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Blue Zones

Over the weekend I learned about Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones. These are cities and parts of the world where, according to Dan, people have a much longer life expectancy. The five regions he identifies as Blue Zones are: Okinawa (Japan); Sardinia (Italy); Nicoya (Costa Rica); Icaria (Greece); and Loma Linda (California).

Many of you have probably heard of this finding from Malcolm Gladwell. I think he writes about it in Outliers. I had. But I didn’t know about Dan Buettner and his efforts to teach these “secrets” to other regions around the world. 

I can’t speak for the efficacy of his consulting practice, but I think it’s interesting that some of the characteristics of these Blue Zones include a strong sense of family and community, as well as constant moderate physical activity. In other words, activity that is integral to normal life, such as lots of hills in a mountain town.

The links between urban form, walking and biking (instead of driving), and health outcomes are something that get a lot of air time. It is, of course, one of the reasons why denser cities are thought to be healthier cities. They encourage more active forms of mobility.

But what else could we be doing to make physical activity an inseparable part of urban life? In Rio de Janeiro, they often incorporate fitness facilities into their public spaces, whether it’s a parklet or the beach. That probably doesn’t qualify as inseparable, but it’s certainly a start.

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