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In this episode of The Optimized Mom Podcast, I chat about two great longevity resources I came across lately: Dr. Peter Attia’s book Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity and Dan Buettner’s Netflix limited series Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones.
Note: This transcript was produced using speech-recognition software and has received minimal edits. If possible, I encourage you to listen to the audio version.
Welcome to the Optimized Mom podcast where we explore strategies for trading, burnout, overwhelming exhaustion for simplicity, efficiency and joy. Why? Because I want you to have the time and energy to care for yourself, have fun with your family and share your sparkle with the world.
Hey there Anissa here and today, I am excited to chat about longevity. Living to 100 is one of my personal life goals and not just surviving as some sort of withered, old, addled thing, but thriving all the way through my ninth decade. And unfortunately, the odds are against me.
They are probably against you too if you are in the US like I am. According to a study at the Harvard School of Public Health, in the US, life expectancy has declined to 76.4 years—the shortest, it has been in nearly two decades. That’s according to data from last December from the CDC.
And we are way behind other wealthy nations like the UK and Switzerland and Japan. Everyone’s life expectancy dropped back in 2020 because of COVID, but most nations rebounded and the US has not. We know there’s lots of factors for that. We eat too many calories. We tend to be sedentary. We are socially isolated. We have cities that are poorly designed, that make us drive too much and walk not enough.
We also have lots of social problems. Let’s let’s face it. Drug overdoses and car crashes and violence. So our society is sick literally and figuratively sometimes.
And I love this quote by a gentleman named Krishnamurti who said, “it is no measure of good health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” I may not have the control that I want over public policy. Although I do encourage all of us to get involved in uh especially our local elections and to help make changes where we can in our communities.
But I do have a tremendous amount of control over my own life and what happens in my own home. So it’s really important to me to look at the bucket of things that I can control and to do my best to improve on those lifestyle factors.
So longevity is one of those things that I love to geek out on. And I came across two really excellent resources lately that I wanted to highly recommend that you check out. They look at longevity from pretty different perspectives. The first resource is a new book by Dr. Peter Attia that is called Outlive.
The second is a documentary on Netflix that is called Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones. Now, Outlive is a very thorough reference book that is designed to help individuals hack their longevity. It’s the kind of book that I just love. There are loads of really dense chapters that are full of suggested numbers to look for in your blood work and specific exercises to do and specific dietary considerations to make.
Attia is a former cancer surgeon turned aging expert. So he has intimate knowledge of what he calls medicine 2.0 which is our current model of waiting for a chronic disease to pop up and then treating it. And he advocates instead for medicine 3.0 which aims to proactively prevent diseases like diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s and heart disease, which can extend then both our lifespan and our health span.
So my notes from the book include sentences like the greater someone’s grip strength, the lower their risk of dementia. How fascinating is that? Also, people with the ApoE4 gene, which I have and which tends to give people a higher risk of Alzheimer’s, tend to experience large glucose spikes when they eat. So I should consider wearing a continuous glucose monitor and minimizing those spikes as part of my quest to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
The part of my brain that loves to plan and micromanage has so much fun with a book like this. I love making these little tweaks to my lifestyle and little changes to the things that my family does. I also love, love, love Attia’s suggestion that we all consider thinking about what we want our golden years to look like, specifically what our centenarian decathlon might be.
This is such an awesome term. So this is his idea that we don’t want to be living to 100 but be in terrible health. We all have a vision of what we’d like the 100-year-old version of ourselves to be able to do. So he suggests that we come up with a list of 10 things that the 100-year-old us might want to do and then reverse engineer what we need to be doing right now in order to be accomplishing those things.
For me, my 100th birthday is about 52 years away. So if as a 100-year-old, I want to be able to pick up my grandchildren for a hug or hike in the hills near my house or lift my carry-on suitcase into the overhead compartment on my way to visit Greece, then there are specific physical requirements for me to be able to do that.
And if I do nothing, heck even if I simply maintain what I’m doing right now, I know that my physical capacity is going to decrease simply because that’s what happens to everybody as they age. It is just a biological fact.
So I need to front-load what I’m doing now with an eye on the future, it’s not enough for me to be able to lift 30 pounds. Now, if I want to be able to lift a 30-pound child in 52 years, I need to be lifting heavier. Now, Attia suggests, you know, at least 50 to 55 pounds with that future goal in mind.
