There are a handful of secret spots around the globe, places where for one reason or another people just tend to live a little bit longer. Could Savannah be the next Blue Zone?
There are no shortage of clickbait promises floating around the internet, there to elicit an eye roll from the savvy and clicks from the clueless. “This one simple trick will cure belly fat.” “How drinking apple cider vinegar will lower your insurance rates.” “Do this one thing and you’ll never have to brush your teeth again.”
But then there’s a YouTube video that promises watching it will tell you “How to live to be 100+,” and for once something on the internet delivers what it promises. Across an 18-minute TED Talk led by Dan Buettner, this video outlines the science behind longevity hot spots he calls “Blue Zones,” areas he studied due to the high concentration of centenarians.
This isn’t some online snake-oil pitch. This isn’t some miracle diet that melts away “moobs” and tones your glutes. This is a scientific study, built around Buettner’s credibility as a National Geographic fellow, into the intricacies of why we age and what we can do to slow it down. And across this presentation, Buettner highlights four spots on the earth that hold keys to longevity. Sardinia, Italy, where a diet rich in plants feeds a tight-knit population. Nicoya, Costa Rica, where a positive outlook on life called “plan de vida” enriches the spirit. Loma Linda, California, where healthy living and moderation are central tenants of a faith-based lifestyle. Okinawa, where tight social groups called “moai” and a sense of purpose or “ikigai” nurture the soul.
Building upon the success of that TED Talk, brothers Dan and Tony Buettner have made it their mission to take that Blue Zone model and apply it to cities across the country. And if Dr. Luke Curtsinger has his way, you can soon add Savannah, Georgia, to that fabled list of longevity hot spots.
“The Buettner brothers looked at what they had studied and asked, ‘Can we transform those principles and apply them to American cities?’ And they have done that in several places.”
Curtsinger points to Blue Zone success stories in Iowa, where a statewide effort to adopt Blue Zone principles has led to plummeting risk factors for disease and city streets reimagined as fully walkable “complete streets.” Or Albert Lea, Minnesota, where health care claims have dropped 49 percent while the average life expectancy has inched up by three years. From California to Florida, these Blue Zone cities are adopting what are called “The Power Nine,” a set of lifestyle habits shared across those original hot spots that directly contribute to a healthier lifestyle.
But could a Blue Zone lifestyle flourish in Savannah? Could a plant-based diet work in the city that put Paula Deen on the map? Could a city defined by its endless parking woes adapt to become more walkable? Dr. Curtsinger thinks so. Moreover, he sees the dire need for Savannah to change its ways before it’s too late.
“You look at the well-being index, you see Naples rated No. 1 in 2015,” said Curtsinger, pointing to the success of this Blue Zone city. “Savannah ranked 161 out of 190 cities. So we have room to improve.”
That improvement will come at a dramatic shift in Savannah culture, however. A shift that Curtsinger admits may meet resistance. “When you say you’re going to take away the fried chicken, people get fighting mad,” he said. Fortunately, he was joking. “You would not really attack Southern cuisine, but you would change it. There are parts of it that are already changing, in terms of celebrating fruits and vegetables and encouraging community gardens and farmers’ markets.”
The Power 9, According to bluezones.com
There’s also the sharp divides that still separate Savannahians across racial and socioeconomic lines, and the issues those can cause to anyone looking to democratize the simple act of taking a walk outside. “Healthy Savannah has been trying to make a linear trail for years, but citizens near that walking trail have blocked it,” he said. “Making the city more walkable is an absolute asset, but some don’t see that way. Residents oppose walking trails because ‘those people’ would be coming into our neighborhood.”
Still, Curtsinger has faith in Savannah. Faith that her people can come together in the spirit of improving their own lives. Faith that the benefits of a longer lifespan will soon outweigh the benefits of greasy Southern food and fear of your neighbors. And he’s hoping you’ll share that faith.
“I’m just a little guy trying to do big things,” he said.
To learn more about the Blue Zone initiative and the cities it has helped transform, visit bluezones.com.