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It’s Not You, It’s Your Environment

by Beth on January 19th, 2022

Dan Buettner wants you to know that if you’re struggling with health problems or your weight, it’s probably not your fault. In his latest book, The Blue Zones Challenge, he explains that people who live long, healthy lives don’t have more willpower than those who don’t. Their secret is that “they live in an environment where the healthy choice is not only the easy choice, but often the only choice.”

Rates of obesity, diabetes, and dementia among Americans have exploded over the past 50 years. So what changed? We haven’t all become less educated, irresponsible people who don’t take care of our health. What changed was our environment. With the increased availability of fast-food restaurants, highly addictive junk food, mechanical conveniences, and online shopping, the easy choices result in an unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle.

As a National Geographic Fellow with a grant from the National Institute on Aging, about 20 years ago Buettner identified five regions in the world where people lived the longest. He called them blue zones and he and his team identified nine lifestyle factors shared by people in all the zones.

One of the biggest insights from Dan’s work was that people living in the blue zones weren’t trying to live healthier lives. They were healthy because they lived in places where eating healthy food, moving naturally throughout the day, and connecting with friends and family were the norm.

Over the past several years, Buettner has helped more than 50 American cities reshape their environments to improve people’s health and longevity. Now he’s helping individuals with his 4-week guide to optimizing our homes and social networks for a healthier life. Here are some things you can do:

  • Find a buddy or small group of people to join you on your Blue Zones journey
  • Keep a bowl of fruit on your counter; keep unhealthy food out of your house or hidden away
  • Make a weekly meal plan and prep what you can ahead of time
  • Start a container or outdoor garden
  • Put your running or walking shoes by the door so you can see and easily access them
  • Tape a reminder note on your dashboard to park far away from the entrance
  • Schedule walking meetings at work
  • Plan a routine gathering with friends (book club, happy hour, work out session)
  • Volunteer for a new organization

If you want to live a long, healthy life, stop blaming yourself for making unhealthy choices. Instead, make changes to your environment so the easy choice is the healthy choice.

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