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Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones - Series Review

Dan Buettner brings his expertise as a writer and researcher to the small screen in the Netflix series "Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones." This travel and self-improvement four-part series takes viewers around the world to uncover the secrets of regions dubbed "blue zones.” There, people live notably longer and healthier lives. So, does the show serve as a source of valuable insights or just a marketing avenue for Buettner’s other endeavors?

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The series starts with Buettner walking through a graveyard, asserting via voiceover that although most of us avoid pondering mortality, it's worth considering how to extend our lives. He points out that many premature deaths are due to avoidable diseases. Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and bestselling author, has identified five regions where people tend to live up to 100 years or more. He takes us on a journey to explore these areas.

Before diving into his investigative travels, Buettner introduces himself. Notably, he's set several Guinness world records for cycling across five continents and even appeared on a David Letterman show. However, the focus of the series remains on the findings, not on Buettner himself. The first stop is Okinawa, Japan-a place familiar to many from "The Karate Kid II." Remarkably, 81% of Okinawa’s residents live to be 100. The incidence of diabetes, heart disease, and dementia is notably low there.

In Okinawa, Buettner interviews a 101-year-old woman who attributes her long life to positivity and laughter. Just when viewers might think this is another feel-good advice session, Buettner digs deeper. He reveals that Okinawans consume large amounts of purple sweet potatoes, labeled as a "superfood." Their diets are rich in nutrition and low in calories, consisting of items like squid ink soup and tofu. They also follow the principle of eating only until they’re "80 percent full.” This is a stark contrast to the American approach of abundant, less nutritious, high-calorie foods.

Shifting gears, the series also examines other pillars of a healthy, long life, such as physical fitness, community bonds, and a positive philosophy. For instance, Buettner meets a nonagenarian who is as flexible as a yoga expert and introduces a group of women in their 80s and 90s practicing “moai,” a concept of pooled resources and emotional support. The influence of historical events like World War II on the Okinawans' sense of purpose, or "ikigai," is also discussed.

"Live to 100" combines elements from shows like Anthony Bourdain’s travel documentaries and other Netflix self-improvement series like "Get Smart with Money" and "The Mind Explained." Buettner's advice may not be groundbreaking-he emphasizes smarter eating, physical activity, community engagement, and a sense of purpose-but it's the application of these principles in specific local contexts that adds unique value.

While each episode only lasts about 30 to 45 minutes, limiting how in-depth Buettner can go, his message is clear. He avoids any critique of Western lifestyle choices, instead focusing on what we can learn from blue zones. The series appears more as a genuine quest for sharing knowledge rather than a platform for self-promotion. It offers insights that could genuinely make a difference in viewers' lives.