So this concept has really, really helped me to see how just going for decent health right now isn’t enough. If I want to be thriving in another 52 years, I need to be going for exceptional health, exceptional strength, exceptional nutrition, not just to prevent a disease from getting me (again—I’ve already beaten breast cancer once), but to make sure that I’m able to enjoy a vibrant life that is worth living.
So this idea of a sparkling centenarian life is beautifully explored and the other resource I wanted to tell you about Dan Buettner’s Live to 100: The Secrets of the Blue Zones. This is a limited series that is on Netflix. I believe there’s also a companion book that goes with it as well. There are loads of resources at Dan Buettner s website. But this website identifies him as an explorer, a National Geographic fellow, an award-winning journalist and a producer and a New York Times best-selling author.
I had heard of the term Blue Zones before. But I didn’t realize that Buettner was the guy who actually coined the term which is kind of cool. In case you’ve never heard of it before, Blue Zones refer to places where there is a larger than average group of centenarians. These are the people who live to 100 and beyond.
And what’s more the centenarians that Buettner profiles in his limited series are living an incredibly vibrant and full life. They’re enjoying great health well into old age. So Buettner has made it basically his life’s work to study the cultures where people are thriving in these advanced ages and to see what they have in common and then help us apply that information to our lives.
So the documentary focuses on five different locations: Okinawa, Japan, Loma Linda, California, Sardinia, which is an island just off the coast of Italy. Ikaria Greece and Nicoya Costa Rica. And this documentary is produced by National Geographic. And so as you can imagine, the camera work is beautiful. You feel like you’re on vacation watching it and the people were so inspiring.
I just loved seeing their bright smiles and seeing them being able to do things like ride horses and walk up steep hills and dance and laugh with their families. It really painted a beautiful portrait of old age that was not at all in line with what I fear. You know, that idea of just wasting away in a nursing home or something sick and alone and away from your friends and family. That’s not what’s happening in these cultures.
So Buettner has done his best to study these cultures and then see what they have in common. And in the documentary, he’s simplified what they do down to basically four different categories. The first one is moving, the second one is maintaining an optimal outlook. The third one is eating wisely and the fourth one is connecting with fellow humans.
So in the moving naturally category, we have things like walking and gardening and doing things by hand. Sardinia had this really cool study that they were talking about that the steepness of a village was correlated with the number of centenarians that lived there. How crazy is that? He was talking to this 99-year-old lady or 97-year-old lady who walked to church like straight up the hill every single day. But this is good for us. We’re supposed to be moving. These people are walking quite a bit, they’re cooking their meals from scratch, they’re cleaning things by hand. In some cases, they were using a machete and riding a horse and bending down in their gardens and they’re getting up and down from the floor. They talked about the fact that in most of the Okinawan homes, they don’t have like big couches in them everywhere that people had tables that were lower to the floor. And that even a 99 or 100 year old person is getting up and down off the floor as much as 30 different times in a day. So that’s way different than what we are experiencing. Um, here in the western world in, in America, certainly.
When they are talking about eating wisely, which was the second point, they’re talking about eating in moderation, they’re suggesting mostly a plant based diet. Most of these cultures had mostly plant based diets, although animal foods were certainly incorporated in some of them. They even suggested a little wine in moderation. But the idea is we’re eating simple unprocessed foods. We’re eating in a way that the culture has eaten for centuries. They have these traditional ways of preparing food. In some cases. They’re using things like sourdough and using the things that grow in the land locally.
It was fascinating in the documentary, they were in Nicoya Costa Rica and talking about the fact that the traditional diet there involved what they call the three sisters, which are corn, beans and squash. But the city of Nicoya is getting more modernized and Western influences are starting to come in. Kids aren’t eating the traditional diet as much anymore and the health of the community and the life expectancy there is starting to go down and we hear this again and again. I love Michael Pollan, the gentleman who wrote The Omnivore’s Dilemma, he has a suggestion that we should eat real food, not too much, mostly plants.
