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Researchers find 'Fountain of Youth'

The number of products and plans out there that say they will make a person look younger and live longer is so overwhelming. Do you have any simple suggestions for someone looking to be healthier and live longer? – “Seeking a Fountain of Youth,” Fontana, Calif.

We have only to recall Juan Ponce de León’s search for the Fountain of Youth to understand that today’s desire to overcome aging is one for the ages. What sets this century’s quest apart is the fact that the pursuit is a thriving and growing multibillion-dollar industry.

According to a BCC Research report, the U.S. market for anti-aging products for appearance enhancement, currently at about $2 billion, is expected to grow to more than $5 billion by 2015. In May, Marketdata Enterprises estimated that the total U.S. weight-loss market hits the scales at about $61 billion a year. Though the science behind the claims made by this growing profusion of products and practices seems to be constantly in question, there are some common-sense approaches to slowing aging that deserve our consideration.

In 2004, explorer and author Dan Buettner teamed up with National Geographic to further investigate what his travels had uncovered. Certain small pockets of people around the world, with seemingly little in common, shared high numbers of those living relatively disability-free lives well into their 100s. With the help of top longevity experts, they identified five distinct areas, which they labeled as “Blue Zones,” where people are 10 times likelier to reach age 100 than Americans.

Working with the National Institute on Aging, they next tried to identify lifestyle components, or common denominators of practices found in all five populations, that might explain their shared longevity. What they found, detailed in Buettner’s book “The Blue Zones,” was that there are nine common characteristics of the world’s long-lived people.

The full list of what Buettner and his team of experts believe people can do to add years to their lives can be found at BlueZones.com, but here’s a sample:

The project further shows that the secret for how to live longer lies not in diets or exercise programs, but in creating the right surroundings. And you don’t have to travel to the distant corners of the earth to see its principles in action. One of the five “Blue Zones” (along with Sardinia; Okinawa, Japan; the Nicoya Peninsula; and Icaria) is located in Loma Linda, Calif.

For the past half-century, members of the Seventh-Day Adventist community in Loma Linda, whose faith calls for healthy living, have led the nation in the longest life expectancy, according to Buettner. They are vegetarians with a plant-based diet inspired directly from the Bible. They do not smoke, and every week, they observe the Sabbath Saturday as a “sanctuary in time.” Their social circle of fellow church members supports these cultural habits.

In 2009, on the heels of his discoveries, Buettner decided to put what had been learned into practice. He was able to persuade the leaders of Albert Lea, a small town in his home state of Minnesota, to submit to a health makeover using the “Blue Zone” principles. In 10 months, residents who participated in the program lost an average of 3 pounds each, and absenteeism at work dropped by 21 percent. Volunteers planted 70 community gardens.

In November of last year, a much larger “Blue Zone” project began in the South Bay area of Southern California. Also, on Aug. 11, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad announced the Healthiest State Initiative, a five-year, privately led public effort to engage Iowans in adopting the “Blue Zone” principles, with a goal of having the highest overall well-being in the country.

Clearly, a seed has been planted. You might want to watch it grow and see what might be applied to your life and community.