Silicon Valley Wants to Help You Live to 100
Some exciting startups are on a mission to transport us to the Blue Zones. We’re happy to provide the jet fuel.
This is the time of year when so many of us resolve to finally take action on our health. Some of us test out new diets, many of us contemplate the gym, and a few of us even manage a workout or two. But what does it take to actually improve our health, not just during resolution season but for the long-term? National Geographic Fellow and New York Times bestselling author Dan Buettner explored this question in his groundbreaking research of the “Blue Zones,” locations like Sardinia, Italy and Loma Linda, California where people live longer than anywhere else on Earth. He found that populations in these zones share nine common traits, which a new crop of exciting health-focused startups is extending even to those of us not living in these original Blue Zones to help us all live healthier, longer lives.
Food and Diet: Modest Plant-Centric Meals
Our diet plays an out-sized role in determining how long we live. Unfortunately, America is among one of the most obese countries in the world. Almost 40% of us are overweight. We eat massive portions and ingest a high amount of processed foods and red meat. In contrast, people in the Blue Zones eat moderate-sized meals often centered around non-processed, plant-centric meals loaded with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes.
Several startups are trying to help us with portion control by tracking how much we consume at the right time. MyFitnessPal, which has over 150 million users, tracks calories and macronutrients. Another increasingly popular trend involves intermittent fasting or skipping meals for a prolonged period of 16 or more hours. People who regularly fast have reduced weight and blood pressure and increased metabolism and brain function. Our portfolio company Zero helps users track and maintain their intermittent fasts.
Many other startups are trying to help us figure out what to put into our bodies by exploring different diets. The Keto diet promotes a low carb and high protein diet. Startups like Keyto can help you measure whether you are in ketosis, the process by which your body starts to burn fat after not eating carbohydrates. Less helps you moderate your alcohol intake. Magic Spoon and Catalina Crunch provide protein-rich cereals for an easy breakfast. Our portfolio company Bulletproof 360 sells protein supplements and bars packed with innovative ingredients like brain octane oil and edible collagen to improve energy and performance while staying keto compliant.
Exercise as a Lifestyle, not an Obligation
For many Blue Zone residents, exercise is built into their daily lives, such as the massive stairs that Sardinians climb each day in their cliffside residence. Unfortunately, most Americans don’t have that kind of “luxury” built into their day-to-day routine. In fact, we spend more time sitting in front of computers and staring at cell phones than ever before.
That means that for most of us getting and staying fit must be actively scheduled into our lives, not conveniently built into the lives we’re already living. Luckily, new apps like our portfolio company Caliber Fitness aim to get Americans moving by bringing personal training and videos to your fingertips. Peloton and Mirror take this one step further by delivering fitness classes to your home, and ClassPass enables you to plan ahead or find last minute classes near your home, work or hotel room.
A number of other startups have recently focused on improving the quality of our sleep, an important ingredient for long-term health. Companies like Oura and Eightsleep allow you to measure and track your sleep quality, breaking down different REM and sleep cycles to help you get the most from your Z’s.
Low Daily Stress + a Purpose Lead to Stronger Mental Health
The Blue Zone study shows that strong mental health is a key factor to not only living longer but also to feeling happier and more fulfilled. Populations living within the Blue Zones tend to experience low levels of daily stress, live their lives with a purpose, and maintain daily connections with family and loved ones.
Unfortunately, mental health is a crisis for many Americans, especially the youngest among us. A new study showed that half of Millennials and 75 percent of Gen Z’ers have left their jobs due to mental health, and the World Health Organization reports that mental health accounts for 16 percent of disease and injury among 10–19 year-olds globally.
There are now mental health startups like our portfolio company Ten Percent Happier that are trying to help us meditate and relax through classes, podcasts and videos. Other companies like Lyra and Spring Health are trying to tackle mental health from the employer side by offering benefits to make it easier for employees to work with mental health professionals. Employers benefit from increasingly productive employees and lower levels of absenteeism.
Community and Connections Aren’t Just Fun; They’re Good for our Health
Maintaining close connections to friends and family is another factor that helps us live longer. Plus, those connections make life much more fun. Unfortunately, the pervasiveness of social media and our 24/7 celebrity-saturated news cycle have led to Americans feeling more isolated than ever. Today, 3 out of 4 Americans feel lonely.
While apps like Facebook and Slack make communication more seamless, they often detract from the close personal and professional interactions we once had. We see many of these apps working from an enterprise and friendship perspective, but we think there is still a long way to go to help address America’s loneliness epidemic, especially within a workforce which is increasingly distributed. Papa is tackling this problem in an interesting way, offering “grandkids” on-demand to help elders with daily tasks and to help them feel more connected. We hope to find more startups tackling the community and connectedness challenges, especially as generations raised on the internet begin to age.
We can’t all live on an Aegean island or in the rugged mountains of Sardinia. Fortunately, there’s an exciting batch of startups trying to help us live longer and healthier, wherever we call home. And if you’re behind one of these exciting startups, give us a ring; perhaps we can take this journey together.
Special thanks to Trinity general partner Ajay Chopra for his collaboration on this piece