The diet from culture to culture as studied in Dan Buettner, each culture is different, but you could have applied Michael Pollan’s advice to one of those cities, whether it was Loma Linda California or Ikaria Greece. And this advice fits with what Doctor Attia was saying about avoiding those big blood sugar spikes and about not eating too many or too few calories, about consuming sufficient protein and essential fats and obtaining vitamins and minerals you need. That’s what food is ideally supposed to be for. And these more traditional diets do that automatically. And you’re enjoying food with your family. You are, the Japanese have a saying about only eating until you’re about 80% full, so not overstuffing yourself.
It just, it was a very different sort of outlook on diet than I think a lot of us, at least in America share.
Then they start talking about the third point, this idea of the outlook that we need to thrive well into our ninth decade, and beyond that. We want to be able to unwind at the end of the day, we want to have a way to manage our stress so that we’re not always on and you know, always looking to outrun that lion. There’s a lot more in these cultures, there’s a lot more of a sense of a work day being done that you finish work and you leave it behind and you come back the next day. But with that being said, the idea of retirement is also different in these cultures.
You know, even in Loma Linda California, here in the United States, they talked about the high rates of volunteering that people had. In Okinawa, they talked about their concept of ikegai, which we would relate to our idea of purpose. In Nicoya, they called this same idea Plan de Vida. And that even when the people in these cultures are in their seventies and eighties and nineties and one hundreds, they still have a concrete reason to get up in the morning and a sense of really being able to still contribute to their communities and help make the world a better place. There was no such thing as being washed up or over the hill and these scenarios were still showing these seniors to be a vibrant, vital part of their communities.
And finally, the fourth point was that they were talking about the importance of connecting—that as people are aging in these blue zones that Buettner studied, they’re not being separated from their families. You know, they’re not being farmed out to an old age home. Their wisdom is appreciated and revered. people they love are taking care of them. Studies have shown that when you put your parents or any other elderly people into a nursing home that can really shorten the lifespan. So in addition to being cared for by their families, a lot of these Centenarians had partnerships with spouses that were still going on. Some of them with, with second spouses. Um You know, if, if the first one had passed on, they had formed other relationships. If they weren’t with a romantic partner, they had um found people that they could connect to.
And as I was watching this documentary, I was thinking, wow, the things that help us live a long and healthy life are the things that actually make life worth living. And I loved that this was actually the last sentence of the documentary. So I’ve been thinking as I was watching it that it would be a beautiful way to live, not only 100 but also right now at 48.
You know, as we look at all this stuff, we have to remember that our genes do not match our current environment. We evolved from hunter gatherers over the last 2.5 million years and life has gotten pretty different basically, all of a sudden We’ve only been eating pure sugar, you know, like the white sugar that you can get in the package with all the fiber and nutrition stripped out for about 300 years. We have only had the electric light bulb for about 100 and 50 years. Cars are only 137 years old. The first email was sent 52 years ago. And the iPhone is only 16 years old.
We are built to move and to carry, to be outdoors with other people in all kinds of weather, to sleep when it’s dark, to not be able to eat all the time, to only be stressed when something is chasing us. And even though in the 21st century, we’ve been able to defeat pathogens and diseases and create amazing medicines. We have been able to make abundant calories available to eat and make any information we need available at the touch of a button. We’ve also forgotten some of these basic needs and it’s causing many of us to be sicker than we need to be and preventing us from thriving into our seventies, eighties and nineties.
So I think it’s worth taking a look at yourself and your family to see what your diet looks like. Are you eating whole foods with ingredients that you can pronounce that your grandmother and her grandmother would have recognized? Look at your movement. Are you walking the five plus miles every day that your ancestors did? Are you able to carry heavy things? Get up and down from the floor, easily, walk uphill and run when you need to?
How are your relationships? Do you have regular contact with your friends and your loved ones? Is your family life happy? Are you connected to the people in your community? And how about your outlook on life? Do you know how to manage stress when it pops up. Do you have a sense of purpose in life? Do you regularly enjoy moments of laughter and joy and awe? If your answer to any of these questions is no—I mean, certainly my answer is no for some of these things—‘needs work’. Take one little step today. It could be an actual step or 10,000 steps or it could be a metaphorical step.
But let’s pinky swear to get busy crafting lives in which we thrive because we may not live to be 100 but we are sure to get more out of the years that we do have. Thank you so much for listening. If you liked this podcast, share it with a friend who needs to hear it too. Talk to you soon.