olds
who would get up and down 30 times a day!
That's like doing 30 squats.
They're strengthening their core.
They're strengthening their lower body.
They're improving their balance.
Well, how would that map to longevity?
Well, it turns out, in America,
one of the top ten reasons
older people die
is 'cause they'd fall down.
They have weak lower bodies
and bad balance
because they're sitting on chairs
and La-Z-Boys all the time.
So the other thing I noticed
is that everybody,
even people into their hundreds,
have a garden.
So every day, they're out weeding
or watering or seeding
or harvesting fresh fruits and vegetables.
And this could be one or two hours a day
of gentle,
low-intensity physical activity,
range of motion.
And when you think about it,
these people weren't exercising.
They have much better lower body strength,
much better balance,
and they're not dying from these diseases.
So hence emerges yet another insight
that we might think about
if we want to live longer.
- [speaking Japanese]
- [in English] Look at that!
[Dan laughing]
[women speaking Japanese]
[woman 1 in Japanese] I'll pour some tea.
[woman 2] Thank you.
[woman 1] Let's have some.
After I retired in 1983,
all I did was go back and forth
from the garden to my home.
It was boring.
So I went around to all the houses
and said, "Let's do a moai for 1,000 yen."
[Dan in English] I started to learn about
groups of people called moais.
Moais, essentially,
a committed social circle
of people who originally got together
by pooling their money
and helping each other
in times of hardship.
[in Japanese] One of our friends fell
when they went to the bathroom at night
and is in the hospital now.
Our moai is continuing to help
by pooling money and giving it to them.
[Dan in English] So, on the surface,
a moai is simply a financial arrangement.
But I believe
the benefits transcend money.
I'm wondering if belonging to a moai
has helped you reach your 90s
with such vitality.
[in Japanese] We're all friendly and learn
how to sing and dance together.
We get together and chat.
That is the secret to long living.
[singing in Japanese]
[Dan in English] And you might think,
"Well, big deal!" You know?
What is it about hanging out
with other people that helps?
Well, in the United States,
we have a loneliness epidemic.
A population that's increasingly lonely,
increasingly isolated,
and increasingly needs human connection
more than ever.
[singing in Japanese]
[Dan in English]
Now we're discovering in America
that loneliness can cost
15 years of life expectancy.
Think about that. Fifteen years!
There is no pill,
no supplement, no blockbuster drug
that could give us anywhere near 15 years.
But here in Okinawa,
they're getting those years
by simply finding friends,
committing to those friends,
and spending time
with those friends every day.
So I started
looking at the obvious longevity factors,
like diet and exercise,
but then I stumbled onto this moai idea,
and it completely takes off my blinders.
It opens my mind to the possibility
of other surprising insights
that might turn out to be
incredibly powerful factors
at producing longevity.
[Dan] For the people of Okinawa,
World War II is very present.
They suffered incredible hardship.
They suffered many more deaths
than the Americans did.
[man] In the wartime,
200,000 people are killed in Okinawa.
I think they have very strong PTSD maybe.
[speaking Japanese]
[Naomi in English]
She worked for the government
[speaking Japanese]
[Naomi in English]
and they gave them a grenade.
[woman in Japanese] "If the enemy gets you
and tries to harm you,
use this grenade."
And we were this close
to giving up and committing suicide
when we were saved by soldiers.
They told me,
"The war is over. Life is a treasure."
When my mother and my brother died,
I wasn't able to be there
for their last moment.
[Dan in English]
They remember the war so well.
It's what they talk about first or second,
and I'm sure it was a tragedy
but somehow a legacy as well.
[woman in Japanese] I am so glad I crawled
out of that hellhole and survived.
I tell my children,
"No matter what,
no matter how poor you are,
you can survive."
"Endure everything."
[in English] And I like to say
that the past experience
was a terrible experience in Okinawa.
But in spite of that,
they established
healthy, happy conditions.
Enjoy the present. That's important.
[Dan] You'd think, on the surface,
that this would destroy longevity
among a population.
But I actually got to thinking
maybe this is contributing
to their long life
in counterintuitive ways.
[machine whirring]
[Dan] There's this concept in Okinawa
called ikigai,
and I believe
it's one of the most powerful factors
contributing to their longevity.
[man in Japanese]
I contribute to the world.
The art I've created
will remain for hundreds of years
after I pass away.
This is my ikigai.
I'm blessed.
[in English] We would visit
the centenarian house.
And we would check
the physical and medical condition,
and after that, I would ask,
"What's your ikigai?"
Ikigai is a kind of mission.
A sense of purpose.
I think ikigai is the main factor
of spiritual health of the centenarians.
If we lose the ikigai, we will die.
Okinawans have no word for retirement.
When they get to be 60, 70, 80, 90,
they're still working.
They might only be working in their garden
to bring some vegetables home.
They may have a stall in the market
where they're only working in the morning.
They're keeping their minds engaged.
They're keeping their bodies moving.
They could sum up their life meaning,
the reason for which
they wake up in the morning.
They're told constantly that,
"You count. We need you."
[speaking Japanese]
[in English] People imbued with
this constant sense of purpose,
they know their values,
and it makes
those day-to-day decisions very easy
because you know your core.
So my experience at Okinawa
was teaching me
that counterintuitive,
little-explored things
are driving longevity
more than anything else.
I didn't realize it then,
but I was only beginning
to piece together a much bigger puzzle.
You see, around this time,
I started reading reports
of another longevity hotspot,
completely different environment
on another island
on the other side of the planet.
A cluster of whitewashed villages
high in the mountains of Sardinia,
and almost vertical streets,
surrounded by rugged terrain.
Were they doing the same thing
as the people in Okinawa?
Or was there
another set of secrets to discover?
My mission was to find out.
[light music playing]
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