01/18/2012 08:52 am ET

Dan Buettner At TEDMED: Why Diets And Exercise Aren't Enough (VIDEO)

Researcher, explorer and author Dan Buettner has worked for years identifying Blue Zones, areas where people live markedly longer than average, and what's behind these pockets of longevity.

Some of the life-lengthening powers of Blue Zones is chalked up to diet: Typically, the people living in these areas eat a plant-based diet that's low in carbs and high in beans and nuts, and enjoy a couple of glasses a wine a day. But other aspects, like belonging to a faith-based community and being able to articulate a strong sense of purpose, Buettner said at TEDMED 2011, also play a part. Physical activity in these areas isn't the chore we call "exercise" but more of a "nudge" into an active way of life.

Now, Buettner is concerned with how to turn a given population on to these healthier habits. In this presentation, he said the U.S. spends over 100 billion dollars a year on preventive measures such as diets, gym memberships and supplements. "I assert we not only are spending too much, but we're aiming at the wrong target," he said, because none of these measures works in the long term. Instead of placing the impetus to get healthy on the individual, he said, "you need to address the system."

Doing so requires closely examining and "optimizing" the 20-mile "life radius" where people spend 80 percent of their time, including school, work, public parks, restaurants and more, he explained. Watch the video to find out what worked for one town on Buettner's cross-country journey to transform the American lifestyle.

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