Dan Buettner to Inspire Health and Happiness at the 2024 NRPA Annual Conference

June 27, 2024, Feature, by NRPA Staff

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This year, during the 2024 NRPA Annual Conference, Dan Buettner, author, explorer and founder of Blue Zones®, will deliver the keynote address to park and recreation professionals and park advocates attending the event. Buettner, a modern-day adventurer on a quest for the secret to long life and happiness, will share his groundbreaking research and findings at the Opening General Session on Tuesday, October 8, in Atlanta.

A long-time park advocate and influential thinker, Buettner will share his insights and highlight park and recreation professionals’ pivotal role as catalysts for building healthier and stronger communities nationwide. Using his years of research and study, he will lead attendees on a journey by uncovering the fundamental principles central to a well-lived life, from developing good eating practices to making social connections, to understanding what it means to find meaning beyond ourselves — and learning how simple daily choices can equal a life well lived. 

Twenty years ago, in 2004, Buettner directed a progression of expeditions for National Geographic, scientists, anthropologists and demographers to find where people lived the longest throughout the world and study the commonalities of these groups.

This research identified five regions throughout the world with the most significant percentage of centenarians — people aged 100 years or older. These areas are known as the Blue Zones.

In an interview with NBC’s Better by TODAY, Buettner stated, “In all five of these zones, the reason they’re living long is not because of one special diet or one other thing; they’re living longer because of a cluster of mutually supporting factors that enable [residents] to do the right things long enough and avoid doing the wrong things to lower the risk of developing a chronic disease.”

Loma Linda, a community in Southern California that includes about 9,000 Seventh Day Adventists, is recognized through Buettner’s work as the only Blue Zone area within the United States. People living in Loma Linda have a life expectancy of approximately 10 years longer than the national average. However, as noted by KCAL News, the average life expectancy in Loma Linda is anything but average, as residents are 10 times more likely to make it to the age of 100.

The longevity of Loma Linda residents is attributed to a keen sense of purpose, vegetarianism and regular exercise. Adventists also do not drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, but another determinant of longevity in Loma Linda is the power of community. Loma Linda’s Park and Recreation Department is a strong proponent of this healthy, community-driven lifestyle with more than a dozen heavily frequented public parks.

Buettner has been instrumental in supporting and promoting decisions by city officials to create walkable neighborhoods and accessible green spaces while also championing policies that place people at the center of city planning. His core messaging considers the environment in which you live and the constitution of your community — your friends, neighbors and family — as essential details of human health and longevity. His perspectives allow opportunities to reshape our thinking about physical activity, social connections and diet, as well as to prioritize the responsibilities of interconnected communities as ways to create the most favorable environments.