What if you could be happy, healthy, have great relationships,
and even reduce your chance of getting a heart attack by as much as
50%, just by adopting the following lifestyle guidelines?
1. Smoke old-fashioned Italian stogie cigars (with an extremely high level of nicotine)
2. Eat plenty of hard and soft cheeses, and fry your sausages and meatballs in lard
3. Work in dangerous slate quarries where you inhale a variety of toxic substances
If you had been living in Roseto, Pennsylvania during the mid 20th century, you might very well have followed this lifestyle “regime,”and lived a long, happy, and healthy life, enjoying an abundance of fulfilling relationships.
If you’re scratching your head in confusion or disbelief right now, you’re right – it doesn’t make any sense. Actually, your health and happiness wouldn’t have been because of this lifestyle – but rather in spite of it. There’s one critical ingredient of that lifestyle that we left out.
Before we tell you what it is, we just want to take a moment to place this “most important page” within the larger context of the website.
We’ve said on our home page, and throughout the site, that there’s one
thing that can change everything in your life – and that one thing is
“remembering to breathe.” We use “remembering to breathe” as a kind of
shorthand way of saying that
when you make a habit of p a u s i n g
from time to time
in the midst of whatever you’re doing
to attune yourself to the
of your core,
everything in your life can feel
and more joyful.
Sometimes, you just have to remember that the core is there in order to get a taste of its calm and contentment. But in the beginning, most people need to practice some techniques for a while to help create new habits that make the core more accessible. You can learn those techniques in the Techniques section of the site.
Brain Pages of the site, you can learn about exciting new discoveries in the
field of neuroscience that explain why those techniques are effective in
changing your brain and changing your life.
But knowing the techniques and having the understanding and encouragement that the brain science provides, aren't always enough to make a difference. If you’ve ever tried to change the way you eat, start an exercise program, or practice a new skill, you know it’s hard to have the discipline it takes to make the kind of lasting changes you're looking for. And it can be even harder to change things like work habits or how we relate to other people.
There’s now a great deal of research showing that for the vast
majority of people, one of the single most powerful factors that
determines whether or not they will succeed in their efforts at personal
change, is social support – a sense of connection, caring, and shared intention with other people.
Or to put it really simply, the most powerful lever for change is people helping each other to make healthier, more constructive choices.
One of the things that makes changing so difficult is that there
is so much “support” in our environment for unhealthy choices. For one
thing, we’re constantly exposed to advertising that goads us – with
promises of pleasure, happiness, or greater sex appeal – to follow our
cravings and desires over choosing things that would be good for our
health, our budget, or our overall sense of balance and well-being.
There have also been a lot of studies showing the powerful effect of peer pressure on a wide range of behaviors – from how we choose to eat, sleep, exercise, and spend money, to the amount of effort we make to conserve energy, to the way we treat others.
You may find it surprising – even a bit disturbing – to hear that the thing which seems to most influence these behaviors is what we think our peers, neighbors, or others with whom we identify, are doing.
On the Interpersonal Integration page, we talk about what’s been
called the “social brain” – the part of our brain that attunes us to
what others are experiencing. In particular, we mentioned "mirror
neurons," whose job it is to literally create in our own bodies the
inclination to do what we perceive someone else to be doing.
When we see someone yawning, our mirror neurons cause us to yawn. When we see someone drinking, our mirror neurons make us thirsty and prepare us to drink. When we see someone eating a waffle cone with two scoops of our favorite ice cream, or downing an order of crispy french fries, our mirror neurons cause our mouths to water and prepare our bodies to indulge.
The discovery of mirror neurons helps us understand the basis for recent research findings which show that people are more likely to gain weight when their friends are overweight or when the people they hang out with start to put on weight.
Whether we realize it or not, and whether we like it or not, in a very tangible way, we are always influencing each other’s behaviors – for better and for worse.
So if it wasn’t the cigars, the lard, and the toxic chemicals that were
responsible for the long, healthy, and happy lives of Rosetans, what was
In the mid-1960s, a physician who had worked for years in both Roseto and the nearby town of Bangor, was having a beer with the head of medicine from the University of Oklahoma. In the course of their conversation, the physician mentioned he was puzzled by the fact that the residents of Roseto seemed to have far fewer heart attacks than those of Bangor, and he couldn’t see any reason why this would be the case.
Apparently, he wasn’t the only one who was curious. Soon after, a massive study of the community was undertaken. When all factors had been weighed (including genetic differences), one stood out more than any other.
The critical factor was a strong sense of community which provided powerful social support for everyone – from the youngest children to the most elderly members of the community.
According to Stuart Wolf, one of the physicians who studied the Roseto community,
“People [there] are nourished by other people.”
A growing number of studies are now showing that this feeling of being “nourished” by others is so powerful, that it can make us healthier, happier, and even prolong our lives.
Of course, the point of the Roseto story is not that if you live in a supportive community you can eat all the junk food you want, never exercise, indulge in a variety of bad habits, and still expect to be healthy and happy. But Roseto does show us that a sense of community can be so powerful that, at least to some extent, it can counter the effects of bad dietary habits, nicotine, and an unhealthy work environment. However, in most of the communities that have been studied, the sense of belonging, meaning, and purpose seems to go hand-in-hand with eating well, being active, and living an all around healthy lifestyle.
Some observers of the Roseto community had predicted, as early as the
mid-1960s, that as modern life caused the residents to abandon
their close-knit culture, the health and
happiness of the community would decline.
And this is indeed what happened. As far as can be determined by records kept over many years, the first time a resident of Roseto under 45 years of age had a heart attack was in 1971. Other illnesses increased, as did the crime rate. People began to focus more on achieving greater status, and less on building community. The taboo against flaunting one’s wealth was gone. Houses grew larger and children played outside less often. A former Roseto resident who had moved to a modern city expressed the change this way: “I’m sorry we moved. Everything here is modern. I have everything I need – except people.”
An interesting symbol of change was the fact that in 1985, the Roseto town concert band, which had been founded way back in 1890, for the first time in its 95-year history, asked to be paid for playing at the local church’s yearly festival.
Similar trends have been seen in a number of other formerly close, tight-knit communities. As support systems come apart, there’s more depression, more wealth inequality, crime rates go up, and people’s health deteriorates.
So, what to do?
Over the last several decades, journalist Dan Buettner has investigated a number of communities around the world where people have been living active, healthy lives well into their 90s, and in some cases, even into their 100s.
His investigations, corroborated by numerous medical
studies, have found that strong social support may be, if not the most
important factor, one of the most important factors in the unusual
longevity of communities as far-flung as Okinawa, Japan, Costa Rica’s
Nicoyan Peninsula, and a group of Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda,
In 2000, Buettner’s associates, Dr. Gianni Pes of the University of
Sassari in Italy, and Dr. Michel Poulain, a Belgian demographer,
identified the Nuoro province of Sardinia as having the highest
concentration in the world of men over 100. To designate the area, they
drew a blue line on a map around a particular cluster of villages.
Thereafter, the term “blue zone” came to be used to describe communities
of surpassing longevity and well-being.
It turns out we don’t have to be fortunate enough to have been
born into one of the world’s natural blue zones. We can create our own
“ecosystems,” as Buettner calls them, to support us in living healthy,
happy, meaningful lives.
And blue zones don’t need to be an entire community. For some people, one or two supportive friends or family members will do the job. For others, an online forum may be all they need. Still others may be fine with some video and audio support – and perhaps someone to share them with. The point is everyone will have their own way of creating a supportive ecosystem.
Before starting to work with the practices on this site, we strongly encourage you to think about what kind of supportive “ecosystem” you have, and what kind you may need to help you make the changes you want to make in your life.
For inspiration, we collected stories of some highly successful blue zones around the globe. Some of these were developed by people in desperate situations – plagued by poverty, hunger, or violence – who, nevertheless, managed to transform their lives and communities, often with very little in the way of material resources. We'll be adding pages with their stories in the near future. We hope their stories will inspire you.
One could say that the essential message of this website is that the ultimate “blue zone” is not something in our outer environment, but the core of peace, calm, contentment, and deep sense of connection to others that exists within ourselves. No matter where we are, no matter how difficult things may appear to be, we always – potentially – have access to our inner core.
We italicize “potentially” because there are so many factors in the environment that work against our ability to be in touch with our core.
The more outer support we have, the stronger and more meaningful our “ecosystem,” the easier it will be to live a healthy, joyful, meaningful life, centered in our core.
The more we're centered in the core, the less we’ll need the outer support, and the more we’ll be naturally inclined to support others in living a balanced, harmonious, well-integrated, and meaningful life, centered in their core.
You can start small. If at the moment you don’t have much in the way of support, you can start by using this website. Or if this one doesn’t work for you, find another one. Find a book, a piece of music, a beautiful place in nature, a friend or family member – just something or someone that feels supportive of the experience of calm, ease, and contentment that is native to your core.
Once you start looking for support – and even more powerful – once you start looking for ways to provide support for others, you may be amazed to discover different varieties of “blue zones” all around you – things you never knew about or noticed before, plentiful opportunities to connect, and abundant ways for you to offer your own contributions and unique gifts.