Dan Buettner is an interesting guy. As an endurance cyclist, and a three-time World Record holder, he’s also a film-maker and author. I came across his name reading up on endurance cycling, but I was surprised to find that he’s also a modern-day explorer and has become best-known for his research with National Geographic on ‘blue zones’. What are those? Well, I’ve lived in one, and I found Dan talking about them on TED (TED Talks – Ideas Worth Spreading).

I’ve lived in Okinawa, Japan, while I studied Uechi-Ryu Karate and got to see some of the Okinawan’s living practices first-hand. There is no question, they live with a different concept of ‘what makes up a life’. The role of family, and elder veneration is key. Diet is certainly what I’d consider ‘clean’, meaning lots of vegetables and fruits, along with tofu, and of course rice and fish. And I can also attest to the portion sizes. It took me awhile to get used to them because they are smaller than we’re used to here in Canada. The other thing is their activity level.  They don’t ‘workout’ or ‘diet’ like we do. Instead, they simply stay active, and they do walk a lot. In many ways, they worship the nature and the outdoors. They celebrate it by going out and living in it on a regular basis. In the public parks, along the beaches, it’s not uncommon to see grandparents keeping up with their grandkids. Coming from North America, where we’re used to seeing the elderly with canes and walkers, it was odd to see the Okinawans were so mobile, crouching, getting up and down off the ground, and running around after their grandkids. Here in North America, I don’t know if I’d be wrong in saying, most middle-aged people would have a hard time doing this.

As a cyclist, and someone who takes his health pretty seriously, I found a lot of Buettner’s findings interesting. And, all that considered, the concept of ‘what makes up a life’, is what I think is really key here, bringing this all back to our  enjoyment of a healthy lifestyle that continues through our entire lives. Like Buettner says, their ‘ikigai’, the reason for getting up in the morning, is so key to how long we live, but more so, how long we live well. Personally, I understand this as the reason(s) you look forward to tomorrow. For me, I think this is why cycling is such a fantastic active lifestyle choice, because it is a lifestyle for me, not just a pastime. It keeps me active. It gets me outside. It gets me thinking about what I’m eating, how much sleep I’m getting and of course, it’s simply good fun and an incredible stress reliever. It is also something I can plan on being part of my ‘ikigai’ well into my old age.

Woody Allen is famous for saying many things, but one that stuck with me, is, ‘you can live to be a hundred, if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred.’ Funny to be sure but not at all true, especially if you look at the people living in Blue Zones. Instead, they’ve just combined a healthy active lifestyle with a state of mind that values things that can be life-long reasons for getting up in the morning, provide enjoyment, and a sense of purpose long into their golden years.

If you’re not yet familiar with TED, do yourself a favour and check out more talks than the one I’m featuring here. You’ll find some of the brightest minds in the world, giving a concise 20min talks on their fields of expertise. The topics are diverse, from business, to health, from philosophy to fringe science and it’s all on TED, and all for free. Can’t beat